Writing a Short Story

When writing a short story, the writer’s goal is to use elements of a short story to draw the reader into the story and leave a lasting impression.  A short story is what its name implies; it is short.  Short enough to be read in one sitting.  However, there is some debate over the length of a short story, which can vary from 200 to 10,000 words.  More than that tends to fall into the novella category. 

Whatever the length, a short story has key components to make it work.  The first being a single plot.  Four basic elements are needed to construct a plot—exposition, plot complications, climax, and resolution.  Exposition is a rhetorical mode of discourse such as narration, description, persuasion, or argumentation, which provide background information needed to understand the short story.  Plot complications are the parts of the plot when conflicts happen and suspense is built in the short story.  The climax is the most dramatic moment in the short story, a turning point which occurs when the main character tries to resolve the conflict.  A resolution is the solution to the conflict, which marks the end of the short story. 

The plot is not the only important element of a short story.  Point of view is also important to consider when developing the short story.  Who tells the story is as important as the story itself.  The tone and meaning can change dramatically depending on who is telling the story.  For instance, a third-person narrator telling a story of an abused teenaged girl may not have the same impact as the teenager herself telling the story.  In fact, the teenager, as the first-person narrator, may invoke feelings of sympathy, rage, and even revenge based on how she tells the events of the story in her own voice.  Point of view also can change.  It doesn’t have to be fixed or static, with one person only telling the story.  More than one point of view can be expressed in the story.

In a short story, there is usually one major character, sometimes more than one.  They can be changing or unchanging throughout the story.  The reader learns about the main character(s), not only by what the narrator tells or reveals about the character but also by any physical traits and actions made known in the story or through dialogue and opinions expressed in the story.

The setting of a short story is probably just as important as the character and plot of a short story.  Sometimes the setting can be the main character of a short story.  Settings are created by the use the vivid language that capture the sights, sounds, and textures of the location in which the story takes place.   The location, the time period, the time of day, the climate, and any other pertinent criteria, all work together to create the setting of the short story. 

The theme of a short story is the overall message the writer wants the story to convey to the reader.  The theme has also been called the moral of a story.  It is the lesson the reader will learn after reading the story.  Sometimes the title reveals the theme of a short story.  In addition, repeating patterns or words in the short story can reveal a lot about the theme. 

The short story is composed of many elements that make it work—plot, point of view, characters, setting, and theme.  All of these elements, in some form, must be included to have an interesting short story that will be memorable and remain in the readers’ hearts and minds forever.


About Katrina Parker Williams

Katrina Parker Williams teaches English composition and grammar at a community college. She is a Barton College graduate with a B.S. in Communications and a Masters of Education in English from East Carolina University. She is also the author of a fictional novel titled Liquor House Music. Her works have appeared in Charlotte Viewpoint, Muscadine Lines, Usadeepsouth, and on the Wilson Community College website. Her writings have recently been published at The Saints’ Placenta and All Things Girl and is forthcoming in Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and Muscadine Lines.
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4 Responses to Writing a Short Story

  1. Christie says:

    Excellent article and a good reminder of all the elements that combine to make a great story!

  2. Great advice, thank you! I’m working on short stories now, something I’ve never been that good at, so this is really helpful!

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