Monday, December 8, 2008

Major Components of Short Stories

point of view
limited length

Plot: The action that takes place in the story. It is a series of connected happenings and their result. In order to have a result, an event, or conflict, is necessary. The components of plot are conflict, rising action, climax, and resolution.

Setting: The background against which the story takes place: the place where, the time when, and conditions under which the story moves toward resolution. Includes atmosphere, tone, and feeling of the story (sad, cheerful, etc.). Setting does not need exact detail unless needed for plot or characters, but readers need to have a sense of when during history (Middle Ages, Victorian era, modern times) the story takes place. A general idea of whether the action is in a rural area or town or city is needed, even a specific location is not used.

Characters are beings in the story that think or act in order to create plot. Characters need to gain readers' sympathies and/or interest. Methods to reveal characters for readers: actions or thoughts of the character, conversations of characters, conversations between characters about another character, the author's opinion, overt or implied (often presented by use of point of view used). Characters need to be well-rounded, rather than one dimensional. The limited length of a short story limits the number of characters used.

Theme: The total meaning of the story, that does not have to be tied up in a simple moral, gives meaning or purpose to the story. Theme does not have to be stated, may be implied. Theme isn't always planned by a writer but evolves and becomes apparent during the process of the story or after it's finished.

Dialogue: According to My Den, Dialogue makes fiction seem real. Interior dialogue is thoughts of a character. Dramatic dialogue is a character thinking aloud, without response from other characters. Indirect dialogue is the narrator telling what a character said. Dialogue should be used to develop character or to advance the story. It should not be used just to hear characters talk. A small amount of dialect in dialogue can be used to establish the nature of the character but should not be overused, as dialect can be difficult to read. The level of use of language by the characters (i.e. pronunciation, diction, grammar etc) is often used to characterize people in a story. The form of dialogue used should be varied to keep the reader interested.

Point of view: Three main forms include first person, second person, and third person (which is sub-divided into omniscient and limited). Many people confuse point of view with perspective (the character or characters perspective in third person).

With first person, the narrator is one of the characters and all actions, dialogue, and thoughts are only those which the narrator sees, hears, or thinks. I, me, my, mine are pronouns used in the narrative part of the story.

With second person, the writer tries to bring the reader into the writing as a character by using you, your, yours as pronouns in the narrative part of the story. Using second person in a short story isn't considered "good" writing, mainly because the read is not part of the action or story, and can't be.

Third person has a narrator relating all action in third person, using third person pronouns such as "he" or "she."

Limited third person gives only the thoughts and feelings of a single character and shows only the action and conversations heard by that character.

In omniscient third person, the narrator knows thoughts, feelings, actions, and conversations of all characters, or at least more than one character.

Length of writing: Most short stories are 1,000 and up to 20,000 words. The maximum length, though, considered appropriate by many is 7,500. Therefore, whether a story is allowed to be 20,000 or 7,500, the length is limited, and the writing needs to be concise enough to cover all the other components and stay within the word limit.

Take all components and mix well. After writing, editing, proofing, and revising, a short story will be the result.

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Penny Ehrenkranz said...

Great post, Vivian. Good definitions of the major parts of a story.

Vivian Zabel said...

Thanks, Penny.

Joyce Anthony said...

It's that darn "theme" that I always seem to have trouble putting a finger on :-( These pointers helped!

Morgan Mandel said...

Great how-to for short stories.

I also have trouble with theme. I have to think about it for a bit and then it comes to me.

Morgan Mandel

Vivian Zabel said...

Theme is one of those things that often appear after the story is finished. With a good solid plot, we can find a meaning of the story (which is the theme).

The theme may be something as simple as good conquers evil.

I don't think about theme when writing, but everything I write ends up with a theme.

Karen and Robyn - Writing for Children said...

This is such an informative post, Vivian. Thank you for taking the time to post it.
I have a question: Is there a market for a 7000 word middle grade fantasy or sci fi short story or does it need to be turned into a early chapter book. And, is around 7000 words enough for an early chapter book (for 7-11 years olds).


Vivian Zabel said...

7,000 words requires chapters, really, first of all to help break up the long pages of text.

4RV has middle grade books from 3,000 words up.

Katrina L Wampler said...

great post Vivian. Really helpful. Will be adding your BLOG to my favorites.

Vivian Zabel said...

Thanks, Katrina. I think I already have your blog on mine.