Elements of a Short Story

No clear or definitive consensus about how long (or short) a piece needs to be to warrant the label "short story," but being able to read it in one sitting is a good basic rule. Similar to novels, short stories aim to convey a particular message or theme, but in a mere fraction of the space. As a result, writers must be very deliberate with how they exhibit the following elements of the short story:


When and where the story takes place. Setting is an effective way to infer a lot of information that can impact the characters in a short story because knowing about a particular place and time can help the reader infer what might have led to the characters' current situation.


DIRECT: This is seen when the writer comes right out and explicitly states something about a character.   Example: Tom was tall with dark hair and scary eyes.

INDIRECT: This is seen when the writer shows or implies something about a character. Example: Tom loomed over us, the whites of his eyes piercing our souls from the shadows of his face.


The tension that exists between a character and other characters, himself, the environment, society, or fate. Conflicts are a great methods of characterization (see above) because they can identify how and why characters behave in certain situations.


This is often reduced to simply, "word choice," but diction really refers to when a writer's word choice evokes a reaction from the reader. Connotation is often a factor when considering a writer's diction.


This is a plot device utilized by writers to hint or suggest to the reader something that will happen later in the story.


There are different types of irony, but situational and dramatic irony are most often seen in literature.

Situational irony is when circumstances turn out differently than expected. (Example: The fire department catching on fire.)

Dramatic irony is when the reader understands the larger situation but the characters in the story do not. (Example: The end of Romeo and Juliet when Romeo poisons himself because he does not realize Juliet simply has not woken up yet.)


When an object or action is used to represent something else (concrete or abstract). Examples: An apple is a symbol of knowledge.

A bulldog is a symbol for tenacity.

The act of raising your arms symbolizes surrender.

Moving the tassel on your mortarboard from left to right symbolizes that you have graduated.