How to Analyze Structure in Short Story Writing
The short story has the capacity to reveal fundamental truths about the human condition and the human experience. Even though the notion that a piece of art can be analyzed like a mathematical equation is false, there are ways to expertly examine a short story’s structure.
Each story exists in its own world. From the very first sentence, the short story writer is building the rules for the world that is the short story. Whether the world is contemporary America in New York City or a fairytale world on a different planet where flying is possible, a short story writer must establish clear rules and a developed setting. If you can't picture the setting, aren't sure of the time period, can't get your bearings on whether the story's world is based in fantasy or reality, the structure isn't solid.
Action is a fundamental component of story structure. For example, if the main action in a short story is the protagonist blowing up her husband’s car, such an action will have a profound influence on the overall structure. Action needs to be engaging and revealing. If it isn’t, the structure will suffer.
A truly great story thrives on a well developed central conflict. Whether this stems from an issue the protagonist has with her mother or a feud with her landlord, whatever is plaguing the main characters will be an integral part to a solid structure. A central conflict that is important and surprising will help a story’s structure to possess the same positive qualities.
The climax is perhaps the most engaging and tension-filled moment of a short story, and is the boiling-over point of the central conflict. When the climax occurs and whether or not it’s well executed depends upon its specific place in the story’s structure. For example, if the climax comes too early, the structure will be uneven and you will be left unsatisfied and cheated. If it comes too late, you could become bored. While analyzing short story structure, decide whether or not the climax is adequately placed.
Jake Shore is an award-winning Brooklyn-based playwright, published short story writer and professor at Wagner College. His short fiction has appeared in many publications including Litro Magazine, one of London's leading literary magazines. Shore earned his MFA in creative writing from Goddard College.