The Elements of Short Stories

If you want to write a short story people will feel compelled to read and finish, understanding the elements of a short story will help. Writing short stories is a creative, intuitive process that can be fun and challenging. When you give your short stories good structure, they will have a much stronger backbone and be easier for others to read and enjoy. Once learned, the concepts of short story elements will become instinctive as part of the craft of a short story writer.


The setting is the time and physical space where the characters are placed and the story occurs. Short stories take place in any setting the author can dream up, from imaginary fantasy worlds to outer space to modern day cities. Descriptions early in the story that detail the weather, season, social setting and atmosphere help build a strong sense of the world surrounding the characters


Characters are the people, animals, and sometimes spirits, machines or robots, which inhabit the world of the short story. Authors can include a range of different characters in the text, though the story itself revolves around one character in particular, the protagonist. The main person who provides conflict or opposition to this main character is called the antagonist. The nature of characters are revealed through their actions, voice, appearance and through the reaction of other characters to them.


The plot includes the events which characters experience from the beginning to the end of the short story to achieve their goals and overcome, or succumb to, conflict. According to Lisa Lenard-Cook, author of "The Mind of Your Story", the plot begins with the introduction to the story and characters, followed by the rising and deepening of conflict until the climax of tension, about three quarters of the way through the story. Following the climax, a falling action provides the end and the closure of the story and its events.


Conflict is the point of tension within the story. Conflict can be between different characters (interpersonal conflict), between characters and the environment (external conflict) and be present as the conflict within the characters themselves (inner conflict). Some stories include philosophical conflict, where characters may be taken to symbolize different ideologies or values, such as materialism versus spirituality. The most memorable stories offer conflict on a variety of levels.


The theme is the element of a short story which provides a higher meaning to the conflict and events between characters. According to Joan Rosier-Jones, author of "So You Want to Write." the theme of a story is not a message, but a general subject slowly evoked through the unfolding of a story. Examples of themes explored in short stories include triumph over adversity, faith in oneself and the blindness of love.