The Structural Devices of Short Stories

Structural devices are used by writers to ensure their short story makes sense as a whole. This does not just mean giving the story a plot with a "beginning, middle and end," but also means consistently employing certain fiction-writing techniques throughout the piece. The writer's competence in handling narrative and dialogue, for example, will have a great effect on the way readers react and relate to her characters.


One of the most important structural devices available to short story writers is dialogue. Dialogue, the direct narration of characters' speech in quotation marks, allows the writer to convey information in a concise manner, which is particularly important in the short story form. Through dialogue, the writer can give clues to the reader about her characters' opinions and attitudes, as well as revealing factual knowledge necessary for the development of the plot.

Third-person Narrative

An important choice facing the writer is how to handle the narrative viewpoint for his story. Conventional methods include the third-person narrative, in which the writer narrates from an omniscient point of view (in an all-seeing way). This allows the narrative to switch from character to character, so the writer can tell us what all of his characters are doing and thinking. For example, after this third-person narrative sentence -- "She lowered her eyes, and suddenly saw the fox" -- the writer could continue from the point of view of "she," or change to the fox's viewpoint, or shift on to any other character in the story.

First-person Narrative

In a first-person narrative, the author narrates directly through a single character (e.g. "Before I go on with this short history, let me make a general observation"). This limits what the author is able to achieve in terms of narrating other characters' thoughts and emotions. However, this can be a strength, as a skillful story writer will be able to make use of the fact that his first-person narrator has an imperfect grasp of the situation unfolding around her. Furthermore, a first-person narrative viewpoint can allow the reader to develop a closer relationship with the "protagonist" (main character).

Continuous Narrative and Flashbacks

In a continuous narrative, events unfold chronologically. This can lend a realistic air to a short story, as the reader follows the progress of the characters from hour to hour, or day to day. Another option is to use flashbacks which take the reader out of the linear progress of a continuous narrative, typically back in time and often to a completely different setting. However, flashbacks should be used with caution. Especially if they become lengthy, flashbacks run the risk of confusing the reader by dragging him too far from the main narrative of the story. This is particularly true of short stories, which are often concerned with the set-up and resolution of a specific scenario.

Cite this Article