How to Understand Short Stories

While being a novelist is all well and good, most authors also write short stories. Some write short stories exclusively. Just because these stories are less than novel-length does not mean they are simpler. In fact, because there are only so many pages in which to tell a tale, short stories are often jam-packed with meaning. There are several steps you can follow to better understand everything going on in short stories.

Identify story clues before you begin reading the story. The length of a short story can indicate how much time the author expects readers to spend it. A glance at the initial paragraphs in the story can give readers a primer on the type of language the author uses and, perhaps, even the mood of the story.

Read the story while looking for key elements in the text. This not only includes thinking about what happens in the story, it also entails trying to identify themes, settings, and main characters and their motives. Pay close attention to imagery and metaphors, as well as how the author marks the passage of time in the story, both to avoid confusion and to gain a deeper understanding of the story.

Pinpoint the crux of the story. Most short stories will have a key moment in the course of the plot that the author has been building up to for much of the narrative. This is sometimes marked by a moment of high tension or a surprise event. By recognizing when this moment happens, readers can gain a greater appreciation for what the story is really about and how the characters fit into it.

Analyze the story after you have finished reading it. Make sure that you understand what exactly happened in the story and who the main characters were. Many people read without truly understanding what they read. After you have the details of the story clear in your mind, look again at the title to see if the events of the story have given it new meaning.

Read the story a second time. Because you now know who all of the characters are and where they fit into the narrative, you can pay more attention to elements such as imagery and metaphor, which leads to a greater understanding of the story as a whole.

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