The Elements of Fiction -Overview


Literary Elements -                   The Building Blocks of a Story


Terms to Know



  "The Necklace"

  "The Most Dangerous Game"

  "Marine Corps Issue"




  "The Possibility of Evil"

   "The Beginnings of Something"

  "Where Have You Gone Charming Billy?"

Character Study: "Encounter with Martin Luther King, Jr"



  "To Build a Fire

  "Through the Tunnel"

  "American History"



Point of View

    "The Bass, The River, and Sheila


  "A Telephone Call"

 "The Open Window"

  "A Christmas Memory"



  "The Utterly Perfect Murder"

  "The Short Happy Life of Francis


  "The Scarlet Ibis"

 "Two Kinds"



The Gift of the Magi"

"The Sniper"

"The Censors"





"My Papa's Waltz"



The Red Masque of Death

The Sharks / A Narrow Fellow in the Grass

The Cask of Amontillado



Mi Caballo Mago

A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings


Character Study Essay

"The End"

Create a Short Story


Literary Elements Poster Project

    Literary Elements Poster

    Literary Elements Rubric

    Literary Elements Checklist


Classic Short Story Selections

So.. What is a Short Story?


Literature gives order to human experience.

Literature explores cultural values.

Literature demands an emotional response from the reader.

Like a great journey, literature can show you things you have never seen before and will never forget.

The short story format offers this same full, rich experience of literature but in a compressed period of time.  While many artists and critics have tried to define this format, there remains no universally accepted definition. Merriam Webster defines the short story as "a genre or form of prose fiction; shorter than a novel (under 10,000 words but usually less than 7,000 and able to be read in one sitting), and normally dealing with fewer characters and less action.  A more definitive explanation comes from a master of the genre himself.  Edgar Allan Poe says of the short story:

"A skilful literary artist has constructed a tale.  If wise, he has not fashioned his thoughts to accommodate his incidents; but having conceived, with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out, he then invents such incidents—he then combines such events as may best aid him in establishing this preconceived effect.  If his very initial sentence tend not to the out-bringing of this effect, then he has failed in his first step.  In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design.  And by such means, with such care and skill, a picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction.  The idea of the tale has been presented unblemished, because undisturbed; and this is an end unattainable by the novel.  Undue brevity is just as exceptionable here as in the poem; but undue length is yet more to be avoided."


What is a Short Story?

by John Hewitt on 2/10/2008

What is the definition of a short story?

I define a short story as a brief, focused fictional piece that contains at minimum the following key elements: plot, setting, characterization and some sort of resolution.

How long should a short story be?

In my opinion, the optimal length for a short story is between ten and fifty double-spaced pages of text. To me, anything longer than this is a novella (a short novel). Some other ways of defining the length of a short story are:

  • Short stories are short enough to be read in a single sitting (from a half hour two hours). This definition can be traced back to Edgar Allen Poe, one of the first great short story writers.
  • Short stories are less than 5000 words.
  • Short stories are shorter than a novel.

How is a short story different from a novel?

In my opinion, the true difference between a short story and a novel is that a short story has a unity of theme, character and plot that is much more focused than a novel. Here are some other ways of stating the difference:

  • Short stories tend to concentrate on one major event or conflict.
  • Short stories have only one or two main characters.
  • Short stories create a single specific effect.
  • Short stories are more compressed than novels.
  • Short stories do not have sub-plots.

What are the minimum elements of a short story?

In my opinion, a short story has all of the elements of a novel. Specifically, they tell a story, as the name suggests. One or more characters experience an event or conflict, and that event or conflict has an observable effect on the character or characters. This differentiates a short story from a character sketch, which serves only to illustrate or flesh out a character. It also differentiates a short story from anecdotes or parables, which are often amusing or demonstrate a lesson, but which do not necessarily call for a character to be changed in any real way.

What kind of short stories are there?

Short stories are as varied as novels. They can come from such genres as horror, fantasy, romance, erotica, adventure and science fiction. They can be action packed and exciting or introspective and philosophical. They can be romantic, sexy, satirical, cynical, bleak or optimistic.

I tend to write what are called literary short stories. Literary short stories focus more on character and tone than plot. In most cases they avoid other genres. I also tend to include a lot of humor in my stories, often unintentionally. That is simply my style. Your style can be whatever you want it to be.


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