Wednesday, 11 May 2016
THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF A SHORT STORY
The Essential Elements of a Short Story
A short story is a piece of prose fiction intended to be read in a single sitting and designed to produce a single effect. It emerged from earlier oral story telling traditions in the 17th century. Edger Allan Poe is commonly known as the father of modern short story. Other famous short story writers include; Anton Chekhov, Franz Kafka, Mark Twain, O.Henry, Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, Guy de Maupassant and William Faulkner etc. A short story has a limited setting, and usually focuses on on plot, one conflict, one event, one main character, and one central theme. It is significantly shorter and less elaborate than a novel. Unlike drama, it has no limitation of stage and evolution of characters.
1. Single Effect
A short story is intended to be read in a single sitting to produce a single effect. "Single sitting" means not much longer than an hour. The single effect which might be called the single emotional effect, impression or feeling, is the most important part of the definition of the modern short story - and it comes directly from the great short story writer, Edgar Allan Poe. Some of his own short stories serve as good examples of the single effect he was talking about. These stories include "The Cask of Amontillado", "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat". An excellent example of a short story with a memorable single effect is Shirley Jackson's famous story "The Lottery".
Setting means the time and place that form the background for the story. Locale, time of year, time of day, elapsed time, atmosphere, climate, geography, eras of historical importance, environment, population, and ancestral influences are the specific elements that setting encompasses. There are two types of setting; backdrop setting and integral setting. Backdrop setting emerges when it is not important for a story, and it could happen in any setting such as A.A. Milne's story "Winnie-the-Pooh" could take place in any type of setting. Integral setting is when the place and time influence theme, character, and action of a story. Beatrix Potter's short story, "The Tail of Peter Rabbit", is an example of integral setting in which the behaviour of Peter becomes an integral part of the setting.
Plot is a planned, logical series of events having a beginning, middle, and end. There are five main elements in a plot. The first is the exposition. It is the beginning of the story where characters and setting are established, and the conflict is introduced. The second element is the rising action which occurs when a series of events build up to the conflict. It is during this part of a story that excitement, tension or crisis is encountered. The third element is the climax. It is the turning point of the story and is meant to be the moment of highest interest and emotion. The fourth element is the falling action. Events and complication begin to resolve and the result of the actions of the main characters is put forward. The last element is the resolution. It is the end of a story and ends with either a happy or a tragic ending. The short story usually has one plot.
Conflict is essential to plot. In involves a struggle between two opposing forces. A conflict may be internal or external. A struggle with a force outside one's self is called external conflict whereas internal conflict is a struggle within one's self. There are four kinds of conflict. The first is "Man Vs. Man" in which the main character combats with his physical strength against other person. The second one is "Man Vs. Circumstances". In this conflict the leading character strives against fate, or the circumstances of life. The third one is "Man Vs. Society". The hero toils against ideas, practices, or customs of other people. The last one is "Man Vs. Himself". In this conflict the protagonist struggles with himself/herself' with his/her own soul, ideas of right or wrong etc. In a short story, there is usually one central conflict, or one dominant conflict with many minor ones.
There are two meanings for the word character; the person in a work of fiction and the characteristics of a person. Short stories use few characters. One character is clearly central to the story with all major events having some importance to this character. This person is called the protagonist while the character who opposes the actions of the protagonist is the antagonist. Characters are found in three forms; individual, developing and static. An individual character is round, many sided and complex in personality. In short stories, protagonists are typically individuals. A developing character is a character who grows throughout the story while a static character is a stereotypical character who is two-dimensional or flat.
6. Point of View
Point of view is the angle from which the story is told. There are five basic points of view;
(i) Innocent Eye - The story is told through the eyes of a child.
(ii) Streams of Consciousness: The story is told so that the reader feels as if he is inside the head of one character and knows all his thoughts and actions.
(iii) First Person - The story is told by the protagonist or one of the characters who interacts closely with the protagonist or other character.
(iv) Omniscient Objective - the story is told in such a way that it appears as though a camera is following the characters, going anywhere, and recording only what s seen and heart.
(v) Omniscient Limited - The story is told in such a manner that the reader can see the thoughts and feeling of characters if the author chooses to reveal them to him.
The theme in a piece of fiction is its controlling idea or its central insight. It is the author's underlying meaning or main idea that he is trying to convey. The theme may be the author's thoughts about a topic or view of human nature. The theme of a short story is simply its meaning. It is the main idea explored in the story by the writer. For example, in "Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin, the theme is about a woman who has lost her freedom and identity to her husband and marriage. In Jack London's "To Build a Fire", the theme is about a protagonist who freezes to death because he panics and is unable to problem solve. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", the theme is about an unplanned pregnancy, and the decision to abort the pregnancy.
8. Short Story and Novel
Short stories are shorter than novels. Technically a short story is anywhere between 1,000 to 20,000 words. Short stories are structured differently. These have a single plot line. However, novels have time to explore the full three-act structure.. These usually have sub-plots. A scene in short stories operates with a centripetal force of concentration. But a scene in novels spins off a good deal of its energy looking not only backward and forward in the text but also sideways, outside the text, and towards the material world. Short stories, like poetry, seek to focus time, the novels, being more like history, seek to explore it. Short stories focus one main character. However, novels have room to explore the lives of several major characters.
9. Short Story and Drama
Drama is written for the stage and the dramatist is bound by the conditions of the stage. The short story writer has not such limitations. His complete immunity from the conditions of the stage, gives to the short story a freedom of movement, a breadth and flexibility. Another difference between the two is to be found in their methods of characterization. In the drama the character of the individual unfolds itself before us, as the action develops and scene follows. No such evolution of characters is possible in the short story. In the dram the dialogue plays an important part in characterization. The story is developed through dialogue. The short-story writer does not suffer any such limitation. He may or may not introduce dialogue. Finally, the drama is objective or impersonal; the short story can be both objective and subjective.