Elements of short stories – Kelly Anderson

by 21cstories

The Short Story
Author — Kelly Anderson

A good short story communicates a lot with a short amount of writing. They have to grab the reader’s interest quickly. The reader helps by bringing their knowledge and experience to the story – the writer gives hints and the reader uses their imagination to expand on the ideas.

The Plot

The plot is simply the arrangement of events which occur in the story. Most plots are chronological (in order from what happened first, to second and so on.) Most stories are structured with an orientation, then complications leading to the climax of the story and then ending with a resolution.

The Setting

The events in a story must take place somewhere at some time. This is the setting. A good writer can place his or her story very quickly as well as establish the mood of the location.

The Characters

A short story usually concentrates on one or two characters. The characters react or respond to the events introduced. The reader learns about the characters from their reactions to events or situations, as well as descriptions provided by the writer. The reader makes judgments about the characters by comparing their actions with what he/she would do in the same situation.

The Theme

The theme of a story refers to the main idea or issue being expressed. Sometimes this is more like a lesson (such as fables with a clear moral). The theme is usually the overriding thought we are left with at the end of the story.

Point of View

The story writer may choose from among a number of points of view in order to tell the story.
First Person – I, me, my
Second Person – You (like in Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories)
Third Person – He, she, they


When a writer writes a story, they choose whether it has already happened (past tense), is happening right now (present tense) or is going to happen (future tense). The most common tense used is past tense. The story is written as though all the events have already occurred and the writer is retelling them to the reader.

Read the story Old Habits [below and look out for the following elements:]

o Orientation (Setting, character information)
o Complication (some sort of problem or conflict which adds interest to the story, usually increasing in severity as the story goes along) NOTE: There can be more than one of these.
o Climax (most exciting moment, can also be a complication)
o Resolution (the situation is resolved in some way)

The story:

He was still sitting there, looking as comical as ever. I couldn’t bear to let him go, but I knew that I had no choice. Those shining eyes that seemed to make fun of everything he saw, that lolling tongue that slobbered such a wet greeting on everyone and that wagging tail which swished like a stockman’s whip had become a familiar sight.

As a pup he had been in a fight with a wild pig on a farm. He had come out second-best, losing half his left ear in the process. Now his one and a half ears stood upright like lopsided monuments to his childhood bravery. For this reason, also, he had inherited the name Loppy. Those of us who knew him well, however, thought the name Loopy would have been more appropriate.
I had inherited this four-legged, blue-heeler menace from my uncle. The dog had been used to the free life on a large cattle property but when my uncle had gone bankrupt owing to a prolonged drought, he was forced to give him away. My mother, being kind-hearted, had offered to adopt him.

Loppy was a well-trained and very efficient cattle dog and would round up a hundred head of cattle at a time, snapping and snarling ferociously at their hooves. His over-enthusiastic approach to his work, however, was to cause us an endless supply of trouble.

Our chickens didn’t stand a chance. From day one, they were constantly chased around our backyard and herded, feathers scattering in all directions, back into the chook run. Soon we had the scraggliest looking chooks in the area.

The postie who delivered our mail was in for a hard time as well. Loppy, familiar with the motorbike routine on the farm, would crouch low as the postie approached and would spring onto the back of the bike. Needless to say, the postie was not impressed. No matter how hard he tried he could not avoid Loppy, who regarded this free ride as a daily game.

These pranks, however, were only small incidents compared to the disaster he created when we went to the beach. While lying on the beach sunbaking, I was disturbed by a group of young children who were howling and screaming.

Raising myself slightly, I was dismayed to see Loppy herding them into a group away from the water’s edge. He had obviously seen them close to the water and, sensing danger, had bounded off to recover them, blasting other sunbakers with a shower of sand. Having done this good deed, he sat there with a foolish, expectant grin on his sandy face. Red with embarrassment I dragged him away amongst a bombardment of sticks and shouts.

No amount of punishment or coaxing would change his wayward ways. The crunch finally came when he took a fancy to herding the door to door salesmen who visited us on a regular basis, hoping to sell their goods. Receiving no answer at the front door, they had ventured into our backyard where Loppy was waiting excitedly.

Teeth bared, hair bristling, he snapped menacingly at their heels forcing them further and further back until they became helplessly trapped inside the muddy fowl run. Their desperate cries finally attracted my mother’s attention with the result that Loppy was banished in disgrace to the dog kennel.

Taking Loppy to the Animal Refuge had been our last resort. Perhaps some farmer could use his exceptional talents. As I turned to take one last look at him before leaving, I had to smile to myself. There he was, at it again! Busily rounding up all the other inmates of the Refuge.

In brief:

  • Short stories use a minimum amount of words for maximum impact.
  • All short stories have a particular structure called the plot. They start with an orientation, have complications leading to a climax, and are resolved at the end.
  • Some stories communicate a theme or main idea to the reader.
  • Writers can choose from a range of points of view and tenses in the telling of the story.

Adapted from the original powerpoint presentation published at www.ourmedia.org
This work carries a Creative Commons license.

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