Short StoriesI would love to see more discussion on short story elements. For example, I have seen varying opinions on the stages of plot in "The Most Dangerous Game." Is it me, or are...

Short Stories

I would love to see more discussion on short story elements. For example, I have seen varying opinions on the stages of plot in "The Most Dangerous Game." Is it me, or are some short stories really difficult to figure out in this regard? For example, I have students right now who are arguing the climax for "The Possibility of Evil." The class is divided among those who believe it to be the moment when the two teenagers are deciding whether to pop the envelope into the mailbox, or hand deliver it "for" Miss Strangeworth. Or, is the climax the moment she opens the letter nearer to the end? I see it as the post office scene, but I have students making pretty good arguments for the latter. Anyway, a short story discussion board or guides would be great. Perhaps I have missed them if they are available.

Expert Answers
cybil eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Clane,  you and I discussed "The Lady or the Tiger," and I definitely benefited from the exchange of ideas.  I try to teach my freshmen (the level where we teach short stories as a genre) to look for an inciting incident that begins the complication (or rising action) and ends the exposition. They can usually find that point. Climax is harder to teach, I agree. I contend there are two types of climaxes: technical (the point of no turning back) and dramatic (the point of highest emotional intensity). Sometimes both occur in a story, such as in O. Henry's "The Cop and the Anthem." In class we draw plot graphs and conclude that most modern stories (i.e., twentieth century plus) have a very short falling action before the denouement. Modern readers just want the answers to final questions; we are impatient about reading a lengthy falling action. Sherlock Holmes stories are more likely to fit a standard "balanced" plot graph, but those are definitely not modern stories.

Students ask many questions on eNotes about short stories. I agree that a Short Story Board would be helpful. 

leagye eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I often second guess myself and check guides only to find out I was wrong (although, I'd argue that some of the guides' answers are highly debatable.) My rule of thumb is to identify the climax first; that is, I ask myself, at what point was the tension the highest? Where, as a reader, did I say "Holy &%$!" or some such other refrain. Another tricky question for my students is the point where exposition ends and rising action begins. I tell my students to use the terms themselves as clues: in the exposition, characters, setting and necessary history will be "exposed". When someone does something that begins to move the story in a forward motion, rising action is generally beginning. Another good rule of thumb: if you think you have the climax figured out, ask yourself this: are there any more events that BUILD tension, or do the subsequent events UNTANGLE the conflicts and begin releasing tension. If tension is still being built and conflicts are still getting more tangled, the story is PROBABLY still in the rising action stage. Of course, grey areas abound in literature...

clane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I've run into the same questions myself and I too have discussed, I can't remember who it was (probably one of you) climax and resolution in The Lady or the Tiger. I found that I totally disagreed with the eNotes explanation and through my discussion with this other teacher have begun teaching both perspectives and having class discussion based on each interpretation. I feel like some stories simply do not have one concrete answer. This is where I think a Short Story Board would be a great idea because perhaps it would enhance the lessons, discussions with students, plot elements, and overall understanding of some of these more ambiguous stories.

linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I hate to admit this--especially since all of you fantastic teachers are going to see it--but I have a hard time figuring out rising action, falling action, climax, denouement, etc. myself. Most times when I think I know what the climax of a story is, I'll check a teacher's guide and find out I'm completely wrong. I need something that puts all this stuff into simple terms that I can figure out easily enough so that I can help my students figure it out as well.

sullymonster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think when it comes to something like climax, however, we have to agree that there can be more than one answer.  It depends on what a reader identifies as the central conflict.  For instance, is the internal or external conflict central to the story?  For many stories, the climax of each one happens at a different point, and so many guides will have many different answers. 

linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who gets stuck. I wonder how many authors actually think about where to put the rising action and falling action--and gotta stick in that denouement. I wish we could teach fiction and poetry without having to "deconstruct" it. I think we'd have a lot more young people who enjoy reading if we did!

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