What are the basic elements of a short story?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In analyzing a short story, there are six elements that the reader should look for in the story.  All  stories begin with a seed of an idea.  From that point, the author then should plan his story around these elements:

Setting, Conflict, Character, Plot, Theme, Point of view

Each of these aspects should be expected in the story.  Not all stories will have the same importance placed on each element.  For example, in the story “To Build a Fire,” one of the most important elements is the setting.  It is the Yukon with 75 degrees below zero.  


This element refers to the place and time of the story.  When evaluating the setting, look for where the action takes place.  In addition, the historical period may be important. 


In every story, there has to be a  problem.  The main character has to be challenged in some way or the story will go nowhere.  There are four basic conflicts to look for that may face the main character:

  • Man versus man
  • Man versus nature
  • Man versus himself
  • Man versus society



The development of the characters is important to the short story.  The characters are the heart of the story.  The two primary characters are called the protagonist and the antagonist. 

The protagonist is the main character.  It is not safe to call him the hero because the main character is not always heroic.  He/she is the person  with which the story is most concerned. 

The antagonist does not have to be a human being.  If he is a person, he may be the villain.  This character does not have the main character’s best interest at heart.  In some stories, nature is the antagonist.  Remember “To Build a Fire.”  The main character has to face nature and hope that he survives.

Some characters do not change in a story: these characters are called flat.  The characters that change or grow are called round.

A character is considered flat (or static) when he or she does not experience change of any kind, does not grow from beginning to end. Shakespeare often uses comic villains as flat characters, like Don Jon in Much Ado About Nothing..


The plot is the arrangement of the events in the story.  The plot should follow some logical sequence of events. There are five elements to look in the plot.

The Exposition-The initial events, the introduction of characters, and beginning of the story.

The Rising Action- The beginning of the conflict. Complications arise.

The Climax-This is the highest point of interest in the story.  It is the turning point that aims toward the conclusion of the story. 

The Falling Action- The events that occur which begin to resolve the conflict.

Denouement-This is the final outcome of the story. 


This is the controlling idea or the insight that the author wants the reader to understand at the end of the story.  The theme is often the author’s thoughts or view of a subject.

Point of view

This element of the story is how the story is told .  It also determines who will be the narrator of the story.

First Person-One of the characters tells the story and interacts in the story as well.

Third Person-the author can narrate the story using a “god-like” position in which he can see into the minds of the characters.

Limited Omniscient- Still in third person, the narrator will only know what the character knows or what the author tells the narrator.

There are more intricate aspects of a story, but this is the basic terms for an analysis.