What are the falling action, resolution, climax, and exposition in a short story?

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I'll add one of my favorites, "The Interlopers," by H.H. Munro (Saki).  This is a story with an abrupt, ironic, and rather shocking ending.

Exposition: Two men and their families have been feuding for years, and they each head to the forest with anger in their hearts one stormy night.

Rising action: As they are about to do something desperate, a tree falls on them and pins them to the ground.

Climax: The two men have reconciled and determine to surprise the town with their new friendship. 

Falling action:  They hear noises in the woods and are hopeful their men have come to rescue them.

Denouement:  It's not men they hear.  It's wolves. 

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"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson is a wonderful short story. It addresses many of the classic literary elements as well as building suspense and horror to the intense climax. It is perhaps missing a satisfying resolution (for the reader) but it's still there.

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Another great story is "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson."

Exposition:  The townspeople are gathering for the yearly lottery. 

Rising Action:  The townspeople start the process of picking the slips of paper that will narrow down the field of possible winners to members of a specific family.  Tess Huchinson is extremely upset over her family being chosen.

Climax:  Tess is chosen as the winner and starts yelling, "It's not fair!"

Falling Action and Resolution:  Each member of the community start to pick up rocks and throw them at Tess.  We discover that the lottery is a yearly ritual of human sacrifice.  Earlier in the story the expression, "Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon" is mentioned -- now we truly understand what that means.

This story is such a great example of foreshadowing and misdirection that the ending comes as a huge, horrific surprise that sends readers back into the story again to make sure they read it right.

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I will refer to Elizabeth Tallent's "No One's a Mystery." 

EXPOSITION:  The narrator's lover Jack has just given her a diary for her birthday.  It's apparent here that she is considerably younger than he is.

RISING ACTION:  Jack and the narrator are driving around and talking about their future together.  Along the way, Jack thinks he sees his wife driving past, so he pushes the narrator onto the floor of the car.

CLIMAX:  The narrator presents her fantasy of her future with Jack as his wife and mother of his children.

FALLING ACTION and RESOLUTION:  Jack tells the narrator that her dreams can never come true and that she must be more realistic.

Tallent's story is a wonderful showcase of the tension between optimism and pessimism, illusion and reality.

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I love Edith Wharton's "Roman Fever".  The Exposition is the background knowledge of the two women (whose names escape me at the moment) in the story and their relationship.  The rising action is the story of their youth and the competition for the love of the same man.  The Climax is when we understand that the daughter of the one woman (who did not marry the man the two women compete for) is the daughter of the man they both wanted...not the man she married.  The falling action and resolution is the fact that the uptight woman who keeps trying to show that her life is so much better than the relaxed and knitting woman, ends up being so jealous of her competition and the daughter of her "friend" is more vivacious, smarter, and more charming...and the daughter of her own husband! 

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A short, short story that takes little time to read, but has great significance is Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour."

  1. Exposition - Mrs. Mallard suffers from heart trouble, so care was taken in telling her the news of her husband's accidental death.  She weeps at once with wild abandonment.  Then, she goes upstairs to her room.
  2. Rising Action- Looking out the window, Mrs. Mallard observes the beauty of nature.  Sitting motionless, she sobs as she realizes the significance of her husband's death.   She can now live for herself:  "Free! Body and Soul free!" she keeps whispering.
  3. Climax - She opens the door to her sister and they descend the stairs.  Someone opens the door.  It is Bentley Mallard!
  4. Falling Action - Bentley's friend runs to screen Mr. Mallard from the sight of his wife.
  5. Denouement - Mrs. Mallard dies--"of a joy that kills."
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I will go ahead and use Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "The Cask of Amontillado," as an example for your suggestion of an easy short story. The story takes place during the carnival season in Italy. Montressor has decided to kill his rival, Fortunato, for some unknown slight.

EXPOSITION: Montressor, the narrator, gives some background information about the relationship between the two men and their families. We find that Fortunato is a wine expert.

CLIMAX: Montressor chains Fortunato to a wall deep inside his family catacombs and then seals him inside.

FALLING ACTION: Fortunato begs Montressor to release him, but when Montressor pays him no mind, Fortunato becomes silent.

RESOLUTION: Far in the future, a much older Montressor tells us that no one has ever discovered the body, and he has succeeded with the perfect crime.

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If you're looking for an entertaining, easy-to-read short story, you might try Jack London's "To Build a Fire."  I'll list and briefly explain the elements you need:

  • Exposition:  At the beginning of the story the speaker explains the setting, the protagonist, what the protagonist is facing, and why he might have trouble.
  • Climax:  The man tries to build a fire to save himself from freezing.  The fire fails to stay lighted.
  • Falling Action:  After the character fails to build the fire, he tries to save himself without a fire.
  • Resolution:  He dies. 

The story is a great read. 

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