A short story is a short work of fiction. Fiction is prose writing that does not depend on verses, meters or rhymes for its organization and presentation.
A short story is much shorter than a novel, another major literary genre (type). Typically short stories have fewer than 50 pages and have a surprise that is pivotal to its structure and meaning. There are six key elements of fiction in fine short stories: character, setting, conflict, point of view, plot and theme.
A character is a person (or sometimes even an animal) who takes part in the action of a short story or other literary work. The setting of a short story is the time and place in which it happens: “place” can be internal as well as external. Authors often use descriptions of many aspects to provide a strong sense of setting. A plot is a series of events and character actions by characters that are arranged to lead to a central conflict. A conflict is a struggle between people or forces. The protagonist or central character is usually on one side of the primary conflict. A point of view refers to how a story is told. The theme is the central idea or point belief in a fictional work, both novels and short stories. Below is a summary of one short story’s plot:
O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” (1906) is a short story about a young couple at Christmas who have very little. Indeed, $1.87 is all Della, the young wife, has on Christmas Eve. Della felt this was not enough to buy her husband, James, a worthy Christmas gift. Even though they were poor, materially, James and Della each had one thing, in addition to one another, that they cherished, besides each other. James loved his gold watch that had been passed down generations, and Della treasured her long, beautiful hair. Each took great pride in these objects. Nonetheless, in an effort to buy James a present, Della sells her hair for a wig and receives $20. Next, Della purchases a wonderful chain worthy of James’ watch. When James arrives home, he notices that Della’s hair has been cut very short. Della thinks James is upset about what she has done, but then she understands why he is shocked. Then, James gives Della her present, a set of beautiful combs for the long, lovely hair she has given up for him. James opens the gift to find the watch chain. Della then asks for James to get his watch, so she can see the chain on it. Instead, James smiles and says: “Let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while . . . I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs.”
Short stories are studied, at least in part, in the following courses:
English 115, Introduction to Literature
This course introduces students to the careful reading, discussion, and written analysis of literature. Students read and discuss poetry, fiction, and drama.
English 124, Introduction to Fiction
This course introduces students to the careful reading, discussion, and written analysis of novels and short stories. Students learn the use of various critical methods in examining the elements, aims, and effects of fiction.
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