Elements of a Short Story
Plot, Character, Setting, Atmosphere, and
The Five Elements of
a Short Story
Plot – the arrangement of incidents or events in
a story; “what happens” in the story.
Plot line – a way of visually demonstrating a
story’s structure by plotting incidents
along a line; plot lines can vary for
different forms of fiction
Plot of a Short Story
Plot of a Short Story
1. Exposition (or Opening Situation) – The reader is
informed of the setting and is introduced to the
main characters.
2. Inciting Force (or Complication) – A conflict is
usually established between characters. This
conflict “gets things started”.
3. Rising Action – The conflict between characters
develops and becomes more pronounced. Involves
a series of crises (conflicts).
Plot of a Short Story
4. Climax – The moment of greatest suspense; a point
of conflict that will lead to the resolution of the
main plot.
5. Falling Action – The result of the outcome of the
climactic conflict. Can involve a crisis, but in a
short story is usually very short.
6. Denouement (or Resolution, or Final Outcome) –
The writer attempts to have the reader leave the
story satisfied.
Assignment –
Analyze “The Three Little Pigs”
In your notebook, draw a plot line.
Label the plotline with numbers and dots for the crises.
Then, using the numbers as a “key” or guide, explain the plot
of “The Three Little Pigs”.
Also, jot down (in a couple of sentences) what you think is the
author’s intention behind the story. How do you know?
You may work with a partner on this.
Plot of “The Three Little Pigs”
Exposition (or Opening Situation) – The three
are introduced. Setting is minimal: “Once upon a
time”, with talking/personified pigs. It is time for the
pigs to go out into the world and
seek their
fortunes, so they leave home.
Inciting Force (or Complication) – The big bad
discovers the first pig in his house of straw, and wants
to eat him.
Rising Action – The wolf visits the house of straw and
the house of sticks, blows them down and eats the
piggies (these are the crises).
Plot of “The Three Little Pigs”
4. Climax – Failing to blow down the brick house, the
wolf tries a different tactic to get into the house.
The wolf climbs down the chimney and dies.
5. Falling Action – The surviving pig invites his mother
over, and she reinforces the lesson the pig (and
reader) learned.
6. Denouement (or Resolution, or Final Outcome) –
The pig learns his lesson and lives “happily ever
“On the Sidewalk Bleeding”
Plot POP Quiz!
Outline the plot of the
story using a plot line.
Test Answers: Sidewalk Plot
1. Exposition (or Opening Situation) – The boy Andy,
protagonist, is introduced as wearing a purple silk
jacket with The Royals on the back and his name
on it.
2. Inciting Force (or Complication) – Stabbed ten
minutes because he was a Royal.
3. Rising Action – As he lay dying, he encounters
different people who don’t save him for various
reasons. 1. Drunk man—doesn’t understand. 2.
Young Couple—don’t want to be involved. 3.
Elderly Woman—hearing issues.
Test Answers: Sidewalk Plot
4. Climax – “It seemed very important that he
take off the purple jacket”. He takes it off
despite much trouble.
5. Falling Action – Andy says “I’m Andy”, dies,
Laura finds him, cop pronounces him dead,
calls him a royal.
6. Denouement (or Resolution, or Final
Outcome) – Laura: “His name is Andy”.
But cop writes: “A Royal”.
“The Michelle I Know”
Crossroads 10 pp. 16-23.
Complete “Responding to the Story” and
“Story Craft: Plot” chart p. 23.
Noun – a person, place, thing, or idea
Adjective – a word that describes or limits a noun
Verb – an action word
Adverb – a word that describes how a verb is done;
usually ends in -ly
Plot and Conflict
Our lives are full of conflict. Likewise, the lives
of characters are full of conflict.
Think of a story as a look at a conflict and its
resolution (for better or worse!).
There is no story without conflict.
Plot and Conflict
Really, the plot of a story is literally ALL about conflict.
The inciting force and the crises (in the rising action phase), as
well as the climax are all conflicts of some sort.
(Note: There can be minor conflicts in the falling action, but in a
short story these are rare.)
Two Main Types of Conflict
There are two main types of conflict:
• Psychological Conflict
• Physical Conflict
Categories of Conflict
Conflict can be categorized as:
Person vs. Herself/Himself
Person vs. Person
Person vs. Nature
Person vs. Society
Person vs. the Unknown
Person vs. the Supernatural
Person vs. Time
Brainstorm Conflicts
Create a character in your mind. Choose his/her name, gender, age, and list a
couple of details about him/her.
Henry – 23-year-old male construction
worker. Loves to travel, has a dog named Rover, oldest of three
Look at the kinds of conflict.
For each type of conflict, create TWO examples of that kind of conflict that
your character might be involved in.
e.g. Person vs. Nature – on the construction site, Henry uncovers a
prehistoric creature that tries to kill them all
-- Rover is bitten by a rabid mouse and hunts Henry
Person vs. Time – Rover is bitten by a rattler, and Henry must
get him to a vet in time to save his life.
Person vs. the Unknown – Called to a building project in Brazil,
Henry’s co-workers start disappearing into the night… and no
one knows why…
Divide your page into three equal parts.
Brainstorm for each part (15 mins.). In each
space, cover the following questions:
– Who is involved?
– What is happening?
– When is it taking place?
– Where is it taking place?
– Why is it taking place?
– How is it happening? + any other details that
pop into your head.
Outline a Short Story (Pre-writing)
Write an outline for your short story, including notes on the
following elements:
Rising Action
– Describe it.
– Inciting force; main problem.
– Briefly describe 3 crises that lead up
to the climax.
Changes – What changes about the main
character from the beginning to the
– What will be the point of highest
– How will it turn out?
Have at least a sentence or two for each element.
Write a first draft of your story. Do the best you
can, but do not “obsess” over every detail.
Drafts are due TOMORROW.
(Your final version of this story will be between
500—700 words.)
Divide your page into three equal parts.
What Works
What Needs Improvement
What Needs Revision
Revising Workshop
Swap stories with a classmate.
First read: 10-15 mins:
Read the story given to you and comment on:
• What works really well in the story so far.
• What works in the story, but needs some improvement.
• What doesn’t work so well, and needs some revision.
Second Read: 5-10 mins:
• Indicate where you think the story would be improved by
adding DIALOGUE. (Indicate it with a large “D?”.)
• Wherever you see a NOUN, circle it.
• Wherever you see a VERB, underline it.
Revising Workshop
Return the Story to the Author for Revision
(15-20 mins)
• For every NOUN circled, write at least ONE adjective that
could go with that noun. For every VERB circled, write at lea
one ADVERB that could make the image clearer.
• Inject DIALOGUE into your story. Go through your story and
find places where dialogue would add to the story. Re-write
the scene with dialogue included.
Remember: The idea of getting peer help is to IMPROVE your
writing, not simply to criticize it!
Swap your second draft with a classmate.
Peer edit each other’s work. Make reference to
the rubric provided.
When finished, produce a final draft for
Your final version of this story is due Tuesday,
September 27th, at the beginning of class.
Include ALL steps from the writing process and
include it in your personal journal.
Genre – Science Fiction
Science fiction is a broad genre of fiction that often
involves one or more of the following elements:
• A setting in the future or in an alternate timeline.
• A setting in outer space or involving aliens or unknown
• The discovery or application of new scientific principles or
new technology, such as time travel or robots.
Science fiction differs from fantasy in that its imaginary
elements are usually possible within established laws
of nature (although some elements might be entirely
Ray Bradbury
Ray Douglas Bradbury is an
American fantasy, horror,
science fiction, and mystery
writer best known for The
Martian Chronicles, a 1950
book which has been
described both as a short
story collection and a novel,
and his 1953 dystopian novel
Fahrenheit 451.
“A Sound of Thunder”
Answer all questions in complete
1. How is the reader’s interest caught?
2. How does the exposition part of the story set up what is to
follow? (setting, main character[s])
3. What relationship does the material presented in the
introduction bear to the conclusion of the story?
4. Describe as many conflicts as you can in the story. For each,
label it as a “person vs. _____” conflict, and describe
who/what is involved in it. Indicate the page(s) on which
the conflict takes place. Try to identify what you think is the
5. What is the climax of the story? Why do you think that part is
the climax?
6. Paragraph assignment – Hand this in! (MLA)
Bradbury’s stories are often thought to contain overt
lessons for the reader. That is, one of the goals of
this story is to teach, and Bradbury has a certain
point of view of which he wants to convince his
What do you think is the main lesson or message of
the story? In a persuasive paragraph, argue what you
think is the message (or messages) being delivered
through the story. Use evidence from the story to
prove what you say.
The Essay: The Basics
To understand the structure of any essay,
remember this structure:
Say what you are going to
Say it.
Say what you said.
The Essay: The Basics
To understand the structure of any essay,
remember this structure:
Say what you are going to say.
Say it.
(Body Paragraphs)
Say what you said.
The Essay: The Basics - Paragraphs
There are many ways to write paragraphs. For a
general rule, follow this formula:
Topic Sentence
Say what you are going to say.
Body sentences
Say it (or prove it).
Final sentence
Say what you said AND/OR transition to the next
Expository Essay
• You either offer information or explain
your point of view on a topic you already
know something about.
• The five-paragraph essay taught in high
school English classes is of this type.
• There are two basic types of expository
1. one gives information, and
2. the other defends an opinion.
Expository Essay
Basic structure:
Paragraph One - Introduction:
Announces the topic and builds to a thesis
statement in which you state your point of view.
Paragraphs Two to Four (or more) – Body
Supporting evidence and reasoned discussion.
Final Paragraph – Conclusion:
Restates the thesis more emphatically, and
suggests wider implications. Do NOT simply
The 5-Paragraph Essay
Body 1
Body 2
Body 3
Structure of the Introduction
General Statement – Talk
about the broader topic in
Linking Statement – Name the
text and author.
Thesis Statement
Body Paragraphs
Make three statements that
support your thesis, and provide
evidence or proof that supports
those statements.
These will be three paragraphs of
roughly-equal length. They should
follow strict paragraph structure,
and the evidence you use to back
up your topic sentences should be
drawn directly from the text
whenever possible.
Structure of the Conclusion
Re-state Thesis
Linking Statement – Name the text
and author.
General Statement – Talk about the
broader topic in general,
AND/OR leave the reader with
something related to think
Notes and Tips
• In general, except for in Personal Experience
essays, avoid the first-person pronoun, “I”, in your
• Any sentence can be re-written to remove the
self-conscious “I”, “me”, “mine”.
• DO NOT write, “In my opinion,” “I believe”, “I
feel”, etc.
• NEVER write things like, “In the following essay, I
shall try to prove…”, or “In conclusion…”
Thesis Statements
What is a Thesis? “C”
Your thesis is the main point or central idea of
your paper. It is the “backbone” of the paper.
If you ask the question,
“What is the main point of this
your answer should resemble your
essay’s thesis statement.
What is a THESIS?!? “C”
• The core of an informational writing piece
• The central message of the essay; the meaning
in a nutshell
• A clear, concise statement of what an author is
going to say.
• An argument with which others may agree or
A strong thesis…
• gives both the reader and writer a sense
of direction.
• gets readers involved in the
“conversation” of the essay – it alerts the
reader to look for details, facts, and
quotations that support the statement
the thesis makes.
Where is your thesis statement? “c”
• At the beginning of the essay, in order to:
1) establish your position, and
2) give your reader a sense of direction.
• Usually the last line of paragraph #1.
• In longer essays, may appear in paragraph #2.
The thesis for this assignment – copy
and make changes.
Many children’s books are written like
short stories, and contain many of the same
elements. Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary
Pope Osborne is a children’s story that
demonstrates many short story elements.
Plot structure, characterization, and use of flat
and round characters to promote theme are
important elements of both short stories and
Dinosaurs Before Dark.
Sample Paragraphs
How the Writing Process Works
The writing process is the method by which you
will develop your writing from idea to published
form. It includes five important steps: pre-writing,
drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. Pre-writing
involves brainstorming and organizing your ideas.
Drafting is when you write your first, rough copy.
Revision involves adding or removing parts with your
audience in mind. Fixing spelling, punctuation, and
grammar mistakes is editing. Finally, publishing
involves giving your work to the intended audience.
Using the steps of the writing process will improve
your writing by taking it from an idea to publication.
The Aims of a Short Story
When an author writes a short story, he/she has
three aims in mind: To entertain, to teach, and to
raise questions. The author wants the reader to
enjoy the story, and the main aim of short stories is
“to entertain”. “To teach” means the author has a
certain message for the reader to understand, and
the story is the medium for that message.
Sometimes, the author does not have a specific
message, but simply wants “to raise questions” in
the reader’s mind about things that the reader
already believes, and so get the reader to think
about things in a new way. Short story authors might
focus on one aim in particular, but all three aims are
often in mind.
The Plot of
“The Michelle I Know”
“The Michelle I Know” is a short story about a girl
diagnosed with leukemia who is very unhappy. The
reader learns in the exposition that Michelle is confined
to a hospital ward, and that she has few visitors except
Rob, a boy she likes. Through the rising action, Brenda,
Michelle’s kind nurse, tries to cheer Michelle up. She
takes Michelle to meet a man who still has a positive
outlook, despite also suffering from cancer for the past 8
years. The climax occurs when Rob finally shows up, and
Michelle realizes that he likes her for who she is. There is
no falling action or denouement, other than a kiss they
almost share. Michelle is changed by the end of the story
because she is finally happy.
Divide a blank page into quadrants:
Essay Prep
Two of the goals of Sound of Thunder are to teach
and to raise questions about larger issues in the
real world.
For each of the following ideas, brainstorm what
Bradbury might be trying to get the reader to
think about.
You have to think on two levels – what does the
story indicate about the issue, and how might that
message be relevant to the “real world” generally:
Humankind’s relationship with the natural world
(Destruction? Development? Hunting?)
Scientific progress and its dangers in general (time travel,
technology, etc.)
Human nature (or psychology)
Comparison Essay: “A Sound of Thunder”
and A Sound of Thunder
Watch the film A Sound of Thunder.
Take notes on the plot, especially how it varies
from the short story “A Sound of Thunder”.
You might want to set your page up in two
columns to make comparison notes:
Short Story
Clearly, the film was inspired by the movie. But,
the film is very different from the short story.
What messages does the film version carry? How
does it handle the issues raised by Bradbury?
In a formal essay, compare Bradbury’s “A Sound
of Thunder” to the film A Sound of Thunder.
You will want to mention the following:
– Consider the purposes of short stories: To entertain, to teach, and to raise
– Explain how the story and the film work to accomplish the three purposes
of short stories.
– Look at how the film treats the SAME topics/issues. Compare (consider
things that are the SAME) and contrast (consider things that are
DIFFERENT) the two versions and their messages.
Five-paragraph Comparison Essay
Structure: “A Sound of Thunder”
Introduction: In your thesis, clearly state for the
reader what you are going to prove to them.
Paragraph 2: Compare/contrast the treatment of
issue #1.
Paragraph 3: Compare/contrast the treatment of
issue #2.
Paragraph 4: Compare/contrast the treatment of
issue #3.
Conclusion: Re-state your thesis.
Follow this formula!
September 2011Test Review
The Writing Process
The Short Story (Intro + History)
Purposes of a Short Story
How to Analyze a Short Story
Plot and Conflict
“The Michelle I Know”
“The Conversation of Birds”
“On the Sidewalk Bleeding”
“A Sound of Thunder”

The Five Elements of a Short Story