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Short Story Form 4 Essay

A short story is a piece of prosefiction that can be read in one sitting. Emerging from earlier oral storytelling traditions in the 17th century, the short story has grown to encompass a body of work so diverse as to defy easy characterization. At its most prototypical the short story features a small cast of named characters, and focuses on a self-contained incident with the intent of evoking a "single effect" or mood.[1] In doing so, short stories make use of plot, resonance, and other dynamic components to a far greater degree than is typical of an anecdote, yet to a far lesser degree than a novel. While the short story is largely distinct from the novel, authors of both generally draw from a common pool of literary techniques.

Short stories have no set length. In terms of word count there is no official demarcation between an anecdote, a short story, and a novel. Rather, the form's parameters are given by the rhetorical and practical context in which a given story is produced and considered, so that what constitutes a short story may differ between genres, countries, eras, and commentators.[2] Like the novel, the short story's predominant shape reflects the demands of the available markets for publication, and the evolution of the form seems closely tied to the evolution of the publishing industry and the submission guidelines of its constituent houses.[3]

The short story has been considered both an apprenticeship form preceding more lengthy works, and a crafted form in its own right, collected together in books of similar length, price, and distribution to novels. Short story writers may define their works as part of the artistic and personal expression of the form. They may also attempt to resist categorization by genre and fixed formation.


Determining what exactly separates a short story from longer fictional formats is problematic. A&#;classic definition of a short story is that one should be able to read it in one sitting, a point most notably made in Edgar Allan Poe's essay "The Philosophy of Composition" (). Interpreting this standard nowadays is problematic, because the expected length of "one sitting" may now be briefer than it was in Poe's era. Other definitions place the maximum word count of the short story at anywhere from 1, to 4, In contemporary usage, the term short story most often refers to a work of fiction no shorter than 1, and no longer than 20, words. Stories of fewer than 1, words are sometimes referred to as "short short stories",[4] or "flash fiction".

As a point of reference for the genre writer, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America define short story length in the Nebula Awards for science fiction submission guidelines as having a word count of fewer than 7, words.[5]

Longer stories that cannot be called novels are sometimes considered "novellas" or novelettes and, like short stories, may be collected into the more marketable form of "collections", often containing previously unpublished stories. Sometimes, authors who do not have the time or money to write a novella or novel decide to write short stories instead, working out a deal with a popular website or magazine to publish them for profit.


As a concentrated form of narrative prose fiction, the short story has been theorised through the traditional elements of dramatic structure: exposition (the introduction of setting, situation and main characters), complication (the event that introduces the conflict), rising action, crisis (the decisive moment for the protagonist and his commitment to a course of action), climax (the point of highest interest in terms of the conflict and the point with the most action) and resolution (the point when the conflict is resolved). Because of their length, short stories may or may not follow this pattern. For example, modern short stories only occasionally have an exposition, more typically beginning in the middle of the action (in medias res). As with longer stories, plots of short stories also have a climax, crisis, or turning point. However, the endings of many short stories are abrupt and open and may or may not have a moral or practical lesson. As with any art form, the exact characteristics of a short story will vary by creator.

Short stories tend to be less complex than novels. Usually a short story focuses on one incident; has a single plot, a single setting, and a small number of characters; and covers a short period of time. The modern short story form emerged from oral story-telling traditions, the brief moralistic narratives of parables and fables, and the prose anecdote, all of these being forms of a swiftly sketched situation that quickly comes to its point.


With the rise of the realistic novel, the short story evolved in a parallel tradition, with some of its first distinctive examples in the tales of E. T. A. Hoffmann. The character of the form developed particularly with authors known for their short fiction, either by choice (they wrote nothing else) or by critical regard, which acknowledged the focus and craft required in the short form. An example is Jorge Luis Borges, who won American fame with "The Garden of Forking Paths", published in the August Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Another example is O. Henry (author of "Gift of the Magi"), for whom the O. Henry Award is named. Other of his most popular, inventive and most often reprinted stories (among over ) include: A Municipal Report, An Unfinished Story, A Blackjack Barginer, A Lickpenny Lover, Mammon and the Archer, Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen, The Last Leaf. American examples include: Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, John Cheever, and Raymond Carver. Science fiction short story with a special poetic touch was a genre developed with great popular success by Ray Bradbury. The genre of the short story was often neglected until the second half of the 19th century.

The evolution of printing technologies and periodical editions were among the factors contributing to the increasing importance of short story publications. Pioneering role in founding the rules of the genre in the Western canon include, among others, Rudyard Kipling (United Kingdom), Anton Chekhov (Russia), Guy de Maupassant (France), Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera (Mexico) and Rubén Darío (Nicaragua).

An important theoretical example for storytelling analysis is provided by Walter Benjamin in his illuminated essay The Storyteller where he argues about the decline of storytelling art and the incommunicability of experiences in the modern world.[6] Oscar Wilde's essay The Decay of Lying and Henry James's The Art of Fiction are also partly related with this subject.


Short stories date back to oral storytelling traditions which originally produced epics such as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. Oral narratives were often told in the form of rhyming or rhythmicverse, often including recurring sections or, in the case of Homer, Homeric epithets. Such stylistic devices often acted as mnemonics for easier recall, rendition and adaptation of the story. Short sections of verse might focus on individual narratives that could be told at one sitting. The overall arc of the tale would emerge only through the telling of multiple such sections.

The other ancient form of short story, the anecdote, was popular under the Roman Empire. Anecdotes functioned as a sort of parable, a brief realistic narrative that embodies a point. Many surviving Roman anecdotes were collected in the 13th or 14th century as the Gesta Romanorum. Anecdotes remained popular in Europe well into the 18th century, when the fictional anecdotal letters of Sir Roger de Coverley were published.

In Europe, the oral story-telling tradition began to develop into written stories in the early 14th century, most notably with Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron. Both of these books are composed of individual short stories (which range from farce or humorous anecdotes to well-crafted literary fictions) set within a larger narrative story (a frame story), although the frame-tale device was not adopted by all writers. At the end of the 16th century, some of the most popular short stories in Europe were the darkly tragic "novella" of Matteo Bandello (especially in their French translation).

The mid 17th century in France saw the development of a refined short novel, the "nouvelle", by such authors as Madame de Lafayette. In the s, traditional fairy tales began to be published (one of the most famous collections was by Charles Perrault). The appearance of Antoine Galland's first modern translation of the Thousand and One Nights (or Arabian Nights) (from ; another translation appeared in –12) would have an enormous influence on the 18th-century European short stories of Voltaire, Diderot and others.


There are early examples of short stories published separately between and , but the first true collections of short stories appeared between and in several countries around the same period.[7]

The first short stories in the United Kingdom were gothic tales like Richard Cumberland's "remarkable narrative" "The Poisoner of Montremos" ().[8] Great novelists like Sir Walter Scott and Charles Dickens also wrote some short stories.

One of the earliest short stories in the United States was Charles Brockden Brown's "Somnambulism" from Washington Irving wrote mysterious tales including "Rip van Winkle" () and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (). Nathaniel Hawthorne published the first part of his Twice-Told Tales in Edgar Allan Poe wrote his tales of mystery and imagination between and Classic stories are "The Fall of the House of Usher", "The Tell-Tale Heart", "The Cask of Amontillado", "The Pit and the Pendulum", and the first detective story, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue". In "The Philosophy of Composition" () Poe argued that a literary work should be short enough for a reader to finish in one sitting.[9]

In Germany, the first collection of short stories was by Heinrich von Kleist in and The Brothers Grimm published their first volume of collected fairy tales in E. T. A. Hoffmann followed with his own original fantasy tales, of which "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" () is the most famous.

In France, Prosper Mérimée wrote Mateo Falcone in


In the latter half of the 19th century, the growth of print magazines and journals created a strong demand for short fiction of between 3, and 15, words.

In the United Kingdom, Thomas Hardy wrote dozens of short stories, including "The Three Strangers" (), "A Mere Interlude" () and "Barbara of the House of Grebe" (). Rudyard Kipling published short story collections for grown-ups, e.g. Plain Tales from the Hills (), as well as for children, e.g. The Jungle Book (). In Arthur Conan Doyle brought the detective story to a new height with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. H. G. Wells wrote his first science fiction stories in the s. One of his best known is "The Country of the Blind" ().

In the United States, Herman Melville published his story collection The Piazza Tales in "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" was the title story of Mark Twain's first book one year later. In , Brander Matthews, the first American professor of dramatic literature, published The Philosophy of the Short-Story. At that same year, Matthews was the first one to name the emerging genre "short story". Another theorist of narrativefiction was Henry James. James wrote a lot of short stories himself, including "The Real Thing" (), "Maud-Evelyn" and The Beast in the Jungle (). In the s Kate Chopin published short stories in several magazines.

The most prolific French author of short stories was Guy de Maupassant. Stories like "Boule de Suif" ("Ball of Fat", ) and "L'Inutile Beauté" ("The Useless Beauty", ) are good examples of French realism.

In Russia, Ivan Turgenev gained recognition with his story collection A Sportsman's Sketches. Nikolai Leskov created his first short stories in the s. Late in his life Fyodor Dostoyevski wrote "The Meek One" () and "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man" (), two stories with great psychological and philosophical depth. Leo Tolstoy handled ethical questions in his short stories, for example in "Ivan the Fool" (), "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" () and "Alyosha the Pot" (). The greatest specialist of the Russian short story, however, was Anton Chekhov. Classic examples of his realistic prose are "The Bet" (), "Ward No. 6" (), and "The Lady with the Dog" (). Maxim Gorky's best known short story is "Twenty-six Men and a Girl" ().

The prolific Indian author of short stories Munshi Premchand, pioneered the genre in the Hindustani language, writing a substantial body of short stories and novels in a style characterized by realism and an unsentimental and authentic introspection into the complexities of Indian society. Premchand's work, including his over short stories (such as the story "Lottery") and his novel Godaan remain substantial works.

A master of the short story, the Urdu language writer Saadat Hasan Manto, is revered for his exceptional depth, irony and sardonic humour. The author of some short stories, radio plays, essays, reminiscences and a novel, Manto is widely admired for his analyses of violence, bigotry, prejudice and the relationships between reason and unreason. Combining realism with surrealism and irony, Manto's works such as the celebrated short story Toba Tek Singh are aesthetic masterpieces which continue to give profound insight into the nature of human loss, violence and devastation.

In India, Rabindranath Tagore published short stories, on the lives of the poor and oppressed such as peasants, women and villagers under colonial misrule and exploitation.

In Poland, Bolesław Prus was the most important author of short stories. In he wrote "A Legend of Old Egypt".

Machado de Assis, one of the majors novelist from Brazil was the most important short story writer from his country at the time, under influences (among others) of Xavier de Maistre, Lawrence Sterne, Guy de Maupassant. In the end of the 19th century the writer João do Rio became popular by short stories about the bohemianism. Writing about the former slaves, and very ironical about nationalism, Lima Barreto died almost forgotten, but became very popular in the 20th century.

In Portuguese literature, the major names of the time are Almeida Garrett and the historian and novelist Alexandre Herculano. Still influential, Eça de Queiroz produced some short stories with a style influenced by Émile Zola, Balzac and Dickens.


In the United Kingdom, periodicals like The Strand Magazine and Story-Teller contributed to the popularity of the short story. Hector Hugh Munro (–), also known by his pen name of Saki, wrote satirical short stories about Edwardian England. W. Somerset Maugham, who wrote over a hundred short stories, was one of the most popular authors of his time. P. G. Wodehouse published his first collection of comical stories about valet Jeeves in Many detective stories were written by G. K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. Short stories by Virginia Woolf are "Kew Gardens" () and "Solid Objects," about a politician with mental problems. Graham Greene wrote his Twenty-One Stories between and A specialist of the short story was V. S. Pritchett, whose first collection appeared in Arthur C. Clarke published his first science fiction story, "Travel by Wire!" in Evelyn Waugh, Muriel Spark and L. P. Hartley were other popular British storytellers whose career started in this period.

In Ireland, James Joyce published his short story collection Dubliners in These stories, written in a more accessible style than his later novels, are based on careful observation of the inhabitants of his birth city.

In the first half of the 20th century, a number of high-profile American magazines such as The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Magazine, The New Yorker, Scribner's, The Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, and The Bookman published short stories in each issue. The demand for quality short stories was so great and the money paid for such so well that F. Scott Fitzgerald repeatedly turned to short-story (as Matthews preferred to write it) writing to pay his numerous debts. His first collection Flappers and Philosophers appeared in book form in William Faulkner wrote over one hundred short stories. Go Down, Moses, a collection of seven stories, appeared in Ernest Hemingway's concise writing style was perfectly fit for shorter fiction. Stories like "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" (), "Hills Like White Elephants" () and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" () are only a few pages long, but carefully crafted. Dorothy Parker's bittersweet story "Big Blonde" debuted in A popular science fiction story is "Nightfall" by Isaac Asimov.

Katherine Mansfield from New Zealand wrote many short stories between and her death in "The Doll's House" () treats the topic of social inequity.

Two important authors of short stories in the German language were Thomas Mann and Franz Kafka. In the latter wrote "A Hunger Artist", about a man who fasts for several days.

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (–) is called the Father of the Japanese short story.

In Brazil, the most famous modern short story writer is Mário de Andrade. At the time, Paulistan writer António de Alcantâra Machado became very popular from his collection of short stories titled, Brás, Bexiga e Barra Funda (), about several Italian neighborhoods, but now he is mostly read in just São Paulo. Also, novelist Graciliano Ramos and poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade have significant short story works.

Portuguese writers like Mário de Sá-Carneiro, Florbela Espanca and Fernando Pessoa wrote well-known short stories, although their major genre was poetry.

After [edit]

The period following World War II saw a great flowering of literary short fiction in the United States. The New Yorker continued to publish the works of the form's leading mid-century practitioners, including Shirley Jackson, whose story, "The Lottery", published in , elicited the strongest response in the magazine's history to that time. Other frequent contributors during the last s included John Cheever, John Steinbeck, Jean Stafford, and Eudora Welty. J. D. Salinger's Nine Stories () experimented with point of view and voice, while Flannery O'Connor's story "A Good Man is Hard to Find" () reinvigorated the Southern Gothic style. Cultural and social identity played a considerable role in much of the short fiction of the s. Philip Roth and Grace Paley cultivated distinctive Jewish-American voices. Tillie Olsen's "I Stand Here Ironing" () adopted a consciously feminist perspective. James Baldwin's collection Going to Meet the Man () told stories of African-American life. Frank O'Connor's The Lonely Voice, an exploration of the short story, appeared in Wallace Stegner's short stories are primarily set in the American West. Stephen King published many short stories in men's magazines in the s and after. The s saw the rise of the postmodern short story in the works of Donald Barthelme and John Barth. Traditionalists including John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates maintained significant influence on the form. Minimalism gained widespread influence in the s, most notably in the work of Raymond Carver and Ann Beattie.

Canadian short story writers include Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, and Lynn Coady.

In the United Kingdom, Daphne du Maurier wrote suspense stories like "The Birds" () and "Don't Look Now" (). Roald Dahl was the master of the twist-in-the-tale. Short story collections like Lamb to the Slaughter () and Kiss Kiss () illustrate his dark humour.

In Italy, Italo Calvino published the short story collection Marcovaldo, about a poor man in a city, in

In Brazil, the short story became popular among female writers like Clarice Lispector, Lygia Fagundes Telles, Adélia Prado, who wrote about their society from a feminine viewpoint, although the genre has great male writers like Dalton Trevisan, Autran DouradoMoacyr Scliar and Carlos Heitor Cony too. Also, writing about poverty and the favelas, João Antonio became a well known writer. Other post-modern short fiction authors include writers Hilda Hilst and Caio Fernando Abreu. Detective literature was led by Rubem Fonseca. It is also necessary to mention João Guimarães Rosa, wrote short stories in the book Sagarana using a complex, experimental language based on tales of oral traditional.

Portuguese writers like Virgílo Ferreira, Fernando Goncalves Namora and Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen are among the most influential short story writers from 20th-century Portuguese language literature. Manuel da Silva Ramos is one of the most well-known names of postmodernism in the country. Nobel Prize-winner José Saramago published few short stories, but became popular from his novels.

The Angolan writer José Luandino Vieira is one of the most well-known writers from his country and has several short stories. José Eduardo Agualusa is also increasingly read in Portuguese-speaking countries.

MozambicanMia Couto is a widely known writer of post modern prose, and he is read even in non-Portuguese speaking countries. Other Mozambican writers such as Suleiman Cassamo, Paulina Chiziane and Eduardo White are gaining popularity with Portuguese-speakers too.

The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges is one of the most famous writers of short stories in the Spanish language. "The Library of Babel" () and "The Aleph" () handle difficult subjects like infinity. Two of the most representative writers of the Magical realism genre are also widely known Argentinian short story writers: Adolfo Bioy Casares and Julio Cortázar.

The Uruguayan writer Juan Carlos Onetti is known as one of the most important magical realist writer from Latin America.

In Colombia, the Nobel prize laureate author Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the main novelist and short story writer, known by his magical realist stories and his defense of the Communist Party in his country.

The Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, also a Nobel prize winner, has significant short story works.

The EgyptianNobel Prize-winner Naguib Mafouz is the most well-known author from his country, but has only a few short stories.

Japanese world-known short story writers include Kenzaburō Ōe (Nobel prize winner of ), Yukio Mishima and Haruki Murakami.

Multi-awarded Philippine writer Peter Solis Nery is one of the most famous writers of short stories in Hiligaynon language. His stories "Lirio" (), "Candido" (), "Donato Bugtot" (), and "Si Padre Olan kag ang Dios" () are all gold prize winners at the Palanca Awards of Philippine Literature.


  • Jamie Krakover defined eshorts in The Writers' Lens:[10]

" For those unfamiliar with eshorts, they are short stories ranging from pages, usually linked to a series. They vary in price from free to $ and are available in electronic format only. The stories told in eshorts are often told from a perspective other than the main character in a series or tell of a side event that is loosely linked to the overall story. They are a great way for readers to revisit their favorite stories and characters in a new light. Stories of this nature normally would require a collection before they could be printed but because of the emergence of ebooks and their pricing scheme, they are available almost as quickly as authors write them."


Alice Munro, "master of the contemporary short story" according to her citation for the Nobel Prize in Literature, said she hopes the award would bring readership for the short story in general.[11]


Short stories have frequently been adapted for:

  • Radio dramas, as on NBC Presents: Short Story (–52). A popular example of this is "The Hitch-Hiker", read by Orson Welles.
  • Short films, often rewritten by other people, and even as feature-length films; such is the case of "Children of the Corn", "The Shawshank Redemption", "The Birds", "Brokeback Mountain", "Who Goes There?", "Duel", "A Sound of Thunder", "The Body", "Total Recall", "The Lawnmower Man", "Hearts in Atlantis", and "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty".
  • Television specials, such as " PM" ( television movie), "Nightmare at 20, Feet" (October 11, , on The Twilight Zone), "The Lottery", and "Button, Button" (on The Twilight Zone).

See also[edit]


  1. ^Poe, Edgar Allan (). Edgar Allan Poe: Essays and Reviews. Library of America. pp.&#;–&#;
  2. ^Cuddon, J. A. (). The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (3rd ed.). London: Penguin. p.&#;&#;
  3. ^Abrams, M. H. (). Glossary of Literary Terms (7th ed.). Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace. pp.&#;– ISBN&#;X.&#;
  4. ^Deirdre Fulton (). "Who reads short shorts?". woaknb.wz.sk Archived from the original on Retrieved &#;
  5. ^"Complete Nebula Awards Rules Including the Ray Bradbury and Andre Norton Awards (Revised & Updated)". woaknb.wz.sk Retrieved &#;
  6. ^""The Storyteller" Commentary by Leo Hall".&#;
  7. ^Short Story in Jacob E. Safra e.a., The New Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th edition, Micropaedia volume 10, Chicago,
  8. ^Internet Book List&#;:: Book Information: Oxford Book of Gothic Tales.
  9. ^"Poe's The Philosophy of Composition: a Study Guide". woaknb.wz.sk Retrieved &#;
  10. ^Krakover, Jamie (April 4, ). "The Eshort Phenomenon". The Writers' Lens.&#;
  11. ^Munro (). "Telephone". Nobel Prize.&#;


  • Browns, Julie, ed. (). Ethnicity and the American Short Story. New York: Garland.&#;
  • Goyet, Florence (). The Classic Short Story, Theory of a Genre. Cambridge U.K.: Open Book Publishers.&#;
  • Gelfant, Blanche; Lawrence Graver, eds. (). The Columbia Companion to the Twentieth-Century American Short Story. Columbia University Press.&#;
  • Hart, James; Phillip Leininger, eds. (). Oxford Companion to American Literature. Oxford University Press.&#;
  • Ibáñez, José R; José Francisco Fernández; Carmen M. Bretones, eds. (). , Contemporary Debates on the Short Story. Bern: Lang.&#;
  • Iftekharrudin, Farhat; Joseph Boyden; Joseph Longo; Mary Rohrberger, eds. (). Postmodern Approaches to the Short Story. Westport, CN: Praeger.&#;
  • Kennedy, Gerald J., ed. (). Modern American Short Story Sequences: Composite Fictions and Fictive Communities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.&#;
  • Lohafer, Susan (). Reading for Storyness: Preclosure Theory, Empirical Poetics, and Culture in the Short Story. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.&#;
  • Magill, Frank, ed. (). Short Story Writers. Pasadena, California: Salem Press.&#;
  • Patea, Viorica, ed. (). Short Story Theories: A Twenty-First-Century Perspective. Amsterdam: Rodopi.&#;
  • Scofield, Martin, ed. (). The Cambridge Introduction to the American Short Story. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.&#;
  • Watson, Noelle, ed. (). Reference Guide to Short Fiction. Detroit: St. James Press.&#;
  • Winther, Per; Jakob Lothe; Hans H. Skei, eds. (). The Art of Brevity: Excursions in Short Fiction Theory and Analysis. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.&#;

Still often cited[edit]

  • Eikhenbaum, Boris, "How Gogol's 'Overcoat' is Made" in Elizabeth Trahan (ed.) (). Gogol's "Overcoat"&#;: An Anthology of Critical Essays,. Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis.&#;
  • Hanson, Clare (). Short Stories and Short Fictions, . New York: St. Martin's Press.&#;
  • LoCicero, Donald (). Novellentheorie: The Practicality of the Theoretical. (About the German theories of the Short Story) The Hague: Mouton.&#;
  • Lohafer, Susan; Jo Ellyn Clarey, eds. (). Short Story Theory at a Crossroads. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press.&#;
  • Mann, Susan Garland (). The Short Story Cycle: A Genre Companion and Reference Guide. New York: Greenwood Press.&#;
  • O'Connor, Frank (). The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story. Cleveland, OH: World Publishing Company.&#;
  • O'Faoláin, Seán (). The short story. Cork: Mercier, ; New York, Devin-Adair.&#;
  • Rohrberger, Mary (). Hawthorne and the Modern Short Story: A Study in Genre. The Hague: Mouton.&#;

External links[edit]

Literary Analysis: Using Elements of Literature

Students are asked to write literary analysis essays because this type of assignment encourages you to think about how and why a poem, short story, novel, or play was written.  To successfully analyze literature, you’ll need to remember that authors make specific choices for particular reasons.  Your essay should point out the author’s choices and attempt to explain their significance. 

Another way to look at a literary analysis is to consider a piece of literature from your own perspective.  Rather than thinking about the author’s intentions, you can develop an argument based on any single term (or combination of terms) listed below.  You’ll just need to use the original text to defend and explain your argument to the reader.

Allegory - narrative form in which the characters are representative of some larger humanistic trait (i.e. greed, vanity, or bravery) and attempt to convey some larger lesson or meaning to life. Although allegory was originally and traditionally character based, modern allegories tend to parallel story and theme.

  • William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily- the decline of the Old South
  • Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde- man’s struggle to contain his inner primal instincts
  • District 9- South African Apartheid
  • X Men- the evils of prejudice
  • Harry Potter- the dangers of seeking “racial purity”

Character - representation of a person, place, or thing performing traditionally human activities or functions in a work of fiction

  • Protagonist - The character the story revolves around.
  • Antagonist - A character or force that opposes the protagonist.
  • Minor character - Often provides support and illuminates the protagonist.
  • Static character - A character that remains the same.
  • Dynamic character - A character that changes in some important way.
  • Characterization - The choices an author makes to reveal a character’s personality, such as appearance, actions, dialogue, and motivations.  

Look for: Connections, links, and clues between and about characters. Ask yourself what the function and significance of each character is. Make this determination based upon the character's history, what the reader is told (and not told), and what other characters say about themselves and others.

Connotation - implied meaning of word. BEWARE! Connotations can change over time.

  • confidence/ arrogance
  • mouse/ rat
  • cautious/ scared
  • curious/ nosey
  • frugal/ cheap

Denotation - dictionary definition of a word

Diction - word choice that both conveys and emphasizes the meaning or theme of a poem through distinctions in sound, look, rhythm, syllable, letters, and definition  

Figurative language - the use of words to express meaning beyond the literal meaning of the words themselves

  • Metaphor - contrasting to seemingly unalike things to enhance the meaning of a situation or theme without using like or as  
    • You are the sunshine of my life.
  • Simile - contrasting to seemingly unalike things to enhance the meaning of a situation or theme using like or as  
    • What happens to a dream deferred, does it dry up like a raisin in the sun
  • Hyperbole - exaggeration
    • I have a million things to do today.
  • Personification - giving non-human objects human characteristics
    • America has thrown her hat into the ring, and will be joining forces with the British.

Foot - grouping of stressed and unstressed syllables used in line or poem

  • Iamb - unstressed syllable followed by stressed
    • Made famous by the Shakespearian sonnet, closest to the natural rhythm of human speech
      • How do I love thee? Let me count the ways
  • Spondee - stressed stressed
    • Used to add emphasis and break up monotonous rhythm
      • Blood boil, mind-meld, well- loved
  • Trochee - stressed unstressed
    • Often used in children’s rhymes and to help with memorization, gives poem a hurried feeling
      • While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
  • Anapest - unstressed unstressed stressed
    • Often used in longer poems or “rhymed stories”
      • Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
  • Dactyls - stressed unstressed unstressed
    • Often used in classical Greek or Latin text, later revived by the Romantics, then again by the Beatles, often thought to create a heartbeat or pulse in a poem
      • Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
        With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.

The iamb stumbles through my books; trochees rush and tumble; while anapest runs like a hurrying brook; dactyls are stately and classical.

Imagery - the author’s attempt to create a mental picture (or reference point) in the mind of the reader. Remember, though the most immediate forms of imagery are visual, strong and effective imagery can be used to invoke an emotional, sensational (taste, touch, smell etc) or even physical response.

Meter - measure or structuring of rhythm in a poem

Plot - the arrangement of ideas and/or incidents that make up a story

  • Foreshadowing - When the writer clues the reader in to something that will eventually occur in the story; it may be explicit (obvious) or implied (disguised).
  • Suspense - The tension that the author uses to create a feeling of discomfort about the unknown
  • Conflict - Struggle between opposing forces.
  • Exposition - Background information regarding the setting, characters, plot.
  • Rising Action - The process the story follows as it builds to its main conflict
  • Crisis - A significant turning point in the story that determines how it must end
  • Resolution/Denouement - The way the story turns out.

Point of View - pertains to who tells the story and how it is told. The point of view of a story can sometimes indirectly establish the author's intentions.

  • Narrator - The person telling the story who may or may not be a character in the story.
  • First-person - Narrator participates in action but sometimes has limited knowledge/vision.
  • Second person - Narrator addresses the reader directly as though she is part of the story. (i.e. “You walk into your bedroom.  You see clutter everywhere and…”)
  • Third Person (Objective) - Narrator is unnamed/unidentified (a detached observer). Does not assume character's perspective and is not a character in the story. The narrator reports on events and lets the reader supply the meaning.
  • Omniscient - All-knowing narrator (multiple perspectives). The narrator knows what each character is thinking and feeling, not just what they are doing throughout the story.  This type of narrator usually jumps around within the text, following one character for a few pages or chapters, and then switching to another character for a few pages, chapters, etc. Omniscient narrators also sometimes step out of a particular character’s mind to evaluate him or her in some meaningful way.

Rhythm - often thought of as a poem’s timing. Rhythm is the juxtaposition of stressed and unstressed beats in a poem, and is often used to give the reader a lens through which to move through the work. (See meter and foot)

Setting - the place or location of the action.  The setting provides the historical and cultural context for characters. It often can symbolize the emotional state of characters. Example – In Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, the crumbling old mansion reflects the decaying state of both the family and the narrator’s mind. We also see this type of emphasis on setting in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice.

Speaker - the person delivering the poem. Remember, a poem does not have to have a speaker, and the speaker and the poet are not necessarily one in the same.

Structure (fiction) - The way that the writer arranges the plot of a story.

Look for: Repeated elements in action, gesture, dialogue, description, as well as shifts in direction, focus, time, place, etc.

Structure(poetry) - The pattern of organization of a poem. For example, a Shakespearean sonnet is a line poem written in iambic pentameter. Because the sonnet is strictly constrained, it is considered a closed or fixed form. An open or free form poem has looser form, or perhaps one of the author’s invention, but it is important to remember that these poems  are not necessarily formless.

Symbolism - when an object is meant to be representative of something or an idea greater than the object itself.

  • Cross - representative of Christ or Christianity
  • Bald Eagle - America or Patriotism
  • Owl - wisdom or knowledge
  • Yellow - implies cowardice or rot

Tone - the implied attitude towards the subject of the poem. Is it hopeful, pessimistic, dreary, worried? A poet conveys tone by combining all of the elements listed above to create a precise impression on the reader.

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