Skip to content

Six elements of great short stories

In literary agent April Eberhardt‘s short story workshop at the recent Pacific Northwest Writer’s Contest, she gave us a list of six elements to look for in stories.

Eberhardt suggests that we write our story first and then overlay these six elements on it to help polish our work.

Six elements of short stories:

Setting.  Set the stage close to the beginning of the story. In my earlier post, I quote poet Nelson Bentley, “Give the readers a place to stand, and then you can take them anywhere.”

Character.  Who is your main character? What do they look like? How do they dress? How do they act? What attitudes do they have toward life?

Point of View.  Are you writing your story in first person, third person, omniscient or another point of view?

Conflict.  This is the main issue of the story. Who wants what? How do they get it? Who or what stands in their way?

Plot.  Plot is merely another name for the events in your story. What happens? Again, how does the character get what they want?

Theme. What is the take away message?

I started a short story recently but was stumped after three pages. My story started with a particular character’s voice and a kernel of an idea. Looking at April’s list and filling in what I had showed me what I didn’t have and what I needed to explore.

I plan to use her list as a brainstorming tool and to apply it to stories I read to see how they tick.

Exercise: Read a short story, then overlay it on the list above to see how the author addresses all these elements.

Check out: “The Best American Short Stories of the Century” edited by John Updike.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: