Characteristics of a Short Story

A short story can be a success or a failure in such a short span due to its defined characteristics.

Not necessarily evident in all short stories, these characteristics include: a compressed plot, intensive use of details, and an emphasis on a single character (Kanne, 6). These building blocks help create a world in which a reader can be instantly captivated within a paragraph or two. The next sections will describe how a compressed plot and intensive use of details, are indispensable to a good short story. The most defining and essential element of a successful story is its compressed plot.

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A short story is confined to introduce elements of a plot at a much smaller scale. At times, all within as little as 10 pages. If we take a look at Alice Munro’s Royal Beatings, we can outline key components of the plot. It begins with the foreshadowing of a royal beating: “Royal beating.

That was Flo’s promise. You are going to get one royal beating” (1220). As the story progresses, we get a glimpse of this stepmother, daughter relationship and the environment that feeds into it. We then reach the climax of the story, the beating: “He shakes her and hits her against the wall, he kicks her leg.

She is incoherent, insane, shrieking. Forgive me! Oh please, forgive me! ” (1232). We are then privied to a resolution: “Tomorrow morning, maybe even tonight. Unseemly and unlikely as that may be.

They will be embarrassed, but rather less than you would expect considering how they have behaved. They will feel a queer lassitude, a convalescent indolence, not far off satisfaction” (1233). However, this dissection could not have been possible without the intensive use of details to create a world a reader can imagine.Alice Munro’s carefully chosen choice of words, allows us to get a broad view of the story, while also managing to provide specific details to get a sharper focus.

In one sentence we get a sense of how poor the town is: “There was one streetlight, a tin flower; then the amenities gave up and there were dirt roads and boggy places, front yard dumps and strange looking houses” (1223). We get to feel how painful a blood clot in the lung could be: “It’s like a boiled egg in my chest, with the shell left on” (1221).We get to feel the emotion in the room as we read the last paragraph, viewing Rose’s memories of the past. The success of a short story stems from two characteristics that can be quite difficult to pull off.

A compressed plot requires the flow of a story to happen within a limited scale. The second part involves using intensive details to paint a broad but specific picture of the environment and meaning of the story. When those two elements come together, like in Alice Munro’s Royal Beating, what a joy it becomes to read through it.

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Characteristics of a Short Story. (2018, Feb 22). Retrieved from