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Short Story Structure

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Short Story Analysis

Structure        (komposition)

        -Structure is the selection and organization of the material to form a meaningful unit.         Awareness of the structure of a text may help the reader understand the basic ideas of         a text. There are many ways in which the author may choose to organize his/her         material. Some of them are described below:

  1.         Chronological narrative leading up to a climax. In this type of text we are gradually         introduced to the characters and the important events and conflicts. There is a slow         build-up of tension, which may then be released in the climax of the story.
  2.         Abrupt opening (in medias res). This is a technique often used in short fiction. The         author starts in the middle of things without previous introduction to the characters         and the events. The text may even start with the climax. This type of opening may         seem confusing to the reader. It has the effect, however, of alerting the reader and         raising his/her curiosity.
  3.         Flash-backs. In texts starting in medias res background information will often be         given the reader gradually to enable him/her to piece the events together. This         background information may be provided in the form of flash-backs.
  4.         Contrasts and parallels. A way of organizing material is the use of contrasts or         parallels. The author uses contrasts and parallels to call attention to important aspects         of the text.


-     geographical location, town, country, continent

  • social environment, culture, spiritual and emotional atmosphere
  • nature
  • the room, house

What to look for:

- Where does the story take place? Country,? Village? Town? City?

- Is it a rich/poor environment? Upper class/middle class/working class?

- Modern life, old-fashioned, traditional?

- What life styles and values are represented?

The setting encompasses everything that surrounds and affects the characters from cradle to grave. In describing and characterizing people and understanding their conflicts it is thus necessary to study the setting.



-     exact time

  • historical period, when does the story take place? In modern times or in the past?
  • time span
  • flash-backs

Mood and atmosphere

  • colours: dark and light
  • sad or joyful
  • depressing or uplifting
  • does the setting create any particular atmosphere?


        The use of language in a given text is the author’s conscious choice. Through the         language / the choice of words he/she gives the reader important information about the         characters and situations.  It is therefore important that the reader pays close attention         to the language used in a text. Particularly the use of images (billeder/billedsprog) is         an important stylistic device. Complex ideas and emotional states may be captured in         a concrete image without losing their complexity and multiplicity of meaning         (flertydighed).


  • the author is the person who wrote the story and had it published
  • the narrator is the fictional character or voice that tells the story.
  • 1st person narrator: an “I” tells us the story; the 1st person narrator is often the main character, or may play an active role in the story.
  • 3ed person narrator: an anonymous observer describes events and characters, but does not take part in the action of the story.

Point of view

  • the angle form which the action and the characters are observed.
  • A 1st person narrator can only see things form his/her point of view, and can therefore only observe the other characters form the outside.
  • Sometimes such a narrator cannot be trusted and may be keeping things form the readers.
  • At other times, a 1st person narrator is not aware that the information he or she gives can be understood in more ways than one. This is often seen when the narrator is a child.
  • A 3ed person narrator may have a limited point of view, telling us only what he/she sees or hears.
  • If the narrator is unlimited and moves freely in time and space and in and out of the characters’ minds, he/she is an omniscient (=alvidende) narrator

Clues to look for

how much does the narrator know? Is it an omniscient narrator?

  • Is this a reliable narrator? How much knowledge does the narrator share with the reader?
  • In what tone of voice does the narrator speak?
  • Which character do we follow all the time or most of the time?
  • Why did the author choose this particular angle? Is this angle narrow or wide? Can we as readers make our own conclusion?
  • To what degree are we controlled by the narrator’s attitude?


  • the narrator describes the characters, either by telling us about their personality directly, or by showing us what the characters are like through their actions, dialogue and interaction. In this way their feelings, motives, attitudes, their inner lives, etc. are revealed.
  • Depending on how well we get to know the characters they are called flat, (one-sides, perhaps stereotyped), or round (complex, perhaps hard to describe briefly).
  • When we characterize, we sum up our impressions of the character based on evidence in the text. To characterize, we use adjectives that match the qualities we see in the person: naïve, inexperienced, immature, simple, stupid, brainless, - or clever, smart, responsible, mature.

What to look for

  • What do we learn about the characters, - and how?
  • Does the story focus on one or more main characters?
  • Does the main character change or develop? How?
  • What are the relationships between the characters?
  • Are the characters flat, or round?
  • facts: age, gender, appearance, education, social background
  • intellectual abilities: clever, gifted, foolish, simple, etc
  • attitudes towards lift: relaxed, tense, sensible, extroverted, etc.
  • attitudes towards other people: sociable, easy-going, honest, quarrelsome, rude, etc.


  • what has happened before the story begins?
  • what starts the events of the story?
  • what happens as a result of that?
  • what happens in the end?
  • what is the resolution?

Theme and message

Very often the themes or the central ideas of the story are not shown or stated directly, but implied.

  • the general theme: love, war, crime, relationships, etc.
  • what does the author wish to convey or illustrate?
  • does the story carry a message?
  • what does the  title mean?

What to look for to identify the theme

- is there any striking repetition of actions, thoughts, words or symbols?

- what are the conflicts in the story? Are they solved? How?

- does the title of the story indicate anything about the theme?

- what attitude to life is expressed in the story?



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