The Short Story

The short story is a relatively new genre, made famous by Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Traditionally, the short story possesses unity of time and place, and can be read in a single sitting. Unlike novels, with their crossing sub-plots, numerous characters, and often multi-year time lines, the short story is simplified to a single plot line, a few characters, and a very short span of time.

The short story genre can be conveniently subdivided into two types:

In reality, these two types are on a continuum, thus offereing every combination of percentages of plot and character. Do you like action stories, 90% plot and only 10% characterization? Or do you favor stories that are 90% character and only 10% plot? Personally, I lean heavily toward character, preferring 70% character and 30% plot.

To learn more about characterization, go here.

The traditional plot-type story has several parts, graphed on a time line. These parts are, in the chronological order of appearance:


Expostion is that part of a short story that established the needed background information. It usually contains the following types of information:

Rising Action

Rising action (also known as the "complication") contains the following parts:


There comes a point in a story where the emotional or psychological tension is at its highest and cannot be sustained any longer without damaging the credibility of the writer and the story line. Because the action sequence turns down from this point, after rising through the complication and the conflict, the climax is called the turning point. A more accurate name would be the breaking point, as this is where the tension breaks. Think of a rubber band. Though you may stretch it to great length, sooner or later it will break. The tension cannot be increased indefinitely. If the reader has correctly guessed the climax (at the technical climax), he probably enjoys the satisfaction of thinking of himself as smarter than average. "I knew it!" he says. If the climax shows a different ending than the one expected--still plausible, but different--the reader enjoys a nice surprise ending.

Falling Action

The falling action is also termed the denouement, a French word meaning "the untying of a knot." The falling action is also called the "resolution." After the climax is past, the energy is out of the story, and a quick explanation of any loose points, a wrapping up of the story, is at hand. No one is interested any more. The ride has stopped. Quickly get out of the roller coaster. The reader does not want to sit long in a ride that is not moving!