Terms for Short Fiction

Before we dive into our three-week unit on short story and critical theory, review the short story terms below.  You'll need to understand them for the work of this unit. 

Terms to know for short fiction:

Character: a person who figures in the action of a literary work. The protagonist or main character is the central figure in the work. Major characters play significant roles in the work. An antagonist is the character who opposes or works against the protagonist. (Note: not all stories have antagonists). Minor characters play a less important role. Flat characters or one- dimensional characters are those that show one single dominant trait. Rounded characters demonstrate a range of human qualities typical of actual human beings. A static character is one who does not change during the plot unlike a dynamic character who undergoes changes as the plot unfolds.

Climax : the point of highest interest and suspense in a literary work, sometimes referred to as the turning point of the story. The climax occurs at that point in the story when the rising action ends and the falling action begins.

Irony: the difference between what one is lead to believed about a person or situation and what really happened. Many times it is the exact opposite of what it appears to be. There are many types of irony, the three most common being verbal irony, dramatic irony, and irony of situation. Verbal irony occurs when either the speaker means something totally different than what he is saying or the audience realizes, because of their knowledge of the particular situation to which the speaker is referring, that the opposite of what a character is saying is true. Verbal irony also occurs when a character says something in jest that, in actuality, is true. In Julius Caesar, Marc Antony's reference to Brutus being an honorable man is an example of verbal irony. Dramatic irony occurs when the reader or the audience already knows something that is unknown to the characters. Irony spices up a literary work by adding unexpected twists and allowing the reader to become more involved with the characters and plot. In The Importance of Being Earnest, when Algernon arrives at his friend's home pretending to be his long lost brother, the audience knows this before Jack does. Irony of situation occurs when an event violates the expectations of the characters, the reader, or the audience.

Narrator: the person relating the story; not to be confused with the author who is creating the story. The narrator may be a character who introduces, comments on, and is a part of the actions. The narrator may be a central character or a minor character or simply someone who is an observer to the events.

Plot: a series of events related to the central conflict or struggle. A typical plot involves the introduction of a conflict, its development and its final resolution. Plots can be developed in chronological order, or using a flashback that presents an event or series of events that occurred earlier than the current time in the work. Flashbacks can provide background information, or explanation about the characters. Often plot structures follow archetypes such as the quest, the rebirth, the tragedy, etc.

Point of view - the vantage point from which the story is told. Stories can be told from the first-person point of view in which the narrator uses the word "I" or "we." The third-person point of view is told from the viewpoint of someone who generally stands outside the action of the story and may relate only what can be seen or heard as a witness. The third-person limited point of view is a told by a narrator who can see and hear what occurs, but who also knows the private thoughts and feelings of a single character. Sometimes the narrator knows the private thoughts and feelings of all the characters - this is the third-person omniscient point of view. In Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Cask of Amontillado," the first person point of view is exhibited. In this story the main character conveys the incidents he encounters, as well as giving the reader insight into himself as he reveals his thoughts, feelings, and intentions.

Setting: the time and place in which the story occurs, with all the details used to create specific time and place. Authors create setting by means of description of scenery, weather, season, etc. Setting can include the general social, political, moral, and psychological conditions in which the characters find themselves.  The setting might be integral, with the time and place extensively described, such as a historical time period, or more of a backdrop that is more general like "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away."

Short story - a prose narrative that is brief in nature. The short story also has many of the same characteristics of a novel including characters, setting, and plot. However, due to length constraints, these characteristics and devices generally may not be as fully developed, or as complex, as those developed for a full-length novel, and short story often focuses on a single character (or a limited number of characters). There are many authors well known for the short story including Edgar Allan Poe, Saki, O. Henry, and Ernest Hemingway.

Theme - an insight or life lesson found in a piece of literature. Great works of literature may have more than one theme. A theme is a thought or idea the author presents to the reader that may be deep, difficult to understand, or even moralistic. Generally, a theme has to be extracted as the reader explores the passages of a work. The theme could be explicit -- stated directly in the words of the narrator or a character -- or implicit, a message suggested in the literature. The author utilizes the characters, plot, and other literary devices to assist the reader in this endeavor. The ability to recognize a theme is important because it allows the reader to understand part of the author's purpose in writing the book. One theme that may be extracted by the reader of Dante's The Divine Comedy Volume I: Inferno is the need to take account of one's own behavior now, for it affects one's condition in the afterlife.