Sunday, August 29, 2010

What Makes a Good Short Story

A short story does not require length, but like any story, it does require a plot and structure. Plot and structure are crucial elements of fiction because without them, there would be no beginning, middle, or end of a story. Although, some short stories can illustrate that the middle of the story is not as necessary, much like Margaret Atwood does with her short story Happy Endings. Atwood's story chronicles the different lives her main characters John and Mary could live out together, apart, or even dead. The main theme of Happy Endings is that the only ending that is certain for her characters is death, and that the middle of a story is the hardest to write. She exemplifies this fact by focusing mostly on the beginnings and endings concerning her characters.

In order for a reader to make sense of a story, each event must have a purpose that leads to the next event in a fairly reasonable way. Following the Three Act Structure is the easiest way to build a successful plot, (Plot, n.d.). Frank O’Connor’s short story, Guests of the Nation, demonstrates the simple use of the Three Act Structure: setup, confrontation, and resolution. In the beginning, we learn who the characters are: Irish and British soldiers who have become fast friends. Then, it is revealed that the British soldiers are actually hostages of the Irishmen, and they might have to be killed later on. The resolution is slow and painful as the two British soldiers are executed by their new friends.

Plot and structure are the backbones to any good story. In a short story, plot and structure are even more important since there are less words to express the importance of the theme, characters, and events. Margaret Atwood and Frank O’Connor are two authors that understood how to properly use plot and structure to their story’s advantage.

Plot. (n.d.). Elements of a novel, structure and plot. Retrieved August 25, 2010, from

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