ANALYSING A SHORT STORY

 

·        Plot

·        Point of View

·        Character

·        Setting

·        Theme

 

PLOT

 

Plot is different from Story.

 

The story is a chronological sequence (arranged in time) of events/episodes.

The plot of a story need not be chronologically sequenced. The plot can rearrange the elements of the story such that (for instance) the end is narrated before the beginning. In such an instance, the plot uses the device of flashback. To give another example, in a detective tale, the initial action in the story is not disclosed to the reader until nearly the end, thereby producing the element of suspense.

 

The plot explores the causal connection (the link of cause to effect) between the episodes of a story.

 

Irony, Suspense, Coincidence, are some features of Plot.

 

E.M. Forster illustrated the difference between Plot and Story thus:

Story: ‘The King died, and then the Queen died.’

(the question that propels the story forward is ‘what happened next?’)

 

Plot: ‘The King died, and then the Queen died of grief.’

(the question addressed by the plot is ‘why?’/’how is the second event caused by the first’?)

 

What are the constituents of Plot?

 

Exposition/Introduction is the information needed to understand what will happen during the time frame of a story. It usually consists of background information.

Complication is the catalyst that begins the major conflict.

Climax or crisis is the turning point in the story that occurs when characters try to resolve the complication.

Resolution is the tying up of the loose ends of the story, the ending or outcome.

Epiphany: a moment of startling, sudden insight gained by the main character as a result of the unfolding of events in the story

 

Questions to ask:

1) Why did the author arrange the story elements the way she did? What effect did she wish the story to produce?

2) How does the plot control our emotional response and prepare us for reversals or surprises?

3) Is the plot probable?

 

POINT OF VIEW

 

Who tells the story?

The teller of a story is the narrator, who is not to be confused with the author.

 

In fiction, who tells the story and how s/he tells it are critical issues that determine the interpretation of the story. The tone and feel of the story, and even its meaning, can change depending on who the narrator is.

 

The narrator can either ‘show’ or ‘tell’. In the former case, s/he has the characters speak in their own voices, without any narrative mediation. In the latter, the narrator reports the events to the reader and thereby possesses greater control over the interpretation of the story.

 

Is the narrator trustworthy?

The credibility of the story will depend on the (perceived) reliability of the narrator. The narrator could be either objective (detached) or subjective (biased). An objective narrator’s tale is more readily believed than that of a subjective narrator.

  

Types of Point of View

  

Third Person Point of View

Here the narrator does not participate in the action of the story as one of the characters, but lets us know about the events and characters. This is an ‘outside’ voice.

 

First Person Point of View

Here the narrator does participate in the action of the story. S/he is one of the characters in the story, an ‘inside’ voice.

When reading stories in the first person, we need to realise that what the narrator is recounting might not be the objective truth. For instance, a first person narrator might try to justify her action as she wishes to present herself in a favourable light to the reader. The trustworthiness of the recounting is thus an issue.

 

Omniscient and Limited Omniscient Points of View

A narrator who knows everything about all the characters is all-knowing, or omniscient. A narrator whose knowledge is limited to one character, either major or minor, has a limited omniscient point of view.

 

Questions to ask:

1) How does the point of view affect your response to the story, to the characters and the theme?

2) Is the narrator reliable? How do you assess her reliability?

3) Are the plot and the point-of-view of the story linked? If so, how?

 

CHARACTER

  

Characters are either major or minor, and either static (unchanging) or dynamic (changing).

Protagonist—the leading character; the main character

Antagonist—the force acting against the main character

E.M. Forster drew the distinction between flat and round characters.

Flat character—a one-dimensional representation, a stereotype

Round character—a multi-dimensional representation, someone who can convince in a surprising manner

 

Dynamic character—one that changes or grows from beginning to end

Static character—one that never changes or grows from beginning to end

 

Readers can learn about characters in many ways, including:

Physical traits, Dialogue, Actions, Attire, Opinions, Point of view

 

Since a short story aims for brevity, a round character is usually revealed/disclosed rather than developed in the course of the plot.

 

SETTING

 

The location of a story's action, along with the time in which it occurs, is the setting. Setting can add an important dimension of meaning, reflecting character and embodying theme. Setting could even be symbolic, in the use, for instance, of pathetic fallacy.

  

THEME

 

The theme of a fable is its moral. The theme of a parable is its teaching.

The theme of a piece of fiction is its view about life and how people behave, the narrator’s vision.

The writer's task is to communicate on a common ground with the reader.

 

Questions to ask:

1) Does the title have anything to do with the theme?

2) Are there repeating patterns and symbols in the story? Sometimes these lead you to the theme.

3) What allusions (references) are made throughout the story?

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