Reflection on the Short Story Part 3

Hello and welcome back fellow writers. In this post I’ll talk about characters, setting and theme.


Hello and welcome back fellow writers. In this post I’ll talk about characters, setting and theme. So if you’ve read Part 1 and 2 on Reflecting on the Short story you will know that I talked about Plot and Conflict. If you like you can go and read those now and come back to this post. Or keep on reading and check those out next. With these two elements of writing I’d like to point out that I will be discussing my understanding and how I’ve come to use them in my own writing. If you have a different why of doing things please feel free to share that with me in the comments.

For me most of my stories start with an idea for a character. It’s the character that will, for me, determine the conflict of the story and the overall plot. For others it may work differently and that’s okay. So if you started with a setting or a conflict that you want to write about great. If doesn’t really matter how you begin just as long as you do.

Short story character types:

Main Character(s) – Your main character is the person that is central to the overcoming of the conflict or the person(s) trying to reach a goal. This is the Protagonist.

The Antagonist can be a person or a situation. This is what the Protagonist will try to overcome.

Supporting Character(s) –  These characters should help or hinder the main character. Some will be flat. By Flat I mean they only have one personality trait that they are recognized by. Round characters will help to move the plot along. They are usually conflicted and have complex personalities. Think Hamlet.

It’s best to use just a few characters in a short story. To many could become come confusing to the reader. But this is not a hard rule. If you need a lot of characters in your story then go right ahead. Just make sure that each character has a purpose to the plot. Any character that doesn’t help to keep the plot moving along doesn’t really need to be there.

There are different types of characters but for this post I’ll keep it simple. The protagonist, antagonist, and supportive characters are enough to round out a short story without becoming overwhelming to the reader. But that’s not to say that is all you can do with a short story. But for the beginner I think it’s best to go the path of least resistance. It’s okay to start simple and go from there.

Flush out your main character’s traits. All characters will have traits and should be made clear, as long as is needful to the story. Not all characters will need to be flushed out to the same degree. Supportive characters, though helpful, are not as important so the reader doesn’t need to know their favorite color and what grade school they went too. Flushing out your characters traits will help to make a more believable character and story. So when you’re giving out those traits remember descriptive adjectives. Check out the link for list of adjectives.

Giving good details to show your reader instead of just telling them is always best. This helps to keep the reader immersed in the story. This is true for the actions that the characters are taking and to establish setting. Setting is the time and place in which the story is taking place. The setting will be the backdrop to your story and give the overall mood. You must take care with your setting. Because it will shape your characters. It will show you their values. You must take into account how your characters interact and react to their surroundings. Your setting can’t just sit there, it’s got to help move that plot along. Everything we do in the story is to move the plot along. When there is an action then there is an outcome. Use the setting to show the mood.

For example in a short story I wrote about a women taking care of her terminally ill husband I used the setting to help show how much the whole experience has turned their home into a dark prison for her. After her husband has to be taken into hospice care the house remains dark, closed off, and depressing. This has become her whole world. She has giving up everything, sacrificed her own well-being to make sure her husband has a good death. The house is no longer a home, it’s a tomb even after he dies.

I kept the lighting dim  and all the furniture is old and dark in color. It’s a house of illness. there is no joy left here. Reading about the detailed setting showing the reader in your description will enforce your setting. It will feel real. And when if feels real, readers keep reading.

Theme is the vital idea or belief in the story.  In my above example the theme could be death. Or Loss, what happens after the death of a loved one. That’s one of the questions I tried to answer in that story. There are many themes, many questions to pose and write about. Death, loss, love, justice, lust, and the list goes on. Break open your story and get at the deep questions. What is it that you are trying to say? If you’re not sure, just keep writing, it will come to you. For me It’s always so hard to figure out what my theme is. I never really know until I’m done. and then there it is staring me in the face.

This concludes my Reflecting on the Short Story. In these three posts I’ve talked about the elements that make a short story. I hope that this has been helpful in some way.

Happy writing.



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