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5 Important Elements of a Short Story

5 Important Elements of a Short Story

A short story is a short work of fiction. Fiction, as you know, is prose writing about imagined events and
characters. Prose writing differs from poetry in that it does not depend on verses, meters or rhymes for
its organization and presentation.

Novels are another example of fictional prose and are much longer than short stories. Some short
stories, however, can be quite long. If a a short story is a long one, say fifty to one hundred pages, we
call it a novella.

American literature contains some of the world's best examples of the short story. Readers around the
world enjoy the finely crafted stories of American writers such as O. Henry, Stephen Crane, Jack London,
Mark Twain and Edgar Allen Poe.

What makes these authors such remarkable short story writers? They are true masters at combining the
five key elements that go into every great short story: character, setting, conflict, plot and theme.

The ELLSA web-site uses one of these five key elements as the focus of each of the five on-line lessons in
the Classics of American Literature section. In each lesson, you will explore a single American short story
from the USIA Ladder Series and discover how the author uses a certain element.

The definitions on the right are repeated on the first page of each short story lesson.


A character is a person, or sometimes even an animal, who takes part in the action of a short story or
other literary work.


The setting of a short story is the time and place in which it happens. Authors often use descriptions of
landscape, scenery, buildings, seasons or weather to provide a strong sense of setting.


A plot is a series of events and character actions that relate to the central conflict.


The conflict is a struggle between two people or things in a short story. The main character is usually on
one side of the central conflict.

On the other side, the main character may struggle against another important character, against the
forces of nature, against society, or even against something inside himself or herself (feelings, emotions,


The theme is the central idea or belief in a short story.


Fixing of Iron Rim to a Wooden Wheel

Blacksmiths use the principle of expansion on heating and contraction on cooling, to fix the iron rim
onto the wooden wheel of a bullock cart. The radius of the iron rim is slightly less than that of the
wooden wheel. The iron rim is heated to red hot, so that it expands and its radius increases. It is then
slipped over the wooden wheel and cooled by pouring water. The iron rim contracts on cooling and gets
tightly fixed to the wooden wheel.

Gap in Railway Tracks

While laying railway tracks, a small gap is left between adjacent rails. This is because the iron rails
expand in summer, and the gap allows space for the expansion.

Rollers in the Construction of Iron Bridges

While constructing a bridge using iron girders, one end of the girder is fixed, and some space is left at
the other end, which is placed over iron rollers. The space is left to allow the iron girder to expand
during summer, and thereby prevent damage to the bridge.

Opening a Tightly Fixed Lid of a Bottle

When the lid or the cork on a bottle is too tight and cant be opened, immerse the mouth of the bottle
in hot water. The lid undergoes thermal expansion and becomes slightly loose, and then opens easily.

Cracking of Glass

When boiling water is poured into a thick glass, it cracks. This is also an effect of thermal expansion.
Glass is a poor conductor of heat, that is, it does not allow heat to pass through it easily. When boiling
water is poured into a thick glass, the inner surface of the glass expands more rapidly than the outer
surface. Due to this uneven expansion, the glass cracks.

Concrete Roads

While constructing cement roads using concrete slabs, a small gap is left between two slabs. The
concrete slabs undergo thermal expansion during summer. The gap allows space for this expansion. If
these gaps were not left, the concrete slabs would crack during summer due to thermal expansion.


When ships and boilers are constructed, the steel plates are joined together firmly by riveting. This is
also an application of thermal expansion and contraction. A rivet is heated to red hot and passed
through the plates. Then it is hammered to fix it firmly. On cooling, the rivet contracts and holds the
plates together firmly.

Bimetallic Strip and Thermostat Switches

Bimetallic strips used in thermostats work on the principle of thermal expansion. A bimetallic strip is a
combination of two different metal strips, usually brass and iron, joined together with rivets. The two
metals have different rates of thermal expansion.

Consider a bimetallic strip made of two metals A and B. Let the rate of thermal expansion of A be
greater than that of B. When the bimetallic strip is heated, metal A expands more than metal B. As a
result, the bimetallic strip bends, with metal A on the outer side of the bend. When the bimetallic strip is
cooled, the metal-A contracts more than the metal-B. Then the bimetallic strip bends with the metal-B
on its outer side.
Working of A Thermostat Switch

When a thermostat is used in an electrical circuit, its bimetallic strip gets heated and bends if the
temperature in the circuit exceeds a certain limit. Hence the circuit breaks. Since there is no current in
the circuit now, the temperature of the strip decreases. The strip gets restored to its original position,
and the circuit is completed, allowing current to flow again.

Thermostats are used in appliances like geysers, refrigerators, electric irons, air conditioning machines,
fire alarms, etc.

Expansion of Metal Pipes in Industries

In certain industries, hot liquids or hot water is transported through metal pipes from one place to
another. These pipes are subjected to expansion and contraction. To avoid cracks in the pipes when they
expand and contract, they are arranged in the form of loops.


A thermometer also works on the principle of expansion and contraction of matter on heating and
cooling. Depending on the type of material used in thermometers, they are classified into solid, liquid
and gas thermometers.