Paper on Short Stories

This essay has a total of 2275 words and 9 pages.

Short Stories


Short stories are made up mainly of plot, setting and character. It is essential that one
predominates- if the story deals with action, then the plot must be emphasised, and the
characters remain simple figures within it. If the story deals with setting, then
character and action must both have significance, but only in relation to the setting. If
the story deals with character, then the characters must be emphasised and the plot focus
on their most striking features and experiences. The portrayal of these experiences, if
effective, can be applied to the readerís own life experiences, helping them to understand
them and their cause, therefor exploring ideas and views of human experience.


Literature, of course, makes explicit its relationship with narrative as a mode of
analysis. And in the broad field of communications the structure of linear narrative
drives theories of both interpersonal communication and media studies (Fisher 1985;
Lucaites & Condit, 1985). That is to say that the interpretation of both media content and
the way we relate to others is understood in terms of narrative construct. For instance,
in their landmark book on the pragmatics of communication Watzlawick, Beavin and Jackson
(1967) discuss how each member of a communication situation constructs the event's story
and how these constructions may differ from person to person. Fiske and Hartley (1978), in
another anchor text on understanding television, also discuss how television is
contextualized as a cultural storyteller.


The characteristics of narrative have informed the content of the dominant media of this
culture for some time. After a brief initial period during which the limits of the
technology were being tested, film rapidly became a story telling medium. The same was
true of much of early radio. Television, of course, has taken the narrative form to new
heights (some might say depths) with soap operas, situation comedies, and dramas. Even
program formats not immediately perceived as narratives demonstrate our cultural need to
contextualize reality in this manner. Both talk shows and news shows are popular according
to how interesting they are able to make the stories they tell. Before these electric
media were our primary source of entertainment, traditional print was our constant
narrative companion. Linear narrative form structures most of the important institutions
in this culture, from politics and religion to education and commerce. These are all
examples of narrative in its highly linear structure. Linearity and sequentiality,
characteristics associated with print force, or request, an audience to attend in a
particular way. Non-linear possibilities cracks open the relationship between user and
text. Culturally familiar narrative at this point is linear. All narrative, however, does
not unfold in this way. Recent trends show narrative taking on a distinctly non-linear
shape.


A narrative is an ordered sequence of events. There are (at least) two different ways of
ordering the events of a narrative, as we saw above--by strict chronology ("story") and by
the way the events unfold as they are told ("plot"). A narrative may seem to be like real
life, for several reasons--because of the attempt to tell a story that seems as if it
might have happened, which we call realism, and because, however unreal or surreal a story
might be, we live and dream in stories, so they remind us of ourselves in any case.


But narratives are not, essentially, like real life. Narratives are highly edited and
rigidly unified, defined, ordered, controlled, and selected. Some of this editing and
unifying takes place as a result of the various conventions that apply between the story
and the audience. Our appetite for narratives varies considerably, but most people prefer
narratives in which only (apparently) essential details are given. Stringing out every
action, every thought, every real or potential motivation or consequence is not possible,
and not, strictly speaking, a narrative; most of that stuff is edited out, as we recognise
when Sancho Panza tells Don Quixote a story, in Cervantes' comic masterpiece, which is
itself a profound exploration of the role of storytelling in our lives. Everything in a
narrative (seems to/ought to) belong there. The most obvious ordering and defining of the
narrative occurs in the three-part structure of beginnings, middles, and endings. (As
noted by Aristotle.)


This is obviously one of the ways in which our lives conform with narrative structure--and
vice versa. We are born (and narratives begin), we live our lives (and narratives unfold)
and we die (and narratives come to an end). The differences are significant, of course.
Narratives are structured so that sequence of chronological events which are determined by
the laws of nature and of the world (albeit the fictional world) created in the story
plays against the sequence of events as it unfolds in the plot, as told or performed. The
order of things in the plot is the order of things we as readers or audience get to see
and experience things. To put it another way, our lives are only a story, with one thing
happening after another. A narrative is a story and a plot, with events arranged and
re-arranged according to some design. If our lives were a plot, they would have to be
narrated by some one or some thing.


In standard compositional terms, the beginning, middle, and end of a narrative are often
referred to as exposition, development, and conclusion. These terms are clearly ones that
relate to the level of plot rather than story. Exposition is the presenting of information
necessary for the story to unfold, perhaps something about who the characters are, or what
has already happened to get us where we are, or some other introductory bit of business.
It is a critical structuring device, not only to get the plot moving, but, at a deeper
level, to draw a distinction between what is in the narrative and what is not. The
beginning of a narrative is a liminal or threshold space where we enter the story, making
a transition between all that is not the narrative and all that is. All that is not the
narrative, then, includes both our own daily lives and that part of the fictional world
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