The Art of Characterization in Short Stories

What is a short story?

Short story is a famous literary genre. Short story is a fictional narrative prose and it is more concise than fiction. Short stories have their origins in oral story telling traditions and prose anecdote in which, a swiftly sketched situation that comes rapidly to its point. With a rise of the comparatively realistic novel, the short story evolved as a miniature and its examples can be seen in the tales of Hoffmann and Anton Chekov.

Modern short stories

Modern short stories emerged as their own genre in the early 19th century. Early examples of short stories are Brothers Grimm's Fairy Tales (1824-1826), Nikolai Gogol's Evenings on a farm near Dikanta (1831-1832) etc.

Washington Irving, Edgar Allen Poe did the major contribution to short stories. In mid 19th century, this genre flourished, at the same time, literary theories about short stories also appeared.

Short stories are less complex than novel. Generally a short story focuses on one incident, has a single plot, single setting, limited number of characters and covers short period.

Elements of short stories

There are several major elements, which make a short story-
1. Plot
2. Narrative viewpoint
3. Characterization
4. Language and style
Characterization plays a very important role in short story.

What is characterization

Characterization refers to the author's manner of presenting his individuals.
If the characterization is direct the reader identifies the character through the description of character's behavior. If the characterization is indirect the reader learns about the character through his actions.

Characterization as an art-

Characterization plays a very important role in short stories. It is necessary to study how characters are revealed while studying characterization as an art.

Generally short story focuses on one incident, has a single plot, single setting, limited number of characters and covers a very shot period. To establish each character within a very short period is very challenging. Thus characterization is seen as an art. Some core elements of dramatic structure are exposition, complication or conflict, rising action, crisis, climax, resolution and moral. This structure is also sometimes followed in short stories.

How characters are revealed
Characters are revealed to the reader in various ways
1. Description
2. Dialog
3. Thoughts and feelings
4. Actions and reactions
5. Imagery and symbols

The author often provides an introductory pen-portrait and then informs about the details as the narrative proceeds. Important passages describe main characters or make us aware how they change and develop.

Characters give important clues when they discuss with the concerned character. We may also find out a lot about someone from his or her own speech.
Thoughts and feelings-

The inner life of the character can be revealed directly, particularly in first person narrative.

Actions and reaction-
How characters behave in various situations helps us to develop a view about them.

Imagery and symbols-
Characters may be described using simile and metaphor or may be associated symbolically.

When characters are revealed, one can identify their type, according to their classification. So it is important to study the major types of characters.

Types of characters

There are five major types. There might be more types if novel, poem, drama, epic, etc are concerned but as far as short stories are concerned, following types of character are significant.

1. Flat character
2. Round character
3. Dynamic character
4. Static character
5. Stereotypical or stock character

Flat character-
This character does not essentially change throughout the story. E.g. supporting characters. It is also called type character.

Round character-
A round character has something of the complexity, we find in real human beings. He or she changes in some important way as the novel or story unfolds itself and stands out. This character is usually individualistic and recognized by his particular merits or faults, which bring development in the story. E.g. protagonist.

Dynamic character-
A dynamic character is the character, which changes significantly during the course of the story. These changes include changes in insight or understanding, values, Changes in commitment. Changes in circumstances do not apply unless they result in some change within the character's self.

E.g. Protagonist is always nearly a dynamic character. Antagonists sometimes are dynamic as well.

Static character-
A static character does not undergo significant change. Whether round or flat, their personalities remain essentially stable throughout the course of the story. This is commonly done with secondary characters in order to let them serve as thematic or plot elements.

E.g. supporting characters and major characters other than protagonist are generally static.

Stereotypical or stock characters-
These characters are often the basis of flat characters, though elements of stock characters can be found in round characters also. They do not change throughout the story.

This gives a brief idea about the art of characterization in a short story and also tells how characterization contributes to make a short story interesting and finally popular by touching the heart of the reader.

1. Literature,Criticism and Style by Steven Croft, Helen Cross (Oxford University Press)
2. Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms by Chris Baldick (Oxford University Press)
Published: 4/8/2009
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