As we transition from our unit on poetry to our unit on short stories and works of fiction, it is important to realize that you won’t just ‘chunk’ all of that poetry knowledge and analysis skills – hold on to them, as you’ll still need them for this unit.

Prose is generally made up for four elements:

Of these four, prose and poetry both use many of the same elements of figurative language, as we covered in class:

  • Imagery
  • Irony
  • Puns
  • Metaphor
  • Similes
  • Allusion
  • Repetition
  • Symbolism
  • Personification
  • Tone
  • Mood
  • Diction
  • Theme


The plot of a story will generally follow the five step model of Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action and Resolution, with characters, setting, context, conflict developing over the course of the story.

Other elements that prose can use to develop the plot and reinforce the theme are in medias res, foreshadowing, flashbacks, and the use of dialogue. 

Look at the short pieces of flash fiction from class below. Each of these stories is able to establish characters, setting, mood/tone, and theme through the use of carefully selected elements.

Contagious Bottles

Remy wants to take a walk on the reservation but everything is contagious. He knows once he sees the dirty bottles scattered across the road he will pick them up to see if a drop is left. His father begs him to go collect them, but he stuffs his hair inside his ears and pretends everything is quiet. One day he’ll walk on the reservation and there will be no more bottles; there will only be drunken bodies to carry off the road.

In this piece of flash fiction, we learn that the characters of Remy and his father are both Native Americans, as the setting is on a ‘reservation’. The context of the setting is important to the conflict of this short story – alcoholism is often a problem for Native Americans on reservations, and we can see that here with Remy’s father. The use of the word ‘contagious’ (diction) makes us believe immediately that something is wrong, or someone is sick. We see that the relationship between Remy and is father isn’t what it should be when we see the dad ‘beg’, and Remy ‘pretend’ that everything is ok. These few choices of words characters both of them. By the end, we understand that the bottles Remy’s father asks for are because he is an alcoholic, as “there will only be drunken bodies to carry off the road”. The characters are the most important elements of this story, and the tone is depressing. Remy thinks the ‘illness’ his father has is contagious, and is afraid he and others will get it.

Look at the other examples from class, and see if you can analyze how they use elements of storytelling to establish a theme.

The Bird

It came of nowhere: A giant crow, its plumage like a black silken coat. It is hard to tell where it wanted to go, for certainly it cannot have planned to be stuck in the spokes of my brand-new bicycle. In horror I watch the bird flapping its wings until finally it breaks its neck. I would have only further distressed it by trying to help. It would have only pecked my hand and scratched me with its claws. Carefully, I disentangle the animal from my precious bike. It would have died anyway.


Man on the Bus Eating Fruit
He ate the banana roughly. Chomping down so that it disappeared in huge chunks. He watched them, watching him. They were uneasy, and their chatter had died away. They were relieved to press the bell and get off the bus when their stop came, but as they alighted and the bus slowly started to pull away they couldn’t help looking up. He was still watching them. His forehead pressed against the window pane, biting into an apple.


What Roman Says

Roman says that I shouldn’t refer to him as my boyfriend. Labels like that, he says, create unrealistic expectations. When I assure him that I don’t have any expectations, unrealistic or otherwise, he smirks and says that women always say that. I ask for a ballpark estimate of the number of women he’s surveyed. He smirks again. I’m not sure which annoys me more, his patronizing facial expressions or his authoritarian need to control the terminology with which I’m permitted to describe our relationship. “No problem,” I say. “From now on I’ll just call you my ex-boyfriend.”


Outside The Chase

It starts with a heavy pinpoint, sharp, deep in the middle of Aaron’s heart. As he reads Megan’s letter, it swells and blooms, licks like fire through his veins.

This feeling should be love. It is love underneath, but it’s wrapped in something hard and cold and perpetual.


Death’s followed Aaron for twenty years.

Death came for Aaron’s father first, a cruel illness that halved his body (no more walks in the woods), laid him flat (no more car journeys to nowhere), muted him utterly (no more wise words), and finally sputtered him out like a spent candle.

Aaron was seven, and he didn’t understand.