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Elements of Short Stories, Prose & Poetry

by Nancy Lee Bethea, Demand Media

    Words are the currency used in all forms of writing, but short stories, prose and poetry use words in different ways. In short stories, words present plots and characters. In prose, words communicate what is commonplace and ordinary in life. In poetry, words convey ideas through rhyme, metaphor and personification, among other things.

    Short Story Elements

    Short stories are defined as works of fiction between approximately 750 and 7500 words,and they are a subset of prose writing. Usually found in literature textbooks or collections of short stories, they give a reader a short foray into plot. Most short stories include elements of traditional plot structure which include a problem, rising action, climax, falling action or denouement and resolution to the original problem. Some modern writers play with plot structure and begin their narratives in the middle, at the climax point of the story. Some famous short story writers are Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Carver and O. Henry.

    Paths of Poetry

    Poetry is writing that uses metaphorical or vivid language to paint a mental picture or convey a feeling. Poetry uses words to help the reader gain awareness of a thought, feeling or mood. In the book, "Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry," author Laurence Perrine says, "Poets, from their own store of felt, observed, or imagined experiences, select, combine and reorganize. They create significant new experiences for their readers." Of course, poetry comes in many forms, from two-line couplets to epic poems telling of heroes and heroines. It may have rhyme or meter, but the common trait of all poetry is its use of words to convey feelings rather than facts.

    More Prosaic Prose

    Prose is the language of everyday communications, such as instruction manuals or math tests. Prose is written language used to provide information. It is what makes up common written discourse. If you write a thank-you note to your Aunt Mary for the birthday money she sent you, you are writing prose. When you read the recipe for squash casserole in a cookbook, you are reading prose. All prose uses voice styles to connect with the reader, and fictional prose also uses mood, theme, settings and other elements.

    Similarities and Differences

    Perhaps the best way to understand the elements of the three forms of writing is to compose in all three. Try your hand at writing a short story. If you need a prompt to get you started, there are many on the Internet. Then, try your hand at a personal memoir or essay writing. Revise your prose as you delete unnecessary verbiage. Finally, try your hand at writing both fixed form and free verse poetry. You may find you prefer the brevity and creativity poetry affords you.

    Style Your World With Color

    Resources

    • Springboard English Textual Power Level 4; College Board; 2010
    • "Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry"; Laurence Perrine; 1987

    About the Author

    Based in Florida, Nancy Lee Bethea has ghostwritten nonfiction since 1997. She now contributes stories and columns for the "Nassau Sun" and Jax4Kids. Bethea has also taught English and creative writing in public schools for more than a decade. She holds a Master of Arts in teaching English from Jacksonville University.

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