How to Interpret Short Stories

by Penny Bollin

People throughout history have told stories. In early times they sketched them on the walls of caves and told stories around cook fires. Kings valued their storytellers both for the messages they may have carried and for amusement. Traditions and guidelines have been passed from generation to generation through stories. Sometimes stories are for entertainment, sometimes they are created to elicit certain responses, and sometimes they are persuasive. When you interpret a short story, especially a complex one, it is important to look at certain elements.

Determine whether the title indicates the main idea, names the main character or gives insight into some other facet of the story. Because the title is the first thing you see, it will be important to the story in some way. It is up to you to decide what that way is.

Examine the characters. Each character has a specific role in the story. The characters' actions, words, phraseology and appearances show their personalities, and their personalities contribute to the flavor and feel of the story.

Analyze the setting. Maybe the setting takes place in modern times or in a different era or century. Ask yourself whether it takes place in an urban or rural area; in the United States or in another country. It's even possible that events occur in just one room. The setting lends reality and believability to the story. It helps you visualize the action.

Decide on the point of view. For example, if the main character speaks in first person, the story may seem more personal, but you will not get insight into the other characters' thoughts.

Find the message. Maybe the author is trying to convince the reader of his point of view. Or maybe the message is about good and evil and which will prevail. Perhaps it's about love and its heartbreaks or love and its joys. Whatever the case may be, authors generally have some sort of message.

Determine the plot and sequence of events. Maybe the author jumps around or shows events in a chronological order, or maybe the events themselves appear to determine the direction of the story.

Decide whether symbolism is involved. A person, an animal or an object may sometime represent something other than what it appears. You may have to search hard to find symbols, or they may be obvious.

Things You Will Need

  • Short story
  • Computer with word processing

Tip

  • Be very thorough and dig deep into the story even though at first it might seem frustrating.

Warning

  • Don't gloss over the details.

Photo Credits

  • Joe Raedle/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images