Literary Elements in Short Stories
by Katie Austin
Characterization is used so that the reader better understands who they are reading about, what the character looks like, why they make certain decisions, what their morals are, etc. There are two types of characterization. The first is direct characterization. This is when the author explicitly states something about a character. This may be used when an author really wants to make a point about a character. The second type is indirect characterization. This is when aspects about a character are revealed through their speech, choices, or other things. Though the author doesn't outright say what they mean about the character, the reader still gets a better understanding of the character. There are also a few types of characters that the author may characterize the characters as. There are confidantes, which are characters that another confides in, which helps reveal a main character's personality through what they confide. There are also flat characters, who only have a few traits that remain the same throughout the whole story. There are foil characters as well, which are used to bring out the best in other characters by contrast. Another type of character is a round character, which is a well-developed character with many different traits. Yet another type of character is a static character, one that remains the same throughout an entire story. Another type is a stock character, a character that is not necessarily extremely important to a story, and usually falls into some sort of stereotype, like the "promiscuous, rude cheerleader," or, the "shy, sweet nerd." The last type of character is a round character. A round character changes throughout a story, usually becoming a better person. This makes a story more interesting. A great example of a character that is characterized as a round character is Brother in The Scarlet Ibis, by James Hurst. In the beginning of the story, Brother is irritated by his brother, and seems to have little compassion for him. He admits that he "was embarrassed at having a brother." But, by the end of the story, he changes. He loves his brother. When Doodle dies, he "...weeps," and "threw [his] body to the earth over[Doodle's]," (Hurst.) and, "lay there crying, sheltering [his] fallen scarlet ibis from the heresy of the rain," (Hurst.) which is obviously something you'd only do for someone you love. Brother grows to love his brother by the end of the story, and did not in the beginning, and is therefore characterized as a round character.
Irony is used to give a story a slightly humorous quality. There are three types of irony: verbal irony, situational irony, and dramatic irony. Verbal irony is when someone says the opposite of what they mean. Situational irony is when something happens that is the opposite to what is expected. A good example of situational irony can be found in Lamb to the Slaughter by Raold Dahl. In this story, a man tells his wife, Mary Maloney, that he wants to divorce her. She is so upset that she hits him over the head with a frozen leg of lamb and kills him. She leaves her home to go the grocer's. When she comes back to her house, she calls out ""Patrick!"..."How are you, darling?"" (Dahl.) She, "went to the phone," (Dahl.) and called the police. This is an example of situational irony because she killed her husband, and obviously knew she did it. When she came back home, she called to him as if he was still alive, the opposite of what the audience would expect. She also calls the police on herself, which is something most readers would not expect a murderer to do. The last type of irony is
Personification is used in literature for emphasis. Personification makes the nonliving, living. It exaggerates certain qualities. An example of this can be found in Harrison Bergeron, by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. In the very beginning of the story, the narrator is talking about the handicaps put on people. One of these handicaps is an earpiece that emits sound to interrupt the listener's train of thought. One man with a handicap is George, Harrison's father. George is watching TV, and thinking about it. All of a sudden, "A buzzer sounded in George's head." (Vonnegut.) This is the buzzer. The author wants to emphasize how quickly these buzzers interrupt the victims' thoughts, so he personifies George's thoughts and says, "His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a burglar alarm," (Vonnegut.) to show how the buzzers affect thinking exaggeratedly.
Simile is also used in literature for emphasis. An example of this can be found again in Harrison Bergeron, by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. The author wants to emphasize how graceful Harrison and a ballerina are while dancing, and how high they can jump without their handicaps. He says that, "They leaped like deer on the moon," (Vonnegut.) to show just how high they really are jumping.