Basic short story plot structure dictates five major components: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution or denouement (French term – untying of the knot). Short stories contain elements of crisis and conflict, occasionally differentiated as internal or external struggles. Flash fiction, on the other hand, begins in medias res (Latin term – in the middle of things) and is character and epiphany driven with a highly concentrated one element plot structure: the climax.

Notes on the Defining Terms of the Short Story and Flash Fiction

Both creative pieces need a hook: the first sentence drawing in the reader. Setting should also be established in either case, so as to orient the reader. The slight distinction between resolution and denouement is a case of finality: the resolution is undeniable – indicating an issue has concluded. A denouement, on the other hand, only indicates a knot has been untied – there is a more open, less conclusive feel to the ending.

Variations on the Basic Plot Structure of the Short Story

Majority of short story structure is in chronological order; any deviation in plot structure is often an indication the plot is irrelevant, that it is character or setting to which the reader should notice. Lack of defining structure or exclusion of a certain defining component is often a sign of a weak creative piece. The reader needs to learn something, reach an epiphany as well, by the last word on the last page.

Note on Universal Themes – An Argument for Four

Arguably, many literature instructors will indicate there are three major universal themes encompassing myriad circumstances:

  1. Man versus Man
  2. Man versus Self
  3. Man versus Nature

There is an argument for a fourth universal theme – man versus “god”. The “god” in question is just that: any god, in any sense of the word, singular or plural, proper noun or common noun – a separate theme or encompassing one or more of the original three universal themes.

Dead Man’s Party – the Horrifying, Yet Humorous Short Story Example

To write a short horror story about a party – the five elements could indicate the pre-party planning and events (exposition), the narrator’s crisis/tension, party jitters (rising action), discovering a severed head in the refrigerator while the party is in full swing (climax), pushing the head behind a jug of milk, so as to keep partygoers from noticing when they opened the door for a beer (falling action), and then returning to the party (resolution/denouement).

Still Dead – the Horrifying, Yet Humorous Flash Fiction Example

To execute the above short story as flash fiction, the tale would begin with the severed head in the refrigerator. The flash fiction piece will be heavier on character dialogue, reaction or development, since there are no additional plot structure elements. Figurative language and symbolism, to highlight the epiphany, should be strategically employed to resonate with the audience – as it is they who cast the final receptive, acknowledging vote, not the author.