U3 Short Story Concepts

The concepts below are often used to write short stories. 

Unit 4: Short Story Concepts


Part of Speech



inciting incidentnoun an event that is not normal to the character(s) and starts moving a story forward1In Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Alice is a normal little girl who is playing at a park. The inciting incident is when she sees and follows a white rabbit into a magical wonderland. 
rising actionnoun multiple events and actions that build up to the most interesting part of a story2 In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, a farm girl travels to a magical land. In order to get home, she must defeat a witch. All of the events leading up to the exciting part where she and her friends fight the witch are rising action. This includes her traveling through the magical land, meeting her friends, and meeting the wizard who she hopes will help her get home. 
climaxnounthe most interesting or exciting part of a storyIn A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, a rich man does not like to spend money at all and is cruel to other people. Around Christmas time, he is visited by three spirits or ghosts who show him visions of his life and other people's lives to guide him to be a better person. The climax of the story is when the third ghost visits and the rich man realizes that in the future people would celebrate his death. This makes the rich man feel many emotions and helps him to change. 4
falling actionnounthe events that happen after the most interesting part of the story but before the end of the story3

In The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, there is a small town in the 1700s that may be haunted (bothered) by a ghost of a man on a horse. In the town, there is a man named Ichabod. Ichabod goes to a party at night and on his way home he is chased by the ghost. The horse chase is the most exciting part of the story and so is the climax. The story tells that the next day, Ichabod couldn't be found, but they did find his hat and a smashed pumpkin. The story also tells what happened to Ichabod's friends after they found his hat and the pumpkin.5 The events after the horse chase are all falling action. 

resolutionnoun the end of the story where the problem/conflict in the story is resolvedIn The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, there are four young rabbits: three girls and one boy. The rabbits' mother makes them all nice dresses and jackets to wear and tells them not to go into Mr. McGregor's garden. The three girl rabbits go where their mother said they could pick berries, but Peter goes into the garden and eats many vegetables. The climax is when he is chased out of the garden by Mr. McGreggor, but loses his jacket in the escape. In the falling action, Peter goes home and doesn't feel well. The resolution is that Peter has to rest while his sisters get to eat the berry treat the mother rabbit made. 

1. https://blog.reedsy.com/inciting-incident/ 

2. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/rising-action

3. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/falling-action 

4. https://penandthepad.com/structural-elements-plot-a-christmas-carol-23115.html  

5. https://www.sparknotes.com/short-stories/the-legend-of-sleepy-hollow/summary/  

These concepts happen in a specific order in a story. The level of excitement rises until the climax and falls after the climax until the resolution. There may be ups and downs in the level of excitement during the rising action. 

A graph showing excitement over time as a story move through the 5 parts of a plot with the line representing excitement rising unevenly until "falling action" when it goes down

Image: Ana Barraza, 2023

Exercise 3.11

Draw a rising and falling line and label it with the events from The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry from U3 Reading. You can print this page as a pdf or draw the graph below on a piece of paper to do this exercise. 

A blank graph with "excitement" on the Y axis and "time" on the x axis

Exercise 3.12

Reread A Horseman in the Sky by Ambrose Bierce from U3 Reading. Fill in the outline below to complete the plot of the story.

Inciting Incident: 

Carter Druse, a Union soldier, wakes up and sees an enemy soldier. 

Rising Action: 




Falling Action:




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