General Questions for Analysis and Evaluation of Short Stories

(from Perrine, Literature, Structure, Sound, and Sense, Second Edition, pp. 349-350)

PLOT

  1. Who is the protagonist of the story? What are the conflicts? Are they physical, intellectual, moral, or emotional? Is the main conflict between sharply differentiated good and evil, or is it more subtle and complex?
  2. Does the plot have unity? Are all of the episodes relevant to the total meaning or effect of the story? Does each incident grow logically out of the preceding incident and lead naturally to the next? Is the ending happy, unhappy, or indeterminate? Is it fairly achieved?
  3. What use does the story make of chance and confidence? Are these occurrences used to initiate, to complicate, or to resolve the story? How improbable are they?
  4. How is suspense created in the story? Is the interest confined to "What happens next?" or are larger concerns involved? Can you find examples of mystery? of dilemma?
  5. What use does the story make of surprise? Are the surprises achieved fairly? Do they serve a significant purpose? Do they divert the reader's attention from weakness in the story?
  6. To what extent is this a "formula" story?

    CHARACTERS

  7. What means does the author use to reveal character?
  8. Are the characters consistent in their actions? adequately motivated?
  9. Is each character fully enough developed to justify his role in the story? Are the main characters round or flat?
  10. Is any of the character a developed character? If so, is his change a large or small one? Is it a plausible change for him? Is it sufficiently motivated? Is it given sufficient time?

    THEME

  11. Does the story have a theme? What is it? Is it implicit or explicit?
  12. Does the theme reinforce or oppose popular notions of life? Does it furnish a new insight or refresh or deepen an old one?

    POINT OF VIEW

  13. What point of view does the story use? Is it consistent in its use of this point of view? If shifts are made, are they justified?
  14. What advantages does the chosen point of view have? Does it furnish any clues as to the purpose of the story?
  15. If the point of view is that of one of the characters, does this character have any limitations that affect his interpretation of events or persons?
  16. Does the author use point of view primarily to reveal or conceal? Does he ever unfairly withhold important information from a character?

    SYMBOL AND IRONY

  17. Does the story make use of symbols? If so, do the symbols carry or merely reinforce the meaning of the story?
  18. Does the story anywhere utilize irony of situation? dramatic irony? verbal irony? What functions do the ironies serve?

    EMOTION AND HUMOR

  19. Does the story aim directly at an emotional effect, or is emotion purely its natural by-product?
  20. Is the emotion sufficiently dramatized? Is the author anywhere guilty of sentimentality?

    FANTASY

  21. Does the story employ fantasy? If so, what is the initial assumption? Does the story operate logically from this assumption?
  22. Is the fantasy employed for its own sake? Or to express human truth? If the latter, what truth?

    GENERAL

  23. Is the primary interest of the story in plot, character, theme, or some other element?
  24. What contribution to the story is made by setting? Is the particular setting essential, or could the story have happened anywhere?
  25. What are the characteristics of the author's style? Are they appropriate to the nature of his story?
  26. What light is thrown on the story by its title?
  27. Do all elements of the story work together to support a general purpose? Is any part irrelevant or inappropriate?
  28. What do you conceive to be the story's central purpose? How fully has it achieved that purpose?
  29. Does the story offer chiefly escape or interpretation? How significant is the story's purpose?
  30. Does the story gain or lose on a second reading?

 

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