Key elements of a well-written short story include one or two well-defined characters, a limited time period, sparse prose and a standard plot structure. The author should establish a point of view, a vivid setting, inherent conflict, and an inevitable climax and resolution.
A short story only has space for one or two main characters and a few minor characters. A first person point of view allows the author to delve into the feelings and thoughts of a single protagonist, while writing the story in third person allows the author to adopt an omniscient perspective, seeing an overview of the thoughts and actions of all the characters. A compromise between the two is third person limited viewpoint, which limits the perspective to one main protagonist. Restricting the time frame allows the author to keep the story events in sharper focus. Because of the length limitations inherent in short story structure, the author needs to be sure that every sentence plays a significant role in advancing the action.
The setting of a short story is its historical, social and geographical location. The author must present these details to establish background. The conflict is the difficulty that the protagonist faces while attempting to reach a goal, and the story tension builds as challenges increase. The climax is the crux or turning point when the protagonist makes the most important decision, and the resolution suggests how the protagonist deals with the results of the climactic decision.