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Personal Reading Log: All You Need to Know

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

A short story is a work of fiction. It involves imagination about people who do not really exist. It also tells one event in a very concentrated way, which describes something at a moment of crisis. It has a plot and characters who are somehow connected with each other. It involves chronology or sequence of events and causation. The events are somehow connected with each other—one event may result from another.

When reading short stories, some readers are facing inadequate reading strategies that end up losing their interest to continue reading. This may happen due to the readers focussing too much on every word rather than the general meaning. Besides, they fail in making their own interpretations, coping with the ambiguity of the cultural background, and appreciating the style of the story. Some readers have low motivation, comprehension ability, and confidence in themselves to read the stories in English, and may find the content of the stories uninteresting. In fact, a lot of lessons can be learned through reading a short story as follows:

  • Giving opinions

  • Justifying opinions

  • Improving the reading skills

  • Making inferences

  • Identifying the main idea

  • Predicting events

  • Determining the text features

  • Applying knowledge to your writing

  • Responding to characters,

Five Elements

There are five elements of a short story. Setting refers to location and time. It tells the reader where and when the story takes place. It also refers to the mode and tone of the story. Characters include the people and their relationships. In some stories, animals also take part in the stories. It also includes the description of the characters' personalities in the story and the way in which an author reveals their personalities. The two identifications of characters are the protagonist (the hero of the story) and the antagonist (the villain in the story who is always opposing the protagonist).

The two methods of characterisation (creating believable characters) are direct and indirect. Direct refers to the narrator’s direct comments about a character, while indirect refers to the physical appearance, speech, thoughts, feelings, or actions of the character. A theme is a main or recurrent idea (could also be a lesson to learn) and style is about the writing techniques. Plot or storyline is the sequence or order of actions or events in a story, which includes the follows:

  • Exposition: the part of the plot that tells how the story begins

  • Rising action: the action in the story leading up to the climax

  • Conflict: the struggles or problems between opposing forces

  • Climax: the point of crisis in the plot (maybe the reader’s point of highest interest)

  • Falling action: the action in the story after the climax is revealed

  • Resolution: the part of the plot that reveals the final outcome

Interpreting a Short Story Solutions

To interpret a short story, you need to understand the features of the text type or genre before analysing the text. There are three stages of working with the text. In the pre-reading stage, you will build up knowledge of the topic first. While reading, you need to understand the details. Lastly, post-reading is the extension activities such as integrating and applying the values gained from the story.

What is a personal reading log (PRL)? It offers you a chance to respond personally to short stories and to ask questions, ponder, predict, reflect, analyse, interpret, and give an opinion on the plot, setting, characters, events, themes, and language. To conduct a PRL, an ideal entry for PRL would be between 150 and 200 words. Do not copy from the text or rewrite the plot. The PRL activities include the task given which can be a single question or a string of questions, which can help students struggling with comprehending the short stories.

Remember, there is no one correct answer or response! Each story yields a different response. You are required to reflect on a certain situation in the story by giving your own interpretation. An excellent PRL contains very insightful responses showing an excellent comprehension of the reading. All responses refer to specific text details. Below are the common expressions to be used when writing your PRL.

  • In my point of view...

  • In my opinion…

  • I was impressed by…

  • I notice that…

  • I believe that...

  • I wonder about…

  • This reminds me of…

  • I never thought…

  • This part of the story makes me feel…

  • I predict…

Short Story and Q&As Solutions

Below is a short story with three samples of PRL activities.

Kelly by Zuraidah Omar

Sarah first saw him one morning when she was driving past the guard-house into the club grounds. He was standing on the slope of the hill, oblivious to others, surveying the scene before him. She was mesmerised by his looks and the dignity with which he carried himself. She saw him very often after that. He was usually at what must be his favourite place in the club, standing all alone by himself at the same spot on the hill-slope and looking as if he hadn't a care in the world. Who is he, she wondered. It didn't take long for Sarah to find out. One day, she ran into one of her friends at the club's cafe. Ella was a longstanding member of the club and her level-headedness had made her the de facto counsellor in her circle. People turned to her for help, advice or just someone to talk to. Nothing went on in the club without Ella knowing about it. Sarah and Ella knew each other well enough not to stand on ceremony or indulge in small talk, so after ordering herself a teh tarik, Sarah joined Ella at her table and cut to the chase. "Oh, him. That's Kelly," Ella said. "Why? You like him or what?" "He's quite a looker," Sarah replied. Ella smiled and squeezed Sarah's arm reassuringly. "I'm so happy to see you up and about again. I know that relationship of yours with Terence was a bit of a disaster." Sarah grimaced, thinking of the rocky time she had with Terence, a trying time that stretched for almost a year. They had started off well enough when she first met Terence but it wasn't long before he showed his true colours. "I really did my best, you know," Sarah explained. "But he was so unpredictable and temperamental. I tried hard to love him. I think that he didn't trust me enough. I just couldn't cope in the end so I had no choice but to call it quits." "It's like that sometimes," Ella consoled. "Some things work out and some don't. But don't let it get you down. Don't give up." "I won't," sighed Sarah, thinking of yet another failed relationship after Terence. "There was Pancho, remember?" "Oh yes, I remember. We thought you had a lot of guts-lah. First an Australian, and as soon as you pulled yourself together, an Argentinian. What happened with Pancho anyway? It was so short-lived. I thought you liked him." "Yeah, one of those things. In Pancho's case, I got along fine with him but then someone else came into the picture and I didn't have a chance. I was quite miserable. That's why I stopped coming to the club for a while, and when I did, I saw you-know-who." "Poor you but never mind, you will have better luck with Kelly. He's available but it won't be easy getting to know him. He's got a very protective mother and what she says, goes. She dotes on him like nobody's business. She's got to like you first before anything else." "A mama's boy, eh?" Sarah became a bit unsure because that would just complicate things. But Kelly's magnificent image came into her mind and she knew what she had to do. "Never mind. I'll just go with the flow. Can you introduce me to his mum?" She asked Ella. "No problem. She swims at the clubhouse very often. I'll call you when I see her. Just relax for now. He's not going to go anywhere." Ella was true to her word. The next day, she called Sarah on her mobile phone. "Are you in the club? Kelly's mum is by the swimming pool. Come over quick." Fortunately, Sarah was nearby and she was by Ella's side in next to no time. Ella pointed out to a petite lady with short hair sitting in one of the deck chairs. "She's quite a chilly padi, you know, so watch your step. Come on, let's go and meet her." The two of them sauntered over to the lady. "Hi Sue," Ella called out. "How are you? Long time no see." Sue looked up and countered, "What are you talking about? We just had lunch together not long ago." Ella sat down on the deck chair beside Sue's. "Getting old already-lah. So many lunches, can't remember when or with who. Done your swimming?" "Yeah, did a few laps. Got to go soon. What's up?" "I want you to meet my friend Sarah," Ella said as she gestured to Sarah, who had been standing a little apart, to sit beside her. Sarah extended her hand to Sue and the two shook hands. "Pleased to meet you. Have you been a member here long?" Sue asked Sarah, who replied, "Quite some time but I don't swim much." "Right! Let's not beat about the bush-lah," Ella interjected. "Sarah saw Kelly the other day and she has taken a liking to him." Sarah felt her face going red. Good grief, she thought. Doesn't Ella have any finesse? How could she just say it like that? She could just see Sue look at her in an appraising manner. "He's quite good-looking and really tall," Sarah blurted, feeling more embarrassed and admonishing herself in her mind. What a stupid thing to say. That will really earn you points with Kelly's mama. "That's what a lot of people tell me," Sue said. "Just right for you-lah, Sarah," Ella cut in. "All your previous ones are rather short if you ask me. Someone your size needs something bigger." "Ella!" Sarah blushed again, feeling suddenly self-conscious about her weight. Sue laughed. "Ella's quite a joker, isn't she? Anyway, Kelly has only just come to Malaysia, you know. He has been overseas all this while." "Oh, no wonder I've not seen him around before," Sarah was still feeling tentative, not sure of what Sue was really thinking about Ella's sudden revelation. Sue looked hard at Sarah. "I suppose Ella must have told you about Kelly and that I'm looking for someone for him," she said. "But he's very particular about people, you know. I am too. Ella and I have been friends a long time and I trust her judgement. So if she thinks you and Kelly suit one another, I'm okay with it. He's solid and steady. You'll feel very safe with him." That's fast, Sarah thought. She hasn't gotten to know me well enough yet. "I think you will like Kelly," Sue continued. " But like I said, I'm very particular. I have to know that you're serious about him and that you'll take care of him the way I take care of him. He's very special to me." The conversation was going too far and too fast for Sarah's liking. She just wanted to get to know Kelly and it was beginning to seem as if she was committing herself to a long relationship. Why is Sue in such a hurry to get Kelly out of her life? "Is there anything I need to know about Kelly?" Sarah asked carefully, hoping not to annoy Sue with her question. Sue shrugged her shoulders. "Nothing really," she replied. "Being a big guy, he needs his space. But as long as you treat him right, he'll be good to you. I'm getting very busy with my business these days and don't have much time to spend with him. It's nice if he can have someone else in his life." "I really should meet Kelly first, don't you think?" Sarah tried to bring the situation under control. "For all you know, he might not like me." "Don't worry-lah," Ella assured Sarah. "I'm sure Kelly will like you. You are such a gentle person, with a lot of love to give." She then turned to Sue, "I fully recommend Sarah to you. You don't have to worry a thing about her. She's a very caring person." "I'm sure you are, Sarah," Sue smiled and patted her on her arm. "But you're right. You must meet Kelly first. What about tomorrow at about 10 am? I'll meet you at the cafe." Sarah couldn't wait for the day to be over. That night, images of Kelly floated in her dreams. Sarah was sure that she and Kelly were kindred spirits, even soul-mates. She had sensed it when she first saw him. True, he had ignored her when she drove past him, standing on the hill-slope. Perhaps he had things on his mind. Well, they would be meeting one another very soon and he wouldn't be able to ignore her then. Sarah was at the cafe well before 10 am the next day, but when the appointed time came, there was no sign of Sue. Sarah wondered if Sue had changed her mind. She didn't want to order a cup of coffee in case Sue turned up, so she just sat at one of the tables, anxiously checking her watch every few minutes. Sue walked into the cafe sometime later to find an anxious-looking Sarah. "Really sorry, dear, to keep you waiting. Come on, let's go and meet Kelly. He's just outside." Sarah got up so quickly that she almost knocked the chair down. Sue laughed, "Don't worry, he won't run away." And there he was, standing outside the cafe - the handsome hunk who had caught Sarah's eye. He looked even better at close range. He was tall but there was a calmness and steadfastness about him that was reassuring to Sarah. Kelly looked at her tentatively as she walked up to him. She reached out slowly and put her hand on his shoulder. His brown eyes softened. "So Sarah," Sue asked. "Would you like to ride Kelly now or do you want to fix another time?" Sarah nodded; she had met the horse of her dreams.

Question 1

What did you think of Kelly before the writer revealed who Kelly was at the end of the story?

In the beginning, I personally thought that Kelly was a man with good traits. The sort a girl dreams of. The writer described Kelly in many forms such as “she was mesmerised by his looks and the dignity with which he carried himself”. The writer also described Kelly as “quite a looker” when she was telling her friend, Ella, about him. When the writer started to reminisce about the times she had with her previous Australian and Argentinian companions, this somehow confirmed my thoughts that Kelly was a man and the writer tried to compare Kelly with the men that she used to date. Another reason for me to fall into the false description of Kelly is when Ella and the writer went to see Kelly’s mother for relationship approval. However, my thought of Kelly as a man completely vanished when the writer revealed that Kelly was just a riding horse.

(151 words)


Question 2

In two paragraphs, write what you liked about the story and what you did not like about the story.

In my opinion, I liked the way the writer introduced the character “Kelly”. The writer personified the character by giving Kelly some human qualities such as “a looker”, “good-looking and really tall” as well as “He has been overseas all this while”. Another reason for me to like this story is the way the writer developed other characters such as the writer herself, Sarah, the writer’s friend, Ella and Kelly’s mother, Sue. These characters being built up convincingly allowed my thought to fall into the trap set up by the writer herself.

The thing that I detest about this story is its ending. The writer has skillfully and flawlessly developed the characters to a point that allowed me to think that this story was a romantic-love story. However, with the revelation of Kelly’s character towards the end of the story, it changed entirely the romantic-love mood and feeling that I developed at the beginning of the story.

(158 words)


Question 3

If you were the writer of this story, how would you end the story? Why?

If I was the writer, I would certainly end the story by having Kelly as a real character and that is a man that fits with the descriptions mentioned by the writer and some other characters in the story. The reason is this story starts with Sarah, the writer, having fallen in love with Kelly at first sight. This romantic scene has changed my mood for reading. In order to ensure the continuance of my romantic mood, I would end the story by making Kelly fall in love with Sarah at first sight too. Then, I can have both characters madly in love with each other before they start to embark on their marriage journey. In other words, I would strongly make this story a love story rather than a story of a girl falling in love with a horse. This new ending will also attract many adolescents like me to read this story.

(156 words)

Samples of Short Stories

Below are the two short stories that can be used for PRL activities.

The House Behind by Lydia Davis

We live in the house behind and can’t see the street: our back windows face the gray stone of the city wall and our front windows look across the courtyard into the kitchens and bathrooms of the front house. The apartments inside the front house are lofty and comfortable, while ours are cramped and graceless. In the front house, maids live in the neat little rooms on the top floor and look out upon the spires of St-Etienne, but under the eaves of our house, tiny cubicles open in darkness onto a dusty corridor and the students and poor bachelors who sleep in them share one toilet by the back stairwell. Many tenants in the front house are high civil servants, while the house behind is filled with shopkeepers, salesmen, retired post-office employees, and unmarried school teachers. Naturally, we can’t really blame the people in the front house for their wealth, but we are oppressed by it: we feel the difference. Yet this is not enough to explain the ill will that has always existed between the two houses.

I often sit by my front window at dusk, staring up at the sky and listening to the sounds of the people across from me. As the hour passes, the pigeons settle over the dormers, the traffic choking the narrow street beyond thins out, and the televisions in various apartments fill the air with voices and the sounds of violence. Now and again, I hear the lid of metal trash can clang below me in the courtyard, and I see a shadowy figure carry away an empty plastic pail into one of the houses.

The trash cans were always a source of embarrassment, but now the atmosphere has sharpened: the tenants from the house in front are afraid to empty their trash. They will not enter the courtyard if another tenant is already there. I see them silhouetted in the doorway of the front hall as they wait. When there is no one in the courtyard, they empty their pails and walk quickly back across the cobblestones, anxious not to be caught there alone. Some of the old women from the house in front go down together, in pairs.

The murder took place nearly a year ago. It was curiously gratuitous. The murderer was a respected married man from our building and the murdered woman was one of the few kind people in the front house; in fact, one of the few who would associate with the people of the house behind. M. Martin had no real reason to kill her. I can only think that he was maddened by frustration: for years he had wanted to live in the house in front, and it was becoming clear to him that he never would.

It was dusk. Shutters were closing. I was sitting by my window. I saw the two of them meet in the courtyard by the trash cans. It was probably something she said to him, something perfectly innocent and friendly yet which made him realize once again just how different he was from her and from everyone else in the front house. She never should have spoken to him—most of them don’t speak to us.

He had just emptied his pail when she came out. There was something so graceful about her that although she was carrying a garbage pail, she looked regal. I suppose he noticed how even her pail—of the same ordinary yellow plastic as his—was brighter, and how the garbage inside was more vivid than his. He must have noticed, too, how fresh and clean her dress was, how it wafted gently around her strong and healthy legs, how sweet the smell was that rose from it, and how luminous her skin was in the fading daylight, how her eyes glimmered with the constant slightly frenetic look of happiness that she wore, and how her light hair glinted with silver and swelled under its pins. He had stooped over his pail and was scraping the inside of it with a blunt hunting knife when she came out, gliding over the cobblestones toward him.

It was so dark by then that only the whiteness of her dress would have been clearly visible to him at first. He remained silent—for, scrupulously polite, he was never the first to speak to a person from the front house—and quickly turned his eyes away from her. But not quickly enough, for she answered his look and spoke.

She probably said something casual about how soft the evening was. If she hadn’t spoken, his fury might not have been unleashed by the gentle sound of her voice. But in that instant, he must have realized that for him the evening could never be as soft as it was for her. Or else something in her tone—something too kind, something just condescending enough to make him see that he was doomed to remain where he was—pushed him out of control. He straightened like a shot, as though something in him had snapped, and in one motion drove his knife into her throat.

I saw it all from above. It happened very quickly and quietly. I did not do anything. For a while, I did not even realize what I had seen: life is so uneventful back here that I have almost lost the ability to react. But there was also something arresting in the sight of it: he was a strong and well-made man, an experienced hunter, and she was as slight and graceful as a doe. His gesture was a classically beautiful one; and she slumped down onto the cobblestones as quietly as a mist melting away from the surface of a pond. Even when I was able to think, I did not do anything.

As I watched, several people came to the back door of the house in front and the front door of our own house and stopped short with their garbage pails when they saw her lying there and him standing motionless above her. His pail stood empty at his feet, scraped clean, the handle of her pail was still clenched in her hand, and her garbage had spilled over the stones beside her, which was, strangely, almost as shocking to us as the murder itself. More and more tenants gathered and watched from the doorways. Their lips were moving, but I could not hear them over the noise of the televisions on all sides of me.

I think the reason no one did anything right away was that the murder had taken place in a sort of no-man’s-land. If it had happened in our house or in theirs, action would have been taken—slowly in our house, briskly in theirs. But, as it was, people were in doubt: those from the house in front hesitated to lower themselves so far as to get involved in this, and those from our house hesitated to presume so far. In the end it was the concierge who dealt with it. The body was removed by the coroner and M. Martin left with the police. After the crowd had dispersed, the concierge swept up the spilled garbage, washed down the cobblestones, and returned each pail to the apartment where it belonged.

The Eyes Have It by Ruskin Bond

I had the train compartment to myself up to Rohana, then a girl got in. The couple who saw her off were probably her parents. They seemed very anxious about her comfort and the woman gave the girl detailed instructions as to where to keep her things, when not to lean out of windows, and how to avoid speaking to strangers.

They called their goodbyes and the train pulled out of the station. As I was totally blind at the time, my eyes sensitive only to light and darkness, I was unable to tell what the girl looked like. But I knew she wore slippers from the way they slapped against her heels.

It would take me some time to discover something about her looks and perhaps I never would. But I liked the sound of her voice and even the sound of her slippers.

'Are you going all the way to Dehra?' I asked.

I must have been sitting in a dark corner because my voice startled her. She gave a little exclamation and said, 'I didn't know anyone else was here.'

Well, it often happens that people with good eyesight fail to see what is right in front of them. They have too much to take in, I suppose. Whereas people who cannot see (or see very little) have to take in only the essentials, whatever registers tellingly on their remaining senses.

'I didn't see you either,' I said. 'But I heard you come in.'

I wondered if I would be able to prevent her from discovering that I was blind. Provided I keep to my seat, I thought, it shouldn't be too difficult. The girl said, 'I am getting off at Saharanpur. My aunt is meeting me there.'

'Then I had better not get too familiar,' I replied. 'Aunts are usually formidable creatures.'

'Where are you going?' she asked.

'To Dehra and then to Mussoorie.'

'Oh, how lucky you are. I wish I were going to Mussoorie. I love the hills. Especially in October.'

'Yes, this is the best time,' I said, calling on my memories. 'The hills are covered with wild dahlias, the sun is delicious, and at night you can sit in front of a log fire and drink a little brandy. Most of the tourists have gone and the roads are quiet and almost deserted. Yes, October is the best time.'

She was silent. I wondered if my words had touched her or whether she thought me a romantic fool. Then I made a mistake.

'What is it like outside?' I asked.

She seemed to find nothing strange in the question. Had she noticed already that I could not see? But her next question removed my doubts.

'Why don't you look out of the window?' she asked.

I moved easily along the berth and felt for the window ledge. The window was open and I faced it, making a pretence of studying the landscape. I heard the panting of the engine, the rumble of the wheels, and, in my mind's eye, I could see telegraph posts flashing by.

'Have you noticed,' I ventured, 'that the trees seem to be moving while we seem to be standing still?'

"That always happens,' she said. 'Do you see any animals?'

'No,' I answered quite confidently. I knew that there were hardly any animals left in the forests near Dehra.

I turned from the window and faced the girl and for a while, we sat in silence.

'You have an interesting face,' I remarked. I was becoming quite daring but it was a safe remark. Few girls can resist flattery. She laughed pleasantly—a clear, ringing laugh.

'It's nice to be told I have an interesting face. I'm tired of people telling me I have a pretty face.'

Oh, so you do have a pretty face, thought I. And aloud I said, 'Well, an interesting face can also be pretty.'

'You are a very gallant young man,' she said. 'But why are you so serious?'

I thought, then, that I would try to laugh for her, but the thought of laughter only made me feel troubled and lonely.

'We'll soon be at your station,' I said.

'Thank goodness it's a short journey. I can't bear to sit in a train for more than two or three hours.' Yet I was prepared to sit there for almost any length of time, just to listen to her talking. Her voice had the sparkle of a mountain stream. As soon as she left the train she would forget our brief encounter. But it would stay with me for the rest of the journey and for some time after.

The engine's whistle shrieked, the carriage wheels changed their sound and rhythm, the girl got up and began to collect her things. I wondered if she wore her hair in a bun or if it was plaited. Perhaps it was hanging loose over her shoulders. Or was it cut very short?

The train drew slowly into the station. Outside, there was the shouting of porters and vendors and a high-pitched female voice near the carriage door. That voice must have belonged to the girl's aunt.

'Goodbye,’ the girl said.

She was standing very close to me. So close that the perfume from her hair was tantalizing. I wanted to raise my hand and touch her hair but she moved away. Only the scent of perfume still lingered where she had stood.

There was some confusion in the doorway. A man, getting into the compartment, stammered an apology. Then the door banged and the world was shut out again. I returned to my berth. The guard blew his whistle and we moved off. Once again I had a game to play and a new fellow traveller.

The train gathered speed, the wheels took up their song, the carriage groaned and shook. I found the window and sat in front of it, staring into the daylight that was darkness for me.

So many things were happening outside the window. It could be a fascinating game guessing what went on out there.

The man who had entered the compartment broke into my reverie.

'You must be disappointed,' he said. 'I'm not nearly as attractive a travelling companion as the one who just left.' 'She was an interesting girl,' I said. 'Can you tell me—did she keep her hair long or short?'

'I don't remember,' he said sounding puzzled. 'It was her eyes I noticed, not her hair. She had beautiful eyes but they were of no use to her. She was completely blind. Didn't you notice?'

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