The Most Important Element of an Effective Short Story

A good short story must contain an element of suspense that leaves the readers on the brink of their seats.

In all of the stories we read, the element of suspense prevails across the board. Suspense drives a short story, allowing the story not to fall flat.  In the case where a story does not contain suspense, many readers find that the story has no point and the story quickly looses the readers’ interest.

In the case of “Desiree’s Baby,” the suspense lies in the fate of Desiree and the reception of the race issue by her husband and society at large.  Not only that, but the suspense of the fire at the end builds to the point that the reader seems astounded, more emotionally vulnerable and feels as if he or she has been left shocked when the author reveals the true origin of the baby’s race.

Concerning “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” the niggling sense that something does not fit allows for suspense throughout the narrative. Because the reader knows that the protagonist should have died, the reader feels blindsided by the narration that follows of the protagonist’s journey towards escape. Because the reader feels unsettled by the fact that something seems off, the reader finds him or herself eagerly awaiting the resolution that surely follows such a wacky climax.

In all of the stories that we read, the punch line, if you will, came very close to the end of the story. This allows for doubts to percolate as we read and for each reader to try and predict what will soon come to pass, only to find that their predictions have no basis in fact and appear to refute any actual events in the narration. Because short stories, as the title implies, have a much more condensed plot, they need to have some sort of driving to keep readers engaged.

Now that you’ve heard my perspective, what do you think is the most effective element?



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