In my essay I will be examining the various methods used by writers, to keep the readers interested in their short stories. I shall be looking at certain techniques which create and keep interest, such as openings, language, characters, settings, plot, hints, build ups, mystery, atmosphere, tension, twists and climax. I have chosen three short stories, to which I will be referring and using as examples to support and explain my theories. The three short stories I have chosen to use include the following: The Tell-Tale Heart, The Landlady and The Monkey’s Paw.
The Tell-Tale Heart is my favorite of the three stories. It was written in 1843 by a famous author named Edgar Allan Poe. (Allan Poe suffered from epilepsy, and fear of being buried alive, as people often were during his time. When ever a person would fall unconscious, they were mistaken for dead and often woke to find themselves trapped in a coffin, 6ft under.) The Tell-Tale Heart is written in first person by the character, who is tying to prove he is not mad by explaining his reason for, and describing the events of how he committed murder. The character talks the readers through the events of how he murdered an old man simply because he did not like his eye.
He tells us that he decided to “take the life of the man, and thus rid himself of the eye forever”. Soon after, he is overcome with guilt and the story concludes with him confessing to the murder and revealing the whereabouts of the dead body. This happens after he mistakes his own heartbeat, for that of the dead mans’. However, the central character does not believe this, instead he insists that the police were already aware of his “deeds” and were only there to taunt him. He describes them as “making a mockery” of his “horror”. My main reason for choosing The Tell-Tale Heart is because I particularly like the opening to this story. I love the use of language as well as the character in general. I also like the way the main character is used as a narrator. The story has a strong, intense build up which creates much interest and concludes with a exceptionally powerful ending.
The Monkey’s paw is the most mysterious of the three short stories. It is set in the 19th century in the home of a small family. This family of mother, father and son are patiently awaiting the arrival of their guest.
Sergeant-Major Morris is a friend of Mr. White and had come to visit him after having spent twenty-one years in India. With him, he brought stories of “strange scenes and doughty deeds; of wars and plagues and strange peoples”. He also brought with him a Monkey’s Paw.
To look at, the Monkey’s Paw was just a talisman, “an ordinary little paw, dried to a mummy”. The special thing about it, that made it more than just an ordinary little paw, was that it had a spell put on it. Three separate men could each have three separate wishes. Two different men had already used the monkey’s paw, one of them being Sergeant-Major Morris. So Mr. White decided that as the paw was of no use to his friend he would have the monkey’s paw for himself. Even after receiving grave warnings from his guest to destroy the talisman, Mr. White chose to keep it. That night he wished for 200 pounds (just enough to clear the house debts). The next morning, after no sign of 200 pounds, the family laughed at the idea of being granted three wishes. They laughed at the idea of themselves even “listening to such nonsense”.
After some time had passed, Mr. and Mrs. White were waiting for their son to arrive home from work, while they sat ridiculing the idea of the monkey’s paw. It was not long before the “mysterious movements of a man outside” interrupted them. After inviting him inside they learned that their son had got caught in the machinery at work, and died. Not only had he died, but the firm for which he worked presented the Whites with a “certain sum” as compensation for their loss. Two Hundred pounds.
About one week after burying their only son, the Whites used the monkey’s paw to make their second wish. This time they wished their “son alive again”. Just few moments after, they heard a knock on their door and Mrs. White ran off to open the door for whom she believed to be her “boy”. However, Mr. White who had been reluctant to wish in the first place was on his hands and knees groping wildly on the floor in search of the paw. At that same moment he’d heard the door about to open, he found the monkey’s paw. Mr. White feared that his wish would bring back his “mutilated son”, and so at that precise moment he breathed his third and final wish. Suddenly the knocking ceased and his wife gave a long loud wail of disappointment.
The Monkey’s Paw creates interest throughout the whole story and has such an effective build up that I had to use it. It lures the in reader by being mysterious during the opening and then dropping hints. It then holds on to the readers’ interest by revealing amazing twists and ending with a great climax.
I Used To Live Here Once is the shortest of my chosen three. It is written by Jean Rhys and is only 30 sentences long. Although it’s completely different to the other two, it is equally interesting.
I Used To Live Here is not a story of fear, nor does it fit into any other genre. It is so ambiguous that you can not class or even explain its meaning with much certainty. It could mean so many things. All you can do is describe the events that happen and let the reader express they’re own opinion. I’m sure there are many different views on this story.
I Used To Live Here Once involves a women who is returning to her old neighborhood after a long time. We, the readers, join her on her journey that leads us to the house she used to live in. On her journey, she discovers that many things have things have changed; yet it is still the same place. When she comes across the two children who live in the house; a young girl and boy, she tries to talk to them. After her third attempt the boy looks straight into her eyes and does not even change his expression. It is as if he can’t see her; or maybe he is ignoring her.
“Hasn’t it gone cold all of a sudden” he says “let’s go inside”.
Both the children run off towards the house, and “that was the first time she knew”.
What it was exactly, that she knew is unknown to us. I can only state my opinion and provide evidence to back it up. Even then, I am not necessarily correct. Some people believe that the author is referring to the first time she realized she was a ghost. The evidence to back this statement up is the “glassy” look the sky had, which is often associated with spirits and ghosts. The fact that it went cold all of a sudden also indicates a ghost’s presence. Others believe that it was the first time she knew the children, who had grown up in racist surroundings, had been raised to think it was acceptable to treat people differently because of skin color.
I chose this story as one of my three because it is extremely short, and will therefore allow me to play close attention to the detail and language. It will also help me to explore with vast depth the methods and techniques used by Jean Rhys.
The Tell-Tale Heart has such a powerful opening that by the time I have read the very first word; I was already hooked on the story. “TRUE!” starts Edgar Allen Poe, as if he is agreeing with someone. This instantly causes the reader to think… whom is he agreeing with? And to what is he agreeing? Now the author has created curiosity as well as interest. He keeps the reader’s interest by creating questions in their minds. He achieves this effect by feeding the reader bits of information, while never explaining fully the situation. He keeps the reader guessing. You could even say he is being a tease, or you could say he just being mysterious.
“–Nervous–very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my sense”. These first two sentences alone, conjure up many questions…why was he nervous? Who accused him of being mad? Was he mad? What was the disease that had sharpened his senses? Which sense was he referring to? And to whom was he talking? In order to find answers to these questions, the reader will have to continue reading the story. In other words, the reader will follow the breadcrumbs. The first two sentences also give clues as to what kind of person the character is. At this point in the story, we are aware that the character is not at ease, carries a disease and is accused of being mad. Whether on not he truly is mad, we cannot be sure. But as we move on to the next sentence we are provided with strong evidence that suggests he is in fact mad.
“Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard many things in the heaven and earth. I heard many things in the hell”. This sentence has already answered two of our questions; the sense, which he claimed had been sharpened by disease, was his hearing, and Yes! He was in fact mad.
Now so far, the author it seems has being using a technique similar to that of dropping breadcrumbs in order to create interest. But instead of breadcrumbs, he has being dropping clues. He has created questions about the character and the plot. In fact he has created so much interest, and so early on in the story, that he now needs to create even more interest in order to maintain a high-quality build up. He creates this added interest by using good language while introducing to the reader the main events of the story (as if to say, “Wait there’s more”).
“Hearken!” writes the author. (Hearken is an old-fashioned word meaning listen) If someone asks you to listen, you naturally believe it is because they have got something interesting to say, and therefore listen. This use of language was a great way for the author to seize our attention and keep our interest.
Further on, he tells us to “observe” how calmly he can tell us the whole story. Again the author uses language to create interest. By telling us to observe, it’s like he is almost demanding the reader’s attention, the reader’s interest. Also, the writer introduces another technique towards the rest of the story. I think it was an extremely smart method. The writer must have realized that he could not keep creating questions inside the readers mind through out the whole opening, as a way to create interest. Otherwise, the reader would be left wondering whether the story would ever get to the point and maybe even give up and loose interest. So what the writer does is he stops leaving breadcrumbs and instead reveals the way. In other words, he stops creating questions and starts to reveal some answers.
“I can tell you the whole story,” says the author. In this way he has recreated interest and got the reader wondering what will happen next.
The Tell-Tale Heart has constantly created interest throughout the opening section of the story, by using a combination of techniques and methods.
The Monkey’s Paw has a slightly different approach towards the opening section of the story. It is not quite as dramatic as the Tell-Tale Heart, but equally as effective.
The Monkey’s Paw seems to use setting and atmosphere to create interest in the opening section. For example, “the night was cold and wet”. The words “night”, “cold” and “wet” put together instantly conjure up ideas of horror and fear. This gives the reader a hint of what the story is about and creates the first piece of interest. The second clue is in the setting. The Whites were in “their small parlor with the blinds drawn and the fire burning brightly. This setting is warm and cozy, alone it means nothing, but joined with the first clue it means a lot. The setting outside, contrasts the setting inside. The fact that the atmosphere outside was so uneasy compared to the cozy atmosphere inside the Whites home creates suspicion. And with suspicion usually comes interest. The reader can easily suspect that something or someone is going to interrupt the ideal atmosphere in their home. It is only a matter of whom, what and why? The only way to find out is for the reader to continue reading the story.
The author has now created a stable level of interest within the reader. Unlike The Tale-Tale Heart, The Monkey’s Paw does not continue to create interest so openly; it has a more subtle approach.
The author even suggests what will happen later on in the story, although you have to read between the lines to pick up on it. During the opening section Mr. White is playing chess with his son, but looses after making a “fatal mistake”. This is very ironic because the same thing happens in the ending section of the story. Mr. White makes a mistake of wishing on the monkey’s paw and looses his son. The author’s use of the word “fatal” is very important, it means lethal or deadly, and that is exactly what happens. Mr. White’s first mistake caused the death of his king and the second caused the death of his son. By using the word “fatal”, the author immediately associates the story with death and horror. By doing so, he creates interest. The reader is now interested to learn what mysterious and fatal events are going to take place.
“I should hardly think that he’d come tonight”, said the father.
This quote again creates questions within the reader’s mind…who were they expecting? During the opening section of the story, the author also lets us know that, the father possessed ideas about the game involving “radical changes”. It turns that the lives of the Whites do undergo radical changes.
All in all, the writer of the Monkey’s Paw uses language, atmosphere and setting to create interest. He also shows signs of fear and unease, as well as creating questions. The unique thing about this writer is that he is subtle in the way he uses these techniques. He gradually creates interest, throughout the opening section of the story.
“She was standing by the river looking at the stepping stones and remembering each one”, starts Jean Rhys.
Instantly this sentence tells us that the women had been there before. Now the reader is interested to know who the woman is and what the setting means to her.
She then goes on to describe each stepping stone before making her way to the other side. This opening section contains so many descriptive words: ” round, unsteady, pointed, flat, safe, dry, slippery” that the reader has all the information he/she needs and is no longer interested in the beginning of the story. Instead the reader is interested in the character and the plot of the story. By using such an informative and descriptive opening, the author has created a high level of interest in the other sections of the story.
Jean Ryhs finishes the opening section by letting us know that the woman was feeling “extraordinarily happy”. The word “extraordinarily” suggests that the plot is going to be mysterious. By not explaining why the character is so happy, the author has added to the mystery. The use of the word extraordinarily is also ironic, as the setting of the story described in the opening is all very normal. It may have being a method used to throw us of track and keep us guessing, it may also have being a method used to keep us interested.
Jean Rhys uses descriptive language and creates a sense of mystery in order to create interest.
Stories sometimes use the central characters or narrator to create interest. Edgar Allen Poe does this extremely well. He has created an interesting character and then uses him as the narrator. The main character in the Tell-Tale Heart seems to be a madman in denial. The character constantly asks the reader if he is mad.
“Will you say that I am mad?” “How, then, am I mad?” It’s almost like it is up to the reader to decide. The character then goes on to narrate the rest of the story and try to prove he is sane. Of course, we already know he is not sane because he mentions to us during the opening, that he hears things in the heaven and hell. He then goes on to explain to us his reason for murdering the old man. Apparently, when the eye fell upon him, “his blood run cold” and “it chilled the very marrow in his bones”. He also compares the eye to that of a vulture. The fact that the character admits to murdering an old man because of his eye, makes him more interesting than most. So far, we know that the character is nervous, (“very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am”) and we know that he is insane. We also know that he is in denial of his madness.
Edgar Allen Poe has created a character of unease and insanity, an irrational and unique character who although has murdered an old man, is still not portrayed as a villain. This may be because the character himself is narrating the story. I t may also be because the character is not portrayed as violent.
His “secret deeds” were terrible, yet he did not seem to be an angry or violent man (other than in the presence of the eye), quite the opposite really. He seemed too patient and smart. Of course he had to be patient to sit there listening to the “death watches” all night for seven nights. (Deathwatches are beetles, which eat away at the houses).
Although some might argue that the character is not smart because he did not get away with the murder, we must remember that he did not get caught. He had every chance of getting away with the murder, had he not confessed. “I admit the deed!” he shrieked, after mistakenly believing the officers already knew. The fact the characters plan was well thought out, contributes to his smartness. He even tells us how “wisely” he proceeded and with “foresight”. The character has created such a clever plan that only a patient and determined person could pull off. And he pulled it off very well; he had the officers satisfied for his “manner” convinced them.
As he did pull it off it tells us a lot about his character. It seems the more insight we are given into the character, the more interested we become in the story. Not only is the character smart, patient, nervous, mad and in denial, but he is also in “awe” (fear). When he describes to us the fear of the old man he reveals to us, he is familiar with it and is often distracted by “terrors”.
Edgar Allen Poe not only creates interest in the story but also in the character itself. The way that he used the central character as the narrator gave us more insight and created more interest.
The Monkey’s Paw uses the character of Sergeant-Major Morris to create interest. Sergeant-Major Morris’s character is portrayed as mysterious and very interesting. He has seen a lot of things and has many stories to tell of his adventures in India.
The story introduces this character very efficiently; “Sergeant-Major Morris,” says Mr. White, introducing him to his family. He comes across as a man with status. It is possible to tell he is going to be an important key character to the story.
Once Sergeant-Major Morris has settled in, we are told that the family listened to him with “eager interest”. These actions imply that he has interesting things to say and add to his appearance, in manner of interest.
One of the many things which create interest is the fact that the character has many strange experiences, some of which appear to be quite grave. The story often indicates to the reader of Sergeant-Major Morris’s experiences. But not all of his experiences are good. This is reveal to us by the way he shakes his head, sighing softly, while advising Mr. White that he is better off where he is, rather than in India. And when Sergeant-Major Morris is asked by Herbert, why he doesn’t have the three wishes for himself, he quietly replies “I have”, before his face whitens. The fact that his face whitened at even the memory of his experience with the monkeys paw, says it was an extremely bad experience.
All the things I’ve mentioned so far imply that the Sergeant is an interesting character with interesting experiences. But he never reveals to us what his experiences were, only that they were unpleasant and of an eerie nature. This all adds to the mystery of the character therefore creating an enormous amount of interest.
As well as being mysterious, Sergeant-Major Morris is also a secretive character. He even seems reluctant to tell the Whites about the monkey’s paw. Only when Mr. White questions him about it, does he answer, “nothing…leastways, nothing worth hearing”. He says this “hastily,” as if he would rather not talk about the subject. But after gentle probing by Mrs. White he reveals that it is “just a bit of what you might call magic,” again he says this in an off-hand manner. This secretive behavior adds to the interest of the character, and the more interesting the characters are the more interesting the story will be.
Sometimes the story uses the tone of Sergeant-Major Morris to create interest. When he explains to the Whites how he came to posses the monkeys paw, the story tells us that his tones were so “grave” a hush fell upon the group. And when he reveals how the monkey’s paw came to exist, his manner was so “impressive” it caused his hearers laughter to jar.
The character of Sergeant-Major Morris has a key role in creating interest. The story purposely shows him as a character of mystery, experience, secrets, and unease, which were all essential elements in creating interest for this story.
I used to live here once does not really use the central character to create interest, but instead uses the narrator. During the opening, the story narrates the scenery and setting using descriptive language and various verbs to create interest.
The narrator then tells us that the central character felt extraordinarily happy. By doing so the narrator let’s us know that it was not an ordinary day or may be that the character himself was not an ordinary woman. By using this word, the story now looks mysterious or even odd. This word was definitely needed to create interest because the scenery and settings in this story are all pretty normal and average; therefore, the story needs something to make it interesting.
The narrator describes the sky as having a “glassy” look. This is just another example of how the story uses narrator to create interest indicating something out of the ordinary might happen.
Each writer creates interest in the story by giving the reader details of the plot as the story progresses, to make us wonder what will happen later on. They give us hints about things might happen.
The narrator of Tell-Tale Heart that states that he decided to take the life of the old man. This is an all-important detail at the story. It tells that the story is going to be about how he murdered the old man. The fact that he murdered because he hated a man’s eye; also it tells us why he is being questioned and accused of madness.
When the three officers arrive to search the premises, we don’t know whether or not he is going to get caught. This is because he proudly boasts to us about the “wise precautions” he took for the “concealment” of the body. But then the character looses it, while still in the presence of the officers. His head starts to ache and he hears a “ringing” in his ears. The ringing grew more and more distinct, no matter how loudly or how frequently he talked, the sound “steadily increased”. He describes the sound as a sound “a watch makes when enveloped in cotton”. This metaphor is the exact same he used to describe the beating heart of the old mans. Now the fact that he says this, almost defiantly means that he believes the sound is the beating of the dead mans heart. It is a huge hint that the character is overcome with guilt and makes the reader think he might confess to the murder later on in the story.
The Monkey’s Paw also gives us hints about the plot. When Sergeant-Major Morris tells Mr. White about the monkey’s paw, he says the old man put a spell on it because he wanted to show that “fate controlled people’s lives and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow”. This clue suggests to the reader that later on in the story, someone will wish on the paw and his or her fate will end in sorrow. And now the reader knows why Sergeant-Major Morris speaks of the paw so gravely. Because it must have caused him sorrow.
That is probably why he threw it into the fire, because he knew it was dangerous. But Mr. White snatched it out. After he does so, Sergeant-Major Morris tells him that he shouldn’t blame him for what happens if he keeps it.
In Mr. White’s actions, lies one clue, and in the Sergeant’s words lie another. Because Mr. White picks the paw out of the fire, it implies to the readers that he will be the one to wish on it. And the sergeants’ words of warning say that something is defiantly going to happen. He even goes on to warn him again, “I warn you off the consequences”.
Once the guest leaves, Mr. White wishes for the two hundred ponds, and as it didn’t turn up that very moment, Herbert tells his father, “Well, I don’t see the money and I bet I never shall”. This is a very important and meaningful clue. Why can’t he ever see the money? There are three possible reasons:
* Because his father will not share it with him
* Because the wish will not be granted
* Because he will die before the money appears
Earlier, we were given details of the plot that indicated it would be grave and sorrowful. Therefore it is more likely too be number three.
Sergeant-Major Morris also mentions to his friend that when the wishes were granted, they happened so naturally that you might think they were coincidence. So maybe Herbert will die and it will look like an accident. But the reader will also wonder how the monkey’s paw and a wish of two hundred pounds could cause Herbert’s death.
In conclusion to my essay, I believe that writers should use a combination of various methods in order to create and maintain interest, within the story. First they should use an appealing and interesting title, which will lure the reader in. The title should give the reader a hint of what the story will include, but at the same time it shouldn’t reveal too much of the plot. It also should not be too long. A brilliant example is “The Tell-Tale Heart”.
Secondly, the opening section should create questions within the readers mind. Although questions should be created throughout the story, this method should be particularly dominant during the opening. This technique is very effective, it draws the reader in.
By this point, a good setting and atmosphere should have been created. One, which gives the reader some insight into what the plot is going to be about. The Monkey’s Paw for instance, creates a strange, eerie atmosphere and has a setting that is often associated with fear and unease.
Characters are also an important factor in creating interest. The Tell-Tale Heart demonstrates this perfectly, by creating an extremely interesting and totally unique character, and then goes on to use him as the narrator of the story.
By receiving details of the plot, the reader progresses to wonder what will happen later on in the story. The method of giving the reader hints, keeps them interested to know what will happen in the ending.
If the writer decides too, he/she may be ambiguous in their writing, therefore using mystery to create interest.
During the middle section of the story, the writer should start to build up slowly while using good narrative tension. An example of this method is present in The Monkey’s Paw, when Mrs. White is rushing to open the door for what she believes to son her son, while Mr. White is frantically searching for the paw. The Tell-Tale Heart also builds up, but uses narrative tension of a higher quality, therefore has a greater and more impressive buildup.
Once the build up has reached its climax the writer should introduce a twist or surprise. Ideally the story should finish with a memorable ending that blows the reader away.
In my opinion, the story, which included all the mentioned techniques, is The Tell-Tale Heart. Edgar Allen Poe used all the above methods and most effectively. That is why his story was the most impressive and interesting. I think it was remarkably unique as well as appealing.