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5 Salient Features of a Gripping Short Story

Updated on May 22, 2016

Is it easy to write a gripping short story?

You ask this question to ten new writers and I bet at least 7 of them would reply, “Yes it’s easy to write a short story.” Even my observation was the same till the time I had not gone through some real good short stories from great authors. Whenever you are intrigued by an event you find a pen and paper and write a short story. As simple as that. OK. Done.

But when a reader comes across your story does he/she instantly feel like reading it? Assuming your story is picked for reading, will the reader get completely engrossed in it? What will be the reaction after your story is read? If you are not thinking about these at the time your story is taking form, it’s worthless. I shall go as far as to say it’s not a short story at all if it cannot shake up or wake up or take up the reader’s soul.

So understand it very clearly that every short story has a purpose, an audience, a mood, a perfect story-line and a piercing climax, with characters connecting to you all the while you are into the story.

Following are the most significant features of a gripping short story:

1. Audience:

Every story has its target audience. A writer may choose to write a moralistic story for school goers. A humorous tale may be authored keeping in mind the class of 9 to 5 people who deplete their energies in the office hours and are in search of a hearty laughter for relaxation. Some short stories may have a universal appeal. Even though the audience is a feature of any kind of literary piece yet the same is more specifically border-lined in case of a short story. The writer must be cautious with respect to the track that must be followed for those targeted.

2. Matter or storyline:

The story-line in a short story is generally very crisp. It is very plain and straight forward but the reader should be kept guessing till the end. So the matter of the story should be so woven as to bind the interest of the reader from the very beginning till the finish. Capturing the attention of the audience is possible only in case the story has a solid central theme. So new writers must first plan the plot around the crux of the tale and then develop the script accordingly.

3. Purpose or impact:

Why should a story be written at all? For entertainment? To give a clarion call? Or to do a mass awakening? Every story has a purpose, more so with a short story. The effect or impact to be caused is a function of how deep can a writer penetrate the reader’s psyche. There are stories which the reader would read over and over again. Such stories compel a reader to think back, contemplate and assimilate the same in real life. There are other stories reading which you would double over with laughter. In a nutshell, the writer must have an aim before starting to write the short story. To what extent is he able to achieve that aim decides the success or failure of the writer as well as the story.

4. Style and mood:

Mood and style of the story have a catalytic effect. From the very beginning you have to grasp the attention of the reader and incline the reader to the angle of the story. The genre of the story decides this. For example, in a story of motivation, the main character may be cast as a bright young man of high ambitions. A horror story may start on a stormy night in an abandoned house near the lonely bridge of a river. The style is unique to each and every writer. Some writers take to easy and lucid style whereas others tell their tales in a tough language to depict their narrations effectively.

5. Sequencing and Climax:

Climax is the most important part of a short story. Even though long stories, plays and

Novels also have their climaxes, a short story entirely or mostly owes to its climax. In fact a short story is a climax only. The climax must be reached at the most appropriate moment in the story. It should be such an end as will cause the reader to look back at the whole story. So in a short story the writer must write every word from the very beginning with a view to entering into the climax and carrying it out exquisitely in the end. Sequencing is the description of the events of the story in an order. Sequencing in a short story should be such that the reader does not get bored in the midway. The reader must be kept on tenterhooks till the end. Expected sequencing plays havoc on the success of the story.


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    • profile image

      Subrata Chowdhury 

      8 months ago

      A short story has to stand out with its plot, the narrative, the verisimilarity, the crisis in the middle, the solution(climax or the denoument ) and a flbbergasting end, sometimes keeping the readers guessing( food for thought). But, I am surprised that many selectors of short stories of popular broadsheets lack in these faculties and choose short stories on the merit of language compositions only. These selectors should be immediately removed and replaced by those with lesser sense of wiseacre-ism

    • rajeshcpandey profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from India


      Yeah it depends, but tell I must it's a matter of practice to some extent. What you said cannot be whisked off and I agree that people naturally write in concise or elaborate style, yet I would say a short story is the best art to condense your talent in a small packet. I know of a student who chose those subjects for GATE(Exam in India for admission to Masters in Engineering) in which his friends considered him comparatively weaker. Incidently he topped the exam in his discipline scoring 99 and 100 percentiles in those papers.

      So how about taking the challenge?

      Anyway, thanks a million for the comment


    • CrazedNovelist profile image

      AE Williams 

      8 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      I would NEVER say that writing a short story is easy. In fact I think it's harder than writing a novel. Condensing fiction into the short form is difficult and delicate. It takes a master of the craft (Edgar Allen Poe) to truly embrace character, plot, and setting that fits the short form. I doubt I could ever write one. It's just no in my bones. I need longer form writing... I love to go on and on.... ;) Good work


    • rajeshcpandey profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from India

      @Marketing Merit

      Thanks for the comment. The way a short story states its intent without killing your time is what is liked by readers. Have you ever tried your hand at it?

    • Marketing Merit profile image

      C L Grant 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      I'm not a fiction writer but as a reader, I always enjoy a short story that has a 'twist' at the end. The unexpected and unpredictable.

      I believe it is harder, technically at least, to write a short story. You have to go from start to finish in so few words. Writing a novel requires commitment and dedication by the author but in turn provides the luxury of being able to slowly grip the attention of the reader.


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