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I wrote a short story (900-1000 words) about a character presenting some election process and at the end, we learn that

he got elected.

The problem that I have is that the suspense in that story lasts about as long as you needed to hover over the spoiler part.

For the future, I am wondering what techniques I could use to keep the conclusion somewhat a surprise, or at least make it less certain?

I thought about adding some red herrings, but due to the length of the story, it isn't very simple without losing myself.

5

I've heard that suspense isn't about WHAT will happen, but about WHEN it will happen. When will the bomb under the table go off, when will the rival candidate's rigging of the polls be found out? If at all?

Anyway, to answer your question, you might want to increase the stakes--if the campaigner doesn't win, the rival will do something bad. You might want to stack the odds against the protagonist-- say the rival rigged the election and bribed the board to allow him/her to win. Now the protagonist has to expose the rigging to the public before the election results are mentioned. This could create more tension. What if the public doesn't care/doesn't believe the protagonist? What if the protagonist doesn't have the public support? What if the protagonist has a flaw that gets him/her intro deeper trouble/complicates stuff? What if the board sends out people to dissuade the protagonist from trying to expose the rival?

-introduce a time limit--the election results are out tomorrow and we STILL have to convince the public that a candidate used wrongful means! -introduce sources of doubt (pile up the odds against the protagonist) -make your character have a flaw that works against him/her achieving his/her goal. -make the antagonist more powerful than the protagonist. -escalate the conflict

In this way, you could expand the story, and introduce sources of doubt into the reader's mind. However, if you are aiming to write short stories, this may be better used with slightly longer stories--or just shift your focus to the point in the story where you see the most opportunity for instilling doubt into the reader's mind.

  • That's Hitchcock's example, and I find it very important to remember. You have a scene with two characters in conversation. Surprise is when, suddenly, a bomb goes off. Suspense is when the reader knows there is a bomb that will explode at 1 o'clock, and is now sitting on the edge of their seat as the characters remain unaware of the bomb's existence, while 1 o'clock is slowly approaching. – PoorYorick Jun 24 at 15:10
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I have a few ideas:

  1. Every word matters. Avoid adverbs, information dumps, and descriptive adjectives to the greatest extent possible.

  2. Still make it a "play of three acts" but with the first act being a single paragraph describing the protagonist, the antagonist, and the problem to be overcome. To build suspense quickly, we need to know right away what the issues are.

  3. Limit your cast of characters. I would say 3 or 4 tops. Your MC/protagonist, a sidekick, the antagonist, and a "mysterious stranger" who can affect the outcome (my thought is you can have one and no more than one additional characters presented no later than halfway through). Too few and there isn't enough conflict for drama, and too many and you have a novel.

  4. The time frame is essential. The problem needs to be solved immediately ... or else.

  5. Keep it simple! One problem gets solved.

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There are no hard and fast rules for writing stories. However, I can tell you what works for me in short story writing.

Working back from the ending

As I mentioned in this answer, I like to work from the punchline backwards. In your case, the result of the election is the punchline (or kicker). What would make that ending feel like a shock? What needs to happen to cast doubt on the outcome? What is the least writing I have to do to get the reader emotionally invested in that outcome and make them cheer when it happens?

For horror, my favourite trick is to take something nice and good and show at the last minute a dark version. For a happy ending, I would set up expectations of failure (unhappy ending).

I would probably imply, through plot-advancing dialogue that at least one of the characters is despondent about their chances. Perhaps the candidate had some news get out about a thing he did years ago. They are bracing for a loss. Then just as all hope is lost, someone reports that some significant demographic celebrated either the honesty of his confession or the deed itself. Thus he wins much to his own surprise.

Making the ending feel like a twist

The definition of a twist ending is where the plot is heading one way only to flip at the last possible moment. That flip can be a reversal of circumstances, a subversion of expectations, or a sting in the tail (pun intended).

A lot of those twist ending types are the writer's equivalent of sleight of hand magic. You distract the audience by getting them to look at the glamorous assistant so they do not see you manipulate something else on the other side of the stage.

Being a comedy writer (sometimes), what I would almost certainly do is have him realise the day is lost and end up making a bet to do something extreme if he wins. Sky-diving, crocodile wrestling, streaking at a football match, the more "oh crap!" the bet, the better. That way, the win is good but... Oh, no! What did he just agree to?

Emotional pay-off

Romance books are satisfying not because it is a surprise that boy and girl live happily ever after but because the journey to that ending was itself satisfying. The ending is the emotional pay-off for the journey.

All of my prefered short story methods are working towards the same goal. To make the ending give the reader an emotional pay-off. To leave the reader feeling like they had a satisfying reading experience. I either want a shiver (horror) or a laugh (comedy).

In your case I would ask myself, why could this win be emotionally satisfying? What stakes could I have put in place to give this result urgency? How can I imply there are many other possible endings? How can I make my reader really care about getting the ending I will give them?

If you can answer those questions with your story, the ending will quite likely be most satisfying; even if they see it coming.

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This seems almost too simplistic to make a good answer, but if your problem is that you can't generate suspense in a very short story, make the story longer.

Alternatively, decide that the story is fine the length it is, and just accept that such a short story does not require suspense. The reader doesn't spend enough time with the characters to care about what happens to them (in this case whether the main character wins his election or not), or enough time in your setting to care about who is going to govern it for the next few years. But that doesn't make the story lacking, it just means its merits lie elsewhere. The "point" of a very short story can be found in some sort of twist or irony, in its comedy, or in the haiku-like vividness of a single well-presented scene.

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