Short Circuit Stories

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Author: Sharon Cooper



High School

Difficulty of Project

Medium (The results of this experiment could be published in a journal of Narratology or Narrative Theory.)



Safety Issues


Material Availability

Easily available from your library.

Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project

A few days.


  • To understand readers’ expectations in regard to literature.
  • To better comprehend Peter Brooks’ theories about plot. 

Materials and Equipment / Ingredients

  • A story
  • A computer (to alter the story)
  • A good sense of imagination
  • Pencils/Pens 


In Peter Brooks’ book, “Reading for the Plot”, Brooks asserts that a story must “tend towards its own end… . Yet this must be the… correct end” (Brooks 103). According to Brooks, authors often resort to a technique called the “short circuit”, which enhances the tension in a story (Brooks 104). This short circuit is when the story is in danger of coming to an anti-climactic ending—perhaps a character nearly dies before the plot is resolved. Brooks claims that readers desire this short circuit in literature, and they search for it when they read. 

Research Questions
  • Do readers actually expect a short circuit in a story?
  • Does the short circuit actually heighten the tension of a story? 
Terms, Concepts and Questions to Start Background Research
  • What is a short circuit?
  • What are readers’ expectations for a story?
  • How do readers react to an anti-climactic ending?
  • How can you measure the tension of a story? 

Experimental Procedure

  1. Find a story that you believe no one has read.
  2. Edit the story so that it nearly ends anti-climatically.
  3. Gather a group of participants together. a. Give half the participants the unaltered story. b. Give the other half the altered story. c. Keep track of which participant has which story!
  4. As the participants read the story, have them rate their desire to read on. Does it increase with the doctored story? 


Brooks, Peter. Reading for the Plot. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, MA: 1992.

Genette, Gerard. Narrative Discourse. Cornell University Press. New York: 1983.

Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith. Narrative Fiction. Methuen. London/NY: 1983. 
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