- Using Sidley’s decreasing mental state to progress
- Using straight forward sentences to convey character and tension
Stephen King’s “Suffer the Little Children” begins with a simple characterization of a teacher Miss Sidley and the no nonsense and seemingly omnipotent attitude that she uses to control her students by comparing her to God. She is going through her daily routine of punishing anybody who chooses to step out of line when during a Vocabulary Check through the reflection of her glasses which she uses to oversee the class, she sees a student’s, Robert, face change into something frightening. She questions him and dismisses it and the class. The next day during class, she is angry and skittish. She dismisses the class and soon after another teacher, Mr. Hanning, asks her to check the paper towels in the girl’s lav. As she checks the dispenser, she hears two little girls giggling and screams and faints when their voices and shadows distort. The next day, she keeps Robert back and he tells her there are more of him and changes form. She runs out of the classroom and almost ends up being hit by a bus. She takes time off and when she’s back they push her to bring a gun tomorrow. She shoots the children and gets caught and sent to therapy where she kills herself after reading to children.
King takes a simple and normal setting and transforms it with a horror twist that immediately catches your attention. He doesn’t flesh out the characters to make the story compelling, but rather focuses on the supernatural aspect of the children and Miss Sidley’s reactions. He takes straightforward sentences and thoughts and uses them to create moments of tension, character, and importance like when Robert changes and Miss Sidley takes the gun to school. He sums up these moments and then proceeds to go in more detail. He uses these sentences at just the right time so the reader feels the shift in the tone.
It was human.
It was Robert.
He also uses Sidley’s rapidly decreasing mental state to move the story forward. They show this through her thoughts towards her students. Her paranoia causes her to make Robert stay after class and he shows his true form. This causes her mind to down spiral even further. The actions taken by the children push her until she is so crazed she shoots them. This helps us reach important moments in the story.
She would shake them. Shake them until their teeth rattled and their giggles turned to wails, she would thump their heads against the tile walls and she would make them admit that they knew.
She felt no qualms; he was a monster, not a little boy. She must make him admit it.
What I believe we can take from this story and use in personal writing is that overblown detail is not always needed to make a story suspenseful. Sentences need to be used to tell the story. Detail can sometimes cover up the fact that the author has no story to tell. If detail is necessary to the story than it should be used as such. Stephen King uses something seemingly simple as a change in thought process and uses it to make major impacts on the story. Less can be used to create more for the story.
- Do you think it was a hallucination in Miss Sidley’s mind or a real event?
- Do you think that she took the necessary precautions to ensure her safety? What would you have done?
- If this was just a hallucination, what do you think it represents?