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Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction

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"The book is as unusual as you might expect and hope for from Patricia Highsmith. An elegant creative writing guide, it’s also a goldmine for anyone hoping for insight into The Talented Mr Ripley – and its author." - The Guardian. "The book is as unusual as you might expect and hope for from Patricia Highsmith. An elegant creative writing guide, it’s also a goldmine for anyone hoping for insight into The Talented Mr Ripley – and its author." - The Guardian.


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"The book is as unusual as you might expect and hope for from Patricia Highsmith. An elegant creative writing guide, it’s also a goldmine for anyone hoping for insight into The Talented Mr Ripley – and its author." - The Guardian. "The book is as unusual as you might expect and hope for from Patricia Highsmith. An elegant creative writing guide, it’s also a goldmine for anyone hoping for insight into The Talented Mr Ripley – and its author." - The Guardian.

30 review for Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction

  1. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    Patricia Highsmith died in 1995, so I'll never get to write her the love fan letter I have had brewing in me for years, now. I'll never get to ask her questions that have been burning in my mind, about her writerly process and opinions, either. This book is as close as I'll get, and I'll take it, with thanks. Anyone who knows me knows I love Pat. This year I read four of her novels, and re-read two. She's never too far from my thoughts these days. And how could she be? I see her name everywhere, Patricia Highsmith died in 1995, so I'll never get to write her the love fan letter I have had brewing in me for years, now. I'll never get to ask her questions that have been burning in my mind, about her writerly process and opinions, either. This book is as close as I'll get, and I'll take it, with thanks. Anyone who knows me knows I love Pat. This year I read four of her novels, and re-read two. She's never too far from my thoughts these days. And how could she be? I see her name everywhere, whether in reviews of her books here on Goodreads, or a new movie adaptation poised for release (hello, Adrian Lyne's Deep Water, come out, come out, wherever you are...), or the recent publication of a massive volume of her diaries. Forget Sally Rooney, people, Pat is IT. Over 70 years after the publication of her debut novel, Strangers on a Train, she remains a singular force in the literary world, primarily in (but not limited to) the realm of suspense fiction. I started reading this "how to" book of hers earlier in the year, but because she was using many of her own works as examples, I was fearing plot spoilers, and so I put it aside. This week, I picked it up, because I realized I was being a bit silly. There was only one book she referenced that I haven't read yet (The Glass Cell - I have it on my bedside stack, though), and by the time I get to it, I'm sure all the plot points she mentions will have faded into a goldfish-quality memory. What won't fade, however, is the sheer pleasure I experienced in these pages. THIS is how to write a writer's manual. With personality, with wit, with honesty. She puts her money where her mouth is, too, by using her own books as examples for the things she discusses (including failures, so this isn't an ego fest). She also doesn't make "rules" - because, as she says in her preface, It is impossible to explain how a successful book is written. A few things she said, though, I believe to be gospel: * The first person you should think of pleasing, in writing a book, is yourself. * Creative people do not pass moral judgments - at least not at once - on what meets their eye. There is time for that later in what they create, if they are so inclined, but art essentially has nothing to do with morality, convention, or moralizing. * One need not be a monster, or feel like one, to demand two or three hours' privacy here and there. This schedule should become a habit, and the habit, like writing itself, a way of life. (...) Writing is a craft and needs constant practice. Some other delights: She makes the wonderful observation that Dostoevsky, if writing now, would be considered a writer of suspense (but would need heavy editing). She complains about the term "reader identification" and the annoying need to make characters "likeable" (something I have personal experience with, currently) even if they are psychopaths. And, she makes the (astute) declaration that her books shouldn't be made available in prison libraries. This was written in 1983, and is a little dated, especially in the "Second Draft" and "Revisions" sections when she discusses typing and re-typing a manuscript on a manual typewriter. I wonder if Pat wrote her final books on a computer? No matter, honestly, I liked the visual I had of her, typing and refining, a cigarette burning and an empty glass of scotch being refilled, a rather serious bulldog expression on her face. It might very well be true that these writing books don't help much in the creation of a wonderful novel, because the combination of magic and genius intrinsic in the act of writing goes beyond explanation. But, I'm inspired by and grateful for this one. I hope even the smallest portion can rub off on me, in my efforts. Thank you, Pat.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nandakishore Mridula

    I like to read these "writer's tips" sort of books once in a while, just to get to know how their minds function. Patricia Highsmith's book is nothing great: very light fare, in fact. The advice is pretty much standard: jot down your ideas, allow them to develop, pay proper attention to plotting, the first draft, the second draft, revisions...But it was very enjoyable to read how she actually plotted her stories. Two pieces of advice stayed in the mind: The plot: It should be tight - absolutely wa I like to read these "writer's tips" sort of books once in a while, just to get to know how their minds function. Patricia Highsmith's book is nothing great: very light fare, in fact. The advice is pretty much standard: jot down your ideas, allow them to develop, pay proper attention to plotting, the first draft, the second draft, revisions...But it was very enjoyable to read how she actually plotted her stories. Two pieces of advice stayed in the mind: The plot: It should be tight - absolutely waterproof. Patricia explains how she laboured over and over to get the plotting and pacing just right. Gone Girl is an example of how a plot can be full of holes, like a sieve, BTW - according to me, at least. The characterisation: Even though it is sometimes given short shrift in suspense novels, the ones with the stronger characters endure. (The recent suspense movie in Malayalam, Drishyam, is a fine example of how strong characterisation helps suspense, IMO.) Patricia gives us one chapter on the germination and development of one of her novels, The Glass Cell. This was very enjoyable reading. However, the book may be said to contain spoilers, so be warned.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Toby

    In 1972 The Authors League reported that 95% of writers in America must hold another job all their lives to make ends meet. A sobering thought to end this book on the writer's craft from one of the greats of 20th century storytelling. Remind me, why do I want to do this? The talented Ms Highsmith is not at her most comfortable with this educational piece especially, as she says herself, she doesn't really consider herself a writer of suspense fiction or a fan of the label created by American publi In 1972 The Authors League reported that 95% of writers in America must hold another job all their lives to make ends meet. A sobering thought to end this book on the writer's craft from one of the greats of 20th century storytelling. Remind me, why do I want to do this? The talented Ms Highsmith is not at her most comfortable with this educational piece especially, as she says herself, she doesn't really consider herself a writer of suspense fiction or a fan of the label created by American publishers. There are a lot of interesting anecdotes and she doesn't hold back in her contempt of "hack writers" and an unnamed author of the time who liked to have buildings or bridges explode in his forgettable tales peopled by nonentities. This is less a self-help or how-to guide than an exploration of how she crafted her novels and approached the creative side of things, with useful pointers thrown in along the way and as such it may be more interesting for people to read as biographical material and less for beginners looking for tips on how to write. What I have learned from reading this is that Patricia Highsmith loved being a writer and quite often hated it too.

  4. 5 out of 5

    carlageek

    Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction is a delightful read, charming, humble, and generous. These are, perhaps, not words one typically associates with Highsmith, yet the voice that comes alive in the pages of this little guide is thoroughly genuine and warm. The tone is not prescriptive or authoritative; not “here is how you do it,” but rather “here is how I did it; perhaps it will help you, too.” The advice itself is insightful, thoughtful. You won’t find the minutia of craft in here (turn to Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction is a delightful read, charming, humble, and generous. These are, perhaps, not words one typically associates with Highsmith, yet the voice that comes alive in the pages of this little guide is thoroughly genuine and warm. The tone is not prescriptive or authoritative; not “here is how you do it,” but rather “here is how I did it; perhaps it will help you, too.” The advice itself is insightful, thoughtful. You won’t find the minutia of craft in here (turn to someone like Sol Stein for that); rather, the book describes a way of interfacing with the world, of gathering observations and allowing them to percolate in one’s subconscious, of being open to ideas wherever they may find one. There is also some substantial discussion of process, of outlining and revising, of developing the germ of an idea into a plot with interesting complications. Highsmith relies on examples, almost exclusively from her own work, though again without the braggadocio that characterizes the aforementioned Sol Stein. Notably—and charmingly—she addresses her failures as well as her great successes, revealing something of the stories that did not sell, the books that had to be torn apart and rewritten once or even twice before any editor would buy them, the ones that she wasn’t particularly pleased with even when they did sell. Toward the end there is a detailed “case study” of The Glass Cell, a book she was quite proud of, but that took much reworking before it would sell. In analyses like these, Plotting and Writing demonstrates Highsmith’s tremendous work ethic. Writing for her was an artistic compulsion but it was also a job; she did not avoid the hard work of it in life, and she doesn’t here in the book, either. Only at the very end of the book does Highsmith allow herself a little pride and indignation, in a discussion of the diminishment of her work that comes with the label “suspense,” as opposed to literary fiction (what she calls “straight” novels, with no irony, though it’s hard for me not to read some in). She recites a litany of accomplishments in this section, and indulges in a bit of a rant in defense of the merits of her work. (I sometimes say that Highsmith’s work is “suspense” only in the sense that Crime and Punishment is a suspense novel; she makes the same comparison, which delights me no end.) But to my mind, she earned every bit of pride and defensiveness about the literary qualities of what she did, and at any rate she reserved it for the epilogue; it doesn’t interfere with the bulk of the book’s insights. It happened that while I was reading this book, The New Yorker published some excerpts from Highsmith’s diaries, from early in her professional life—a time of great hope and confidence, great doubt and fear, great turmoil, and a coming-to-terms of sorts. The combined effect on me of these excerpts and Plotting and Writing has been a tremendous surge of affection and tenderness toward someone with whom I was already thoroughly obsessed. In my review of The Blunderer, I wrote that this obsession was “itself rather Highsmithian, made up of equal parts fascination and revulsion.” There is a third part now, this gentle tenderness and sympathy.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Patricia Highsmith is the godmother of psychological suspense; I would go so far as to say that she is one of the most important influences on modern crime fiction. This book is less nuts-and-bolts than its title implies, and more the philosophies and observations of a writer at work.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Merl Fluin

    I don't write suspense fiction, and have no intention to do so. But I adore Highsmith, and I'm dazzled by her ability to grip the reader, even in stories where nothing much actually happens (a case in point is The Tremor of Forgery, which I reviewed a little while ago here). So I was happy when someone gave me this book as a present. In truth, the practical tips she offers on how to write a novel (suspense or otherwise) are more or less the same as you will find in any book on writing. But what m I don't write suspense fiction, and have no intention to do so. But I adore Highsmith, and I'm dazzled by her ability to grip the reader, even in stories where nothing much actually happens (a case in point is The Tremor of Forgery, which I reviewed a little while ago here). So I was happy when someone gave me this book as a present. In truth, the practical tips she offers on how to write a novel (suspense or otherwise) are more or less the same as you will find in any book on writing. But what makes this one unique is its emphasis not on technique, but on the attitudes a writer should try to adopt to the world around them. What you do is important, but how you bring yourself to the point of doing it is more so. Which, come to think of it, is not a bad description of how her fiction unfolds too.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kressel Housman

    Once upon a time, about five to ten years ago, I was obsessed with becoming a writer. I used to spend most of my time writing fiction, often to the point of neglecting my kids. It was some time during that period that my husband gave me this book as a present, but I didn't read it because "suspense fiction" was not my genre. Although I did eventually finish a novel (Harry Potter fanfic) and manage to sell a few short stories, I basically stopped writing when I began working 9 to 5. I'm a much mor Once upon a time, about five to ten years ago, I was obsessed with becoming a writer. I used to spend most of my time writing fiction, often to the point of neglecting my kids. It was some time during that period that my husband gave me this book as a present, but I didn't read it because "suspense fiction" was not my genre. Although I did eventually finish a novel (Harry Potter fanfic) and manage to sell a few short stories, I basically stopped writing when I began working 9 to 5. I'm a much more responsible mother and wage-earner now, but I often feel bad that all I write these days are book reviews for Goodreads. I enjoy doing it tremendously, but I want to get published again, and work is the only way that can happen. So to jump start my writing, I took a class called "How to Write Page-Turning Fiction" this summer when my kids were in camp. This book is a follow-up to the class. Probably the biggest flaw in my fiction is that it's not exciting enough. My stories are like my reviews: observational. My themes are like my personality: contemplative. The feedback I got in class was that my writing flows readably and my main character was likable, but there just wasn't enough tension to keep the pages turning. The lesson of Writing for Story - follow the complication - became clearer to me in that class than when I originally read the book eight or so years ago. Every page must have tension and suspense, some problem that must be resolved or the characters will suffer some loss. To do that, I have to separate myself from my characters a bit because tension is something I try to avoid in my real life. So you see why a book on suspense fiction seemed the ideal follow-up to the class. But my initial reaction was also correct: suspense is just not my genre, at least not in the way author Patricia Highsmith defines it. I suppose I care more about education than entertainment, but most readers prefer the latter. So this was not the ideal writing book for me. Greater familiarity with Highsmith's own work would have helped because her examples are taken from her own writing. So good writing advice, but not a great fit for me. Too bad.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jack Getze

    This book offers few tips on writing suspense fiction, which was the reason I picked it up at a used book store, but few books on writing have inspired me more than this one. Ms. Highsmith was an artist in every sense of the word, and through her own thoughts and explanations of the subject, the reader gets to know her own singular artistic sentiments and temperament. What a wonderful time it would have been to sit with her during a meal, although I suspect she would have found me boring. The wr This book offers few tips on writing suspense fiction, which was the reason I picked it up at a used book store, but few books on writing have inspired me more than this one. Ms. Highsmith was an artist in every sense of the word, and through her own thoughts and explanations of the subject, the reader gets to know her own singular artistic sentiments and temperament. What a wonderful time it would have been to sit with her during a meal, although I suspect she would have found me boring. The writer of the Mr. Ripley sagas gives readers much outdated information about agents and publishers and contracts, although perhaps hanging onto your film and foreign publishing rights will always be a great idea for writers. Most important to me were the passages on art and how an artist should live her/his life. Few of us artists will ever be rich and famous, Ms. Highsmith says, so it's best to focus on the art itself.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    Really useful for anyone writing crime or suspense fiction. I always enjoy finding out how other writers work.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Joey

    Attn: The Writer, Inc. , not to be confused with Murder Inc. HEY YOU!?!? Have I captured your attention? Are you a lazy agent? I am a writer with an invisible antennae. I have filled dozens of notebooks with my words. In 1988, Patricia Highsmith, the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train lamented that many American magazines that used to buy short stories have folded. It is thirty years later and prospects are even gloomier. She also began The Talented Mr. Ripley in a cottage in Attn: The Writer, Inc. , not to be confused with Murder Inc. HEY YOU!?!? Have I captured your attention? Are you a lazy agent? I am a writer with an invisible antennae. I have filled dozens of notebooks with my words. In 1988, Patricia Highsmith, the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train lamented that many American magazines that used to buy short stories have folded. It is thirty years later and prospects are even gloomier. She also began The Talented Mr. Ripley in a cottage in Massachusetts and read Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America in preparation. She hangs her writing awards in her bathroom. “A book is a really long continuous process, which ideally, should be interrupted only by sleep.” (73) The objective of the writer is to write something saleable. “Maybe much of luck for the writer comes from having the right publicity at the right time, and this I do discuss here.” (ix) “To all beginners, I give credit for being writers already, since they intend, for better or worse, to rusk exposing their emotions, their quirks, their attitude toward life, to public scrutiny.” (ix) Stories need to be gripping. Suspense stories have a threat of violent physical action and danger. “A book is not a thing of one sitting, like a poem, but a longish thing which takes time and energy and since it takes skill, too, the first effort or maybe the second may not find a market.” (15) SUSPENSE SHORT STORIES CAN TAKE PLACE OVER A SPAN OF 5 MINUTES! “write down all those slender ideas.” (36) Stories can develop in six weeks or three years of “slow brewing.” “If the writer can thicken the plot and surprise the reader, the plot is logically improved.” (38) DO NO USE THE SAME PERSONALITY AND PHYSICAL APPEARANCE OF SOMEBODY THAT YOU KNOW. OUTLINE THE PLOT. PLOT SHOULD NOT BE RIGID. “I create things out of boredom with reality and with the sameness of routine and objects around me.” (49) SOME BOOKS DO NOT HAVE A CLIMAX. CHAPTER OUTLINES ARE HELPFUL TOOLS. SURPRISE YOURSELF AND YOUR READER. “It is often possible to give the gist of a conversation of forty lines in three lines of prose.” (71) SOME FIRST DRAFTS ARE TOO BRIEF. “If the writer thinks about his material long enough, until it becomes a part of his mind and wakes up thinking about it- then at least when he starts to work, it will flow out as if by itself.” (76) “A sense of pride in your work is essential.” (77) “Writing is a way of organizing experience and life itself.” (80) TAKE EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE’S PROFESSIONS. The joy of writing cannot truly be described in words. “It is then good to remember that artists have existed and persisted, like the snail and coelacanth and other changing forms of organic life since long before governments were dreamed of.” (145) “The most important thing is: Does the film work, is it believable?” (132) “All the above is rot.” (5) Sincerely, The Writer

  11. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    Writing books are much like the self-help books. They generally present some sort of methodology the reader has absolutely zero probability of following long term, whatever their intention in the moment. At best they provide a minor short term boost in motivation, but more often are simply a convenient excuse to put off actually doing anything. Both types of book are generally written by people you've never heard of before, and who appear nowhere else on the library shelves. I've been intrigued b Writing books are much like the self-help books. They generally present some sort of methodology the reader has absolutely zero probability of following long term, whatever their intention in the moment. At best they provide a minor short term boost in motivation, but more often are simply a convenient excuse to put off actually doing anything. Both types of book are generally written by people you've never heard of before, and who appear nowhere else on the library shelves. I've been intrigued by Patricia Highsmith since the 1999 movie version of her novel The Talented Mr. Ripley which disturbed me in a way no other movie has and left me unable to even say whether or not I "liked" it. In the twenty years since I've been unwilling to rewatch it, and have made several false starts at reading a number of her novels, but failed to get very far into any of them. The very first sentence in this fairly short book, written in the 1960s, says: "This is not a how-to-do-it handbook." It is, instead, a much more interesting glimpse into Highsmith's process, covering the initial seed of an idea to published work. She discusses specific short stories and novels and has no compunction about spoiling same in the service of example. Mostly her own, but details of one or two stories by others are recounted. Chapters generally correspond with various stages of the process, and the penultimate chapter is an end to end case study of her novel The Glass Cell. In addition to the detailed breakdown of Highsmith's process, this was interesting in that Highsmith herself comes off quite different to the mental image of her I'd built up over the years from references to or articles about her. As I could definitely see myself revisiting this in future it gets the magical five star rating.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    Highsmith gives relaxed and honest advice and steers clear of the self-organizing, process nonsense mistaken for creativity today. People who write habitually will find the lack of a "system" and her description of certain pitfalls familiar and soothing. Beginners will find her accessible and no nonsense. Those preferring business style organizational tactics and quick fixes with little respect for a stubborn unconscious should give it a pass. Highsmith gives relaxed and honest advice and steers clear of the self-organizing, process nonsense mistaken for creativity today. People who write habitually will find the lack of a "system" and her description of certain pitfalls familiar and soothing. Beginners will find her accessible and no nonsense. Those preferring business style organizational tactics and quick fixes with little respect for a stubborn unconscious should give it a pass.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lee Klein

    Poorly titled collection of recollections about the author's experience writing novels and stories. A few insights here and there, and worth a look, but nothing particularly inspiring. She's unwilling to make general pronouncements or to preach, which is admirable but makes the book seem almost lesson-less. Liked the bit about writing stories based on a memorable emotional experience. Poorly titled collection of recollections about the author's experience writing novels and stories. A few insights here and there, and worth a look, but nothing particularly inspiring. She's unwilling to make general pronouncements or to preach, which is admirable but makes the book seem almost lesson-less. Liked the bit about writing stories based on a memorable emotional experience.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Magda

    145 pages of hard selling prior books and introspection.., Do not recommend it for those who actually want to learn elements of the writing craft.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Any serious fan of either Patricia Highsmith or suspense fiction (the term she preferred, rather than mystery) ought to read this. This was my second time around with this book. I liked it so much that I failed to return it to my town library and paid the replacement fee (lol, it was out of print at the time). Highsmith offers up a collection of pointers, discussions of her books and working methods, and her opinions on writing and the publishing world in general. We learn how she got the label Any serious fan of either Patricia Highsmith or suspense fiction (the term she preferred, rather than mystery) ought to read this. This was my second time around with this book. I liked it so much that I failed to return it to my town library and paid the replacement fee (lol, it was out of print at the time). Highsmith offers up a collection of pointers, discussions of her books and working methods, and her opinions on writing and the publishing world in general. We learn how she got the label suspense writer, following on the success of her first book, even though she never set out to be anything other than a fiction writer. She does not provide checklists or required elements, nor does she spend much time on the cliches of the genre or the expectations of readers. Instead she gives some general advice, and details how she went about writing and organizing a few of her works, a couple of her novels in particular, The Glass Cell and The Blunderer. She says little about her personal life or why she was drawn to twisted, troubling scenarios, other than to mention that she was fascinated with criminals and abnormal psychology from a young age. Stories grow out of "story germs" says Highsmith, and this struck me as being very true. The germ could be an idea that pops into one's head, an image, a feeling about a certain place or person. The writer starts with these germs, and then adds themes and complications. She would typically have a few story elements in mind and would try to organize them in a way that would keep readers engaged with her stories. Highsmith discusses her struggles making certain stories work, and the rewriting involved. She talks about how her books were often rejected by editors, or sent back for revisions. A number of things that she wrote were never published at all, and she accepted that. These things are all part of the game, part of the life of a writer. Throughout the tone is direct and a little distant, but not unhelpful. She treats the reader like a potential colleague, which is absolutely a correct approach. She is not one to offer cheery encouragement or support for the egos of those who may not have the fortitude to go down this difficult path.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jigar Brahmbhatt

    Plotting is an intuitive act, IMO. We learn more about it from other writers than we consciously register. In fact, the best way to learn more is to read more. Plotting is something a writer makes personal peace with. There is no trick of the trade. For instance, what works for me sometimes is the slow unraveling of the material, like an onion being peeled calmly, almost in a state of repose, because the subdermal violence or a moment of unreality that I try to suggest in a story is enhanced by Plotting is an intuitive act, IMO. We learn more about it from other writers than we consciously register. In fact, the best way to learn more is to read more. Plotting is something a writer makes personal peace with. There is no trick of the trade. For instance, what works for me sometimes is the slow unraveling of the material, like an onion being peeled calmly, almost in a state of repose, because the subdermal violence or a moment of unreality that I try to suggest in a story is enhanced by the preceding stillness. And it is all I seem to be working towards as far as the intrigue factor of the story is concerned, while in the background, I can work on the themes that matter to me. Though this method can change based on a lot of factors... say, a chance encounter of a Jim Thompson novel can make me redo everything! Can't really say that this book is unmissable. Anyone who has tried writing can figure out most of it. But speaking of suspense fiction, it certainly can't hurt to know what the creator of The talented Mr. Ripley, the tensest yarn ever weaved around a charmingly repulsive character, has to say about her home turf: 1) I can only suggest giving the murderer-hero as many pleasant qualities as possible - generosity, kindness to some people, fondness for painting or music or cooking, for instance. These qualities can also be amusing in contrast to his criminal or homicidal traits. I think it is also possible to make a hero-psychopath one hundred percent sick and revolting, and still make him fascinating for his very blackness and all-round depravity. 2) I create things out of boredom with reality and with the sameness of routine and objects around me. Therefore, I don't dislike this boredom which encroaches on me every now and then, and I even try to create it by routine. 3) A very fast or slow tempo should not be attempted, if one feels strained and unnatural writing in it. Some books are nervous from the start, some slow all the way through, underplaying, analyzing and elaborating on the events. Some start slowly, pick up speed, and rush to the end. Can you imagine a suspense story by Proust? I can. 4) It is a cheap trick merely to surprise and shock the reader, especially at the expense of logic. And a lack of invention on the writer's part cannot be covered up by sensational action and clever prose. It is also a kind of laziness to write the obvious, which does not entertain, really. The ideal is an unexpected turn of events, reasonably consistent with the characters of the protagonists. Stretch the reader's credulity, his sense of logic, to the utmost-it is quite elastic-but don't break it. In this way, you will write something new, surprising and entertaining both to yourself and the reader. 5) A beautiful young girl is faithfully tending her grandfather who is in a wheelchair, and is shutting out the world because of him. This really can't go on forever-not if you're writing a book about it! In the book, she may come out of the wheelchair world for a while, then go back to it at the end of the book-but if it is a suspense book, very likely she stays out. There should be either action or the promise of action in the first chapter of a suspense book. There is action or the promise of it in every good novel, but in suspense stories, the action is apt to be of a more violent kind. That is the only difference. 6) The snag in a book is a lurking problem that has to be solved, however, and that fact cannot be swept away by pretending. Of course it can be very easily pushed aside, if you are not really involved in the book. But if you are involved and care, your unconscious will come up with the solution to the problem. There is also a case study at the end which is like a mini-MFA in writing suspense fiction, the most enjoyable part of the book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    David Leemon

    She has a number of great insights on writing suspense fiction, which also apply to any other sort of fiction. This is not one of the technical how-to's, but a collection of essays on her own views and methodology of writing. She has a number of great insights on writing suspense fiction, which also apply to any other sort of fiction. This is not one of the technical how-to's, but a collection of essays on her own views and methodology of writing.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Karolyn Sherwood

    I was thrilled to find a how-to-write book by one of my favorite authors, Patricia Highsmith, of the Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train fame. And, while I underlined many wise and helpful hints throughout the book, I found it less helpful than say Stephen King's On Writing, and even Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing. First of all, through no fault of the late Ms. Highsmith, the book is now quite dated. She writes a lot about her interaction (direct interaction) with editors, publish I was thrilled to find a how-to-write book by one of my favorite authors, Patricia Highsmith, of the Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train fame. And, while I underlined many wise and helpful hints throughout the book, I found it less helpful than say Stephen King's On Writing, and even Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing. First of all, through no fault of the late Ms. Highsmith, the book is now quite dated. She writes a lot about her interaction (direct interaction) with editors, publishers, her typewriter and carbon copy drafts, and her personal journey with one particular novel, The Glass Cell. From where I sit (behind a computer, non-published), the world of writing and publishing is a bit different these days. Ms. Highsmith was not a professor, so perhaps this book exists mainly to give us a peek into the mind of a great suspense writer. And for that, I loved it. At 145 pages, it is a quick read, and it will hold a permanent spot on my bookshelves.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    One of the best books on writing I've ever read whether one is specifically interested in the genre or not. The author of Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley and other classic thrillers not only reveals herself to be a consummate literary craftsman with a refreshingly down-to-earth, nuts-and-bolts approach, but also offers a unique window into her own creative process. To pick but one small example, in discussing her rather gruesome short story, "The Terrapin", she mentions that the sh One of the best books on writing I've ever read whether one is specifically interested in the genre or not. The author of Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley and other classic thrillers not only reveals herself to be a consummate literary craftsman with a refreshingly down-to-earth, nuts-and-bolts approach, but also offers a unique window into her own creative process. To pick but one small example, in discussing her rather gruesome short story, "The Terrapin", she mentions that the she came up with the idea after running across a recipe for turtle soup, then drily goes on to wonder why more writers of murder tales don't turn to cookbooks for inspiration.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    What can I say except this is a remarkable book written by one of the best crime/thriller writers ever. She takes her own novels and shows you the process she went through from how she got the idea and turned it into a best seller. Her style is friendly and conscientious. If you're hoping to write great novels, this book is for you. Of course, you need to go on and read the novels she's taken apart and reassembled for you to learn how it can be done. Excellent. 5 stars plus. What can I say except this is a remarkable book written by one of the best crime/thriller writers ever. She takes her own novels and shows you the process she went through from how she got the idea and turned it into a best seller. Her style is friendly and conscientious. If you're hoping to write great novels, this book is for you. Of course, you need to go on and read the novels she's taken apart and reassembled for you to learn how it can be done. Excellent. 5 stars plus.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Gabrielle Jarrett

    There are hundreds of books on writing. I learned from and enjoyed reading Patricia Highsmith's. 1983. Typing manuscripts. We are so fortunate now, perhaps accounting for the proliferation of writers. I like that Highsmith presents her ways of writing, her errors of judgement and what she would do differently. She presents one option - ie, describe the characters fully, as reviewed positively by one reviewer. Two days later, another reviewer deplored all description, leaving it to the reader's i There are hundreds of books on writing. I learned from and enjoyed reading Patricia Highsmith's. 1983. Typing manuscripts. We are so fortunate now, perhaps accounting for the proliferation of writers. I like that Highsmith presents her ways of writing, her errors of judgement and what she would do differently. She presents one option - ie, describe the characters fully, as reviewed positively by one reviewer. Two days later, another reviewer deplored all description, leaving it to the reader's imagination. Highsmith seems to write not of the tension of the opposites, but rather the flexible choices of each choices. Experiment, explore, and enjoy seem to be my takeaways.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ygor Speranza

    Not a thriller or suspense reader myself, but Patricia talks openly from her experience and makes many important remarks on plot, mostly which go beyond her genre. Her rational approach makes writing a book or a story seem playful but a very pragmatic activity as well.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Halley Sutton

    Salty but entertaining and some good pointers.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Slawka Scarso

    At first, I found it rather banal, and aimed at beginners. Later, it became more interesting and I will always be grateful for that chapter titled The Snags, which was most helpful.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bill Powers

    Not really a "how-to", but some good tips for suspense writers and interesting stories from the author's life... Not really a "how-to", but some good tips for suspense writers and interesting stories from the author's life...

  26. 5 out of 5

    Liz Fenwick

    interesting

  27. 5 out of 5

    Laura Gembolis

    Not really a how-to. More of a meditation on how to keep going when you aren't sure there's a story. Not really a how-to. More of a meditation on how to keep going when you aren't sure there's a story.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Veronica

    Skimming this in one afternoon taught me more than a class with a ~professional author~ taught me over an entire academic year.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    I read this book after Damon Knight included it among his “Suggested Reading” at the end of CREATING SHORT FICTION. He wrote, “Sensible, good-humored, and practical advice from a distinguished mystery writer. Much of what she says about novels can be applied to short stories.” I agree that there are lessons to be learned from this book, but readers will have to hunt for them inside this highly personalized, subjective book. After all, Highsmith (who wrote THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY and STRANGERS ON I read this book after Damon Knight included it among his “Suggested Reading” at the end of CREATING SHORT FICTION. He wrote, “Sensible, good-humored, and practical advice from a distinguished mystery writer. Much of what she says about novels can be applied to short stories.” I agree that there are lessons to be learned from this book, but readers will have to hunt for them inside this highly personalized, subjective book. After all, Highsmith (who wrote THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN) begins her book by saying, “This is not a how-to-do-it handbook.” It’s a collection of lessons she has learned over the course of her career: the successes, the failures, the tips, and the traps. I enjoyed Highsmith’s advice on how to find the ideas for a story and how to judge whether that idea will carry a short story, a novel, or only a subplot. She also talks about developing or “thickening” those ideas. I am an outliner, and Highsmith isn’t, but I still found her approach interesting. She will outline enough to get rolling, and then look for opportunities to let the characters take over and surprise her (and her readers too). I also enjoyed her advice for starting a story at a brisk pace and keeping it moving, as well as staying in control of a stories “proportions” and themes. I think this advice would be useful for any writer. But a big negative for me was that throughout the book, Highsmith says, in effect, “This is what works for me. It may not work for you. Although she is very upfront about the subjective nature of this book, I think Stephen King’s ON WRITING is a far more effective autobiography/how-to book for writers in general. If you are focusing on suspense or mystery though, I think you would find this quick read worth your time.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Beckham

    “Perhaps I have some severe and severely repressed criminal drive in myself, or I would not take such an interest in criminals or write about them so often.” Patricia Highsmith, 1983. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. It’s a maxim that certainly holds good for this one, which promises to be something of a handbook. In fact it’s more of an autobiography, and a fascinating one at that. It’s a short affair – Amazon quotes the paperback at 145 pages – but nonetheless it provides a revealin “Perhaps I have some severe and severely repressed criminal drive in myself, or I would not take such an interest in criminals or write about them so often.” Patricia Highsmith, 1983. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. It’s a maxim that certainly holds good for this one, which promises to be something of a handbook. In fact it’s more of an autobiography, and a fascinating one at that. It’s a short affair – Amazon quotes the paperback at 145 pages – but nonetheless it provides a revealing insight into Ms Highsmith’s way of thinking. She is surprisingly candid – unashamedly describing her failures and rejections, and continually stressing her economic need to conceive stories that editors would buy. She describes where and when she wrote – of short stories shaped and sold over snatched weekends during the writing of novels – and of how a tiny event that disturbed her could become the germ of an entire story. She offers few direct tips on good writing – preferring to explain her own preferences, such as her shunning of the first person for fear of her ‘heroes’ becoming too introspective. However, I think there is much to learn from these gentle remarks – to expect something more concrete would be rather akin to asking Muhammad Ali how come nobody could lay a glove on him, or Pele how he bends the trajectory of a football around a wall of defenders. In any event, as the quote I have incorporated suggests, she unassumingly attributes the qualities that have made her a stellar author as largely down to luck. In this regard she undersells herself – both in terms of natural ability and hard work.

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