Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction

Overview

Patricia Highsmith, author of Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Found in the Street, and many other books, is known as one of the finest suspense novelists. In this book, she analyzes the key elements of suspense fiction, drawing upon her own experience in four decades as a working writer. Among other topics, she talks about: how to develop a complete story from an idea; what makes a plot gripping; the use (and abuse) of coincidence; characterization and the "likable criminal"; going from first draft...
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New York, NY 1990 Trade paperback New. Book Appears Unread Trade paperback (US). Glued binding. 160 p. Writer's Library. Audience: General/trade.

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Overview

Patricia Highsmith, author of Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Found in the Street, and many other books, is known as one of the finest suspense novelists. In this book, she analyzes the key elements of suspense fiction, drawing upon her own experience in four decades as a working writer. Among other topics, she talks about: how to develop a complete story from an idea; what makes a plot gripping; the use (and abuse) of coincidence; characterization and the "likable criminal"; going from first draft to final draft; and writing the suspense short story.

Throughout the book, Highsmith illustrates her points with plentiful examples from her own work, and by discussing her own inspirations, false starts, dead ends, successes, and failures, she presents a lively and highly readable picture of the novelist at work.

Anyone who wishes to write crime and suspense fiction, or who enjoys reading it, will find this book an insightful guide to the craft and art of a modern master.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Whether you want to write a whodunit, a howdunit, or even a whydunit, you have to have suspense. One of the finest suspense novelists in existence, Patricia Highsmith, has analyzed the basic components in creating suspense and gathered them together in an easy-to-read book: Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. Learn how to make your plots as gripping as possible, create interesting characters, and utilize the basic elements of suspense to make your mystery stand out from the rest.
Publishers Weekly
From the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley comes a how-to manual on her craft. In Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, the late Patricia Highsmith gives advice on generating ideas ("It is amusing to let the imagination play with such incidents as a faintly heard song and an invaded apartment, and to see what evolves from them"), helpful practices (keep a notebook), overarching philosophies ("The first person you should think of pleasing, in writing a book, is yourself") and specific craft issues ("where should one place the climax in a book?"). The advice is all sound (particularly her ideas on "almost incredible" coincidences), and her status as a suspense heavyweight and a commercial success make her book eminently credible. ( Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The late Highsmith, author of 27 works of fiction, including The Talented Mr. Ripley, wrote this book over 20 years ago to help new writers craft suspense fiction. Writers will be glad that it has finally been published. Not that there is a lot of new information here the pleasure is in the style of the book. It is casual and personal, and writers will feel as if Highsmith herself were sitting next to them sharing tips and bits of advice she gleaned from years of experience. The book begins with getting ideas and moves on to plotting, drafts, snags, and revisions. A "case history" of her novel The Glass Cell and some general notes on suspense conclude the book. The book offers useful instructions to writers, plus a glimpse at how a suspense writer works. Highly recommended for public libraries. Lisa J. Cihlar, Monroe P.L., WI Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"[This book offers] sensible, good-humored, and practical advice from a distinguished mystery writer. Much of what [Highsmith] says about novels can be applied to short stories."—Damon Knight

"[Highsmith] is no more a practitioner of the murder mystery genre than are Dostoevsky, Faulkner, and Camus."—Joan Smith, The Los Angeles Times

"For eliciting the menace that lurks in familiar surroundings, there's no one like Patricia Highsmith."—Time

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312048679
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/1990
  • Series: Writer's Library Series
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 5.42 (w) x 8.24 (h) x 0.44 (d)

Meet the Author

The great mystery/suspense writer Patricia Highsmith published more than two dozen works of fiction, as well as numerous reviews and essays, and was awarded the French Grand Prix de Littérature Policière (1957) and the British Crime Writers Associations's Silver Dagger (1964).

Biography

Suspense novels are often described as "chilling," but no one turns down the reader's emotional thermostat quite like Patricia Highsmith, author of such haunting psychological thrillers as Strangers on a Train and creator of the sociopathic series protagonist Tom Ripley. During her life, Highsmith was a popular author in Europe, where she lived; in her native United States, however, her books went sporadically in and out of print for decades. Now, the writer whom Graham Greene called "the poet of apprehension" has finally gained recognition in the States -- not only as a master of the suspense genre, but as a literary author of rare talent.

Highsmith grew up in Texas and New York, but spent most of her adult life in England, France and Switzerland. By most accounts she was a loner who avoided other people, including other writers; but she did have early help in her career from Truman Capote, who got her a stint at the Yaddo writers' colony in New York. Her first novel, Strangers on a Train, tells the story of an architect and a psychopath who meet on a train and "swap" murders. The book gained Highsmith considerable fame, especially after it was made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock. A second novel, The Price of Salt, was printed under a pseudonym after her first publishers turned it down. Though her subsequent works didn't sell well in her home country, she kept turning out the kinds of novels and short stories the New Yorker called "bad dreams that keep us thrashing for the rest of the night."

Several movies have been loosely based on Highsmith's books, including Danny DeVito's Hitchcock spoof Throw Momma From the Train; Wim Wenders' The American Friend, adapted from Ripley's Game; and Purple Noon, a French film based on The Talented Mr. Ripley. But it was Academy Award-winning director Anthony Minghella's lush screen adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, released four years after Highsmith's death and 44 years after the book's publication, that introduced Highsmith to a wider audience and led to a rediscovery of her works.

Subtle enough for a seminar yet entertaining enough for the beach, Highsmith's coolly narrated tales of terror display an observant eye for social behavior as well as individual psychology. Most books in the suspense genre provide a hero whose fundamental honesty and decency stand as bulwarks against the evil he or she confronts. But in a Highsmith novel, the reader is alone with victim and victimizer -- and an unsettling sense of empathy with both.

As Francis Wyndham has noted, Highsmith's "peculiar brand of horror comes less from the inevitability of disaster, than from the ease with which it might have been avoided. The evil of her agents is answered by the impotence of her patients -- this is not the attraction of opposites, but in some subtle way the call of like to like. When they finally clash in the climactic catastrophe, the reader's sense of satisfaction may derive from sources as dark as those which motivate Patricia Highsmith's destroyers and their fascinated victims."

Good To Know

Patricia Highsmith was born Mary Patricia Plangman; her parents divorced soon after she was born, however, and she was given her stepfather's last name. After Highsmith graduated from college, she lived for a time with her mother and stepfather in Greenwich Village, where she wrote comic books to support herself, including scripts for the Superman series.

A lesbian herself, Highsmith is thought to have written the first American novel in which a homosexual love story has a happy ending. The novel, The Price of Salt, was published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan; it was reissued in 1984 (as Carol), but didn't appear under the writer's real name until 1991.

Highsmith once told an interviewer that the only suspense writer she read was the master -- Dostoevsky, over and over. In her book Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, she wrote, "I think most of Dostoyevsky's books would be called suspense books, were they being published today for the first time. But he would be asked to cut, because of production costs."

The premise of The Talented Mr. Ripley was inspired by Henry James's The Ambassadors, in which a widow sends her fiance from America to Paris to fetch her wayward son.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Mary Patricia Plangman (birth name); Claire Morgan (pen name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 19, 1921
    2. Place of Birth:
      Fort Worth, Texas
    1. Date of Death:
      February 4, 1995
    2. Place of Death:
      Locarno, Switzerland

Table of Contents

Preface ix
Foreword xi
I The Germ Of An Idea 3
II Mainly On Using Experiences 14
III The Suspense Short Story 27
IV Development 37
V Plotting 53
VI The Frist Draft 61
VII The Snags 82
VIII The Second Draft 97
IX The Revisions 103
X The Case History Of A Novel: The Glass Cell 108
XI Some Notes On Suspense In General 133
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