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Conflict, Action & Suspense (Elements of Fiction Writing) Paperback – March 15, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0898799071 ISBN-10: 0898799074

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Product Details

  • Series: Elements of Fiction Writing
  • Paperback: 185 pages
  • Publisher: Writer's Digest Books (March 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0898799074
  • ISBN-13: 978-0898799071
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #684,259 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William Noble


When I was ten years old, my mother received a phone call from a neighbor. After apologizing for the intrusion, the neighbor asked whether I was "all right" because she had seen me walking past her house in deep conversation with myself. "Oh, that's just Billy," my mother chuckled. "He's telling himself stories, he loves to do that."

And, in truth, I did and still do. Of course, now I share stories by writing them, but the urge to "tell stories" remains just as vivid as when I was a boy, though my path to becoming a writer was hardly a direct one. It included diversions as an officer in the U.S.. Coast Guard for more than three years and seven years as a practicing attorney and member of the Pennsylvania bar.

Now, I write and teach, and it's been this way since the 1970s. In all, I've authored or co-authored more than 20 nonfiction books, including five with my late wife June Noble, and five with my current wife, Angela Whitehill. I've written about stepfamily relationships, the need for inner privacy, psychiatry's alarming power over our lives, the art of writing, the art of classical ballet, censorship, the Watergate affair and life in the Aztec Empire. Many were chosen as book club selections by Book-of-the Month Club, Writers Digest Book Club and/​​or Dance Book Club.

My short work, both nonfiction and fiction, has appeared in more than one hundred magazines and newspapers with an occasional anthology thrown in. A representative list includes: Yankee Magazine, Pointe Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Salon.com, Adirondack Life Magazine, Writer's Digest Magazine, Baltimore Sun, Garden State Golf Magazine, Northeast Golf Magazine, World War II Magazine, Vermont Ski News. For eight years (2000-2008) I was Contributing Editor for the six regional golf magazines of Divot Communications, and in 2008 I was Editor-in-Chief of New York Golf Magazine, Garden State Golf Magazine and Pennsylvania Golf Magazine.

Since 1985, I've been teaching Creative Writing at Community College of Vermont, both on the ground and online. In 2002, I began teaching Creative Writing, as an adjunct, at Georgian Court University, Lakewood, NJ. and that continues. From 1991-2001, I was a Vermont Humanities Scholar with the Vermont Council on the Humanities, and from 1993-1998, I was adjunct faculty in the external degree program at Johnson State College, Johnson, VT.

I've appeared as lecturer and workshop presenter at numerous writer's conferences and festivals from coast to coast. A representative list includes: Mark Twain Memorial (Hartford, CT), Wilmington College (OH), Breadloaf Writer's Conference (VT), State of Maine Writer's Conference, Imagination Writer's Conference (OH), Win-Win Writer's Conference (CA), Las Vegas Writer's Conference (NV), College of New Jersey Writer's Conference.

And in connection with my books I've appeared on more than 40 television shows, including the Today! Show.

Here's a list of my books in descending chronological order:

2009 PRESIDENTIAL POWER ON TRIAL: From Watergate to All the Presidents Men (Enslow Pubs)
2006 NOBLE'S BOOK OF WRITING BLUNDERS (Writers Digest Books)
2004 THE NUTCRACKER BACKSTAGE, with Angela Whitehill (Princeton Book Co.)
2000 THE DANCER'S BOOK OF BALLET, with Angela Whitehill (iuniverse.com, backinprint.com/​Author's Guild edition)
1994 CONFLICT ACTION & SUSPENSE (Writers Digest Books)
1991 SHOW DON'T TELL (Paul S. Eriksson)*
1990 YOUNG PROFESSIONAL'S BOOK OF BALLET, with Angela Whitehill (Princeton Book Co.)
1990 BOOKBANNING IN AMERICA (Paul S. Eriksson)
1988 MAKE THAT SCENE (Paul S. Eriksson)*
1988 THE PARENTS BOOK OF BALLET, with Angela Whitehill (Meriwether Pubs)
1987 "SHUT UP!" HE EXPLAINED (Paul S. Eriksson)*
1985 STEAL THIS PLOT, with June Noble (Paul S. Eriksson)*
1981 THE PSYCHIATRIC FIX, with June Noble (Delacorte Books)
1980 THE PRIVATE ME, with June Noble (Delacorte Books)
1978 HOW TO LIVE WITH OTHER PEOPLE'S CHILDREN, with June Noble (Hawthorn Books)
1975 THE CUSTODY TRAP, with June Noble (Hawthorn Books)

*republished in CLASSIC WISDOM ON WRITING series (2011) by The Write Thought, Inc.


1961 University of Pennsylvania Law School, Philadelphia PA, J.D., law clerk to Professor Philip Mechem

1954 Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA, B.A. major in History

Customer Reviews

Highly recommended reading for the aspiring writer.
It's the sort of thing that's great if you really haven't read another book on writing, but which is pretty useless if you have.
Julia M Nolan
I found its useful, down-to-earth approach very interesting and understandable.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 51 people found the following review helpful By H. Grove (errantdreams) TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 20, 2004
Format: Paperback
Drama produces excitement in our writing. It keeps the reader interested. And how do we create drama? By playing with conflict, action, and suspense. Noble's book covers the basic concepts of drama, confrontation, pulling on the reader's emotions, escalation, and immediacy. He also deals with elements that keep your story moving: appropriate grammar, charged images, shifts in point of view, and contrast. He does a good job of telling us the how and why of things, rather than simply telling us what to do.
He touches on suspense's relationship with all sorts of basic writing issues such as dialogue, openings, cliffhangers, mood and atmosphere, character development, point of view, pacing, endings, and so on. Noble does a good job of focusing on specific techniques relevant to suspense for the most part.
It isn't a perfect book. It isn't as dry as most textbooks, but it could certainly be better than it is. Some of the examples that Mr. Noble makes up to use in the book are a bit on the overblown side, which kind of undercuts some of his points. He might have been better off using more examples from published fiction. Also, some of Mr. Noble's assertions regarding his topics have since been proven to be wrong. For example, when talking about the logic of settings: "...And a horror-suspense story would have problems if it was set in the unfolding of a miracle." I've seen this done quite well, actually.

This book was originally copyrighted in 1994, and this may be part of the problem. Since then some of the techniques that he lauds as strong and effective have become over-used and trite. (Overused techniques became that way precisely because they're so effective.) Some of the things he says can't be done have been done.
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53 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Wayne Rossi on May 12, 2003
Format: Paperback
William Noble, from the start of Conflict, Action & Suspense, writes about making your story into DRAMA! (And yes, the way he talks about it, emphatics like that are appropriate.) The book is written in a rather appropriate style, going short and choppy when it needs that dramatic emphasis, and giving ominous warnings about how, if you don't do things right, bam! Another reader lost. But in the end, it reads like watching the Food Network's Emeril hovering over your shoulder while you're writing and telling you to "Kick it up a notch!" - it gets as tiring as a book written as per Noble's advice would.
Most of Noble's examples are action-oriented melodrama; his techniques lend themselves naturally to the same. On the bright side, it doesn't have to be action-oriented; Noble endorses soap operas at one point, meaning that you can also use emotions as what you're constantly escalating. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against having your writing be exciting; but it should be exciting because there are dynamic characters at opposition, not because you're using tricks like Noble's to artificially generate it.
You can write a pretty good, forgettable airport novel if you follow Noble's advice; if you also buy Jack Bickham's Scene & Structure, you can even think about elevating your potboiler up to the level where you can make some cash off of it. But don't get it into your head that this is the right, or only, way to write...because it's not.
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Ziv Wities on June 5, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the first book I've read from the "Elements of Fiction Writing" series, and I can't say I'm very impressed. The first couple of chapters were very annoying. Basically, Noble keeps writing that, to create suspense, you need to EMPHASIZE things. You need to employ wods that NO ONE EVER USES in order to seem original. You need to OVERUSE ITALICS. You get the idea. I completely disagree with this approach, because such prose seems forced and jarring. The examples Noble gives are also not very enlightening, as the "bad" ones are so horribly contrived that you have to be TRYING to sound awful to think of them, and the "good" ones aren't that enthralling either. In the later chapters, the book improves somewhat, giving more examples of methods to create suspense and action. Still, these are not terribly insightful and most could come up with these ideas on their own by reading a few action and suspense novels - plus they'd get to read the novels, rather than an annoying book which seems to be written by one of those guys who thinks that if you repeat something often enough and with enough ITALICS, it might actually work.
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43 of 50 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
I've read all the books in the Elements of Fiction Writing series and this is how I'd rank them.
"Scene & Structure" "Characters & Viewpoint" "Beginnings, Middles & Ends"
The above three books are invaluable -- must reads. They are the best of the series, in my opinion, and are packed with good information on every page. Well-done.
"Conflict, Action & Suspense" "Description" "Plot" "Manuscript Submission" "Setting"
The above five books are good, solid reads. Again, they contain good information and cover the subject decently.
"Voice & Style" "Dialogue"
To me, the last two books need to be rewritten. They are by far the weakest of the series. Both suffer from an annoying style, particularly Dialogue, and both are very skimpy on real information. Neither one is very helpful.
This is the order in which I'd recommend reading them.
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