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Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction Paperback – September 8, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0312286668 ISBN-10: 031228666X Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1st edition (September 8, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031228666X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312286668
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 5.4 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #402,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Suspense, like other genre fiction, is often assumed to be inferior in quality to more "serious" fiction. A suspense story can be every bit as well-wrought as any other, argues Patricia Highsmith in Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. To show how, Highsmith focuses as much on her failures as on her successes. Amid discussions about growing ideas, story development, plotting, first and second drafts, and revisions are anecdotes from Highsmith's own career. Highsmith (Strangers on a Train) admits to editing with crayon (doing so "gives one the proper cavalier attitude"), napping on the job (it helps solve problems), and having written one "really dull" book. Though this book is slim, there are some lovely thoughts on such issues as creating a murderer-hero with "pleasant qualities," "stretch[ing] the reader's credulity," and using "as much care in depicting the face and appearance of ... main characters" as a painter would with a portrait. --Jane Steinberg

From 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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


More About the Author

Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) was the author of more than twenty novels, including Strangers on a Train, The Price of Salt and The Talented Mr. Ripley, as well as numerous short stories.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Suspense Fan on May 8, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm glad I bought this book. As an author of suspense myself, I found it very worthwhile. It won't teach you how to write--but I've found no book can really do that. In the same vein as Stephen Kings book On Writing, it is more an account about how this highly successful author developed her craft over the years, her successes and failures. If you want a how to guide you would be better off with another title. It also enhances the enjoyment of this book if the reader is familiar with Highsmith's books. I found it interesting to know where she got her ideas and how she developed a small incident into a novel.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By "pure-swallow" on August 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed a few of Highsmith's novels and short stories, and was impressed enough to become curious about how the author came up with her detailed insights into the psychology of the likable criminal. Common sense told me it was observation - but I still wanted to find out from the horse's mouth so to speak.
While I found it interesting to read about Highsmith looking back at the circumstances under which she wrote, I felt that Highsmith herself was not whole-heartedly interested, or confident about writing about her particular process of writing. It was mildly irritating that she apologised several times (usually at the beginning of a chapter) for having the audacity to presume to write about how to write. Fair enough: it is wise not to assume you speak for everyone or be totally pompous about it (like Sol Stein, ugh) but still, by the time a reader picks up a book like this, they really WANT to know how that particular author writes. I also felt that there was a fair amount of distance between the time she analysed her process, and the time she actually wrote her stories, so the book lacks the intricacy that one gets from reading a more immediate record.
However, there were some useful and interesting bits, especially Highsmith's opinions on thickening the plot, and the use of coincidence. It would help very much to have read her work widely as she quotes from some of them and uses the Glass Cell as a case study.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Sebastien Pharand on May 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
In her introduciton to Plotting and Writing Suspense, prolific suspense author Patricia Highsmith tells us that this will not be a how-to book, but a book that collects her own ideas and thoughts on the craft of writing. She isn't there to give us a grammar lesson. She wants to tell us how she does it and, hopefully, teach us a thing or two in the process.
It's great fun to read this legendary author's thoughts. After all, Highsmith has written some of the best novels of suspense; The Two Faces Of January, The Blunderer and, of course, The Talented Mr Ripley series. In this book, she collects her thoughts on the genre and on the process of writing. And she tells us quite bluntly that what worked for her as an author might not work for us. But I think that any author (or fan) could and will learn a thing or two from this author's lessons.
The best parts are when Highsmith takes her own books apart to show her readers that not even the established writer is safe from the typical mistakes most writers will make at one time or another. And if there is one thing that you'll come away with from reading this book is that writers (pros and beginners alike) have to learn to practice and practice and practice some more. Practice, according to Highsmith, does make better. And that is one lesson I will not forget.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By C. Colt on July 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
I read this book after experiencing a couple of Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley novels. Since I liked her mysteries so much I thought this book would provide interesting insite into the mind and technique of the author, which it did. In terms of revealing the brain child behind the Ripley books it was quite revealing.
ALthough I am not a professional writer of fiction, I found the advice in this book interesting and helpful because it was suplemented with real life examples. Highsmith fills this book with examples of what she did right and what she did wrong throughout her career. She explains the general--and fairly sensible--principles that guide her writing as well as the little details that can enhance or ruin a novel. If I were an aspiring author, I think I would derive useful and interesting information from this book.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Atar Hadari on August 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
A modestly written, terse, readable and nuts and bolts book about how plots come to be put together, how a writer makes a living (or doesn't) and how to tell the story. What I found most charming about this "How-To" book was that it wasn't chirpy, wasn't preachy, didn't have a whiff of unreality arising from its advice, and was eminently practical. The only crime writing manual so far that I have picked up, browsed in, bought, took home and actually finished reading from cover to cover (sometimes doing the reading on a bus, that's how gripping it is). Recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
Patricia Highsmith doesn't sell out, despite writing in the suspense genre. The reason, as one gathers from this book, is that she sees suspense as a necessary ingredient of all fiction; the suspense genre simply focuses on the most extreme kinds of dread and excitement.
I found the book just about right as to depth vs. chattiness. It's true there's only so much one can teach about the writing process. Everything an aspiring writer encounters in his own practice is covered: plotting, first drafts, second drafts, revision. Highsmith's telescoped prose is a lesson in itself and worth the price of the book. We need as many encouraging monographs like this, written by masters who take the time to address the rest of us, as we can get.
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