Customer Reviews: Conflict, Action and Suspense (Elements of Fiction Writing)
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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. As it is, this book serves as a very good example of why you need to do a lot of reading in the fiction field you want to write in. Otherwise, how will you know which of his techniques have been over-used, which can be seen as trite if you aren't careful how you use them, and which are still seen as solid, useful methods?
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on May 12, 2003
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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on June 5, 2000
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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on April 21, 2001
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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on November 10, 2002
This book could help you become the next Orson Scott Card or Stephen King. It could also ruin your writing completely.
Conflict, Action & Suspense is a treasure trove of tools and techniques to help control the pace and effect of fictional scenes. The only thing it really lacks is a governor. Noble does inject a cautionary note about not overusing some of the more esoteric techniques but, for the most part, his advice seems to be `more is always better'. If you take him literally you could wind up with some REALLY horrendous writing.
As an example, take the technique of rapid-fire viewpoint switching. It could be effective in very limited fashion but, used in the way he seems to be suggesting, it would not only be confusing and irritating but, more importantly, it would almost certainly nullify any character identification. The equivalent of having a madman in charge of the video editing in an arty film production obsessed with making you dizzy.
There is a fundamental principle in danger of being violated here. If your technique becomes intrusive- if the reader notices WHAT you are doing rather than being carried with the flow- then you are doing something wrong. Period. Bottom line: Check your favorite authors to see how they handle a particular technique before overusing it yourself.
He also managed to punch my buttons with another pet peeve: Referring to `classical' literature as though that is still how people should be writing. He's quite correct in saying that drab cliche' descriptions should be avoided... but so should the flowery frippery and exaggerated imagery of bygone eras of literature. You'll lose your modern audience (except for a few literary eggheads) in a bout of disgusted snickers.
The above reasons are why I give the book only four stars. BUT in every other respect I'd rate it as a five star plus. Noble does a masterful job of presenting a vast array of techniques (several of which I have not seen elaborated elsewhere) to keep your audience breathless in anticipation of your next devious twist of fate. This is a reference I plan to keep close at hand. The major challenge will be learning to use it responsibly.
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on June 19, 2000
Let me summarize this book briefly:
"Blah, blah, blah, increase drama... blah, blah, blah, increase suspense... blah, blah, blah, hook the reader... blah, blah, blah..."
There are plenty of examples throughout this book, although some are really unclear, but the author takes no time in dissecting them other than to say, "See, this excerpt illustrates my point." The general high level points the author makes are supportive of concepts taught by many other professional writers and writing coaches of speculative fiction, but many of the limited details, tricks, and tips seem to illustrate what other successful professionals have labeled as "bad advice" and "do not's of writing". This book does not explain the how's and the why's of the author's illustrated techniques, just the what's and the when's. There is no advice on how to learn to use the described techniques, no pro's for or con's against the various techniques, no potential pitfalls that these techniques can get the writer into, and generally nothing that even an experienced reader of fiction wouldn't be able to figure out on their own. This book appears to contain mostly general common sense for writing speculative fiction.
As the title of this review states, this book is not worth the time or the money. You would be better served reading other quality books on writing speculative fiction such as Jack M. Bickham's title, Scene and Structure.
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on September 24, 2006
This is the most helpful book on writing that I've ever read. Period. Every time I read through it again, or page through to reread my highlighted sections, I'm amazed by the mixture of common sense, insight, alacrity and experience that fill every page.

Noble's secrets on subtly and misdirection, finding ways to let scenes, storylines, and themes converge, and insights on character development, transitions, and story structure will improve the work of any author. Guaranteed.

Whether you write for a living or as a hobby, your library of writing resources will never be complete without a copy of "Conflict, Action & Suspense." Highly recommended.
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on July 27, 2006
This is, quite possibly, the best book in the Elements of Writing Fiction series.

The purpose of this book appears to be giving you an idea of how to create abstract opposites to further your story or novel. Please don't mistake it as a fiction band-aid: it's not. It may, however, get you through one of those boring middle sections by giving you ideas on what it is you need to fix to get your story running again. The book provides examples through the works of others, suggestions, and good explanations as to why the author is pushing his method. I thought the way he built on each topic was a little funny at first, but upon re-reading, I find the method actually serves to make his points better.

All in all, I keep this on the desk where I write, for when I am stuck in one of those writing quagmires.

A must-have!
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on September 28, 2008
The title is misleading - I didn't get what I paid for. This is a book that claims to offer enlightenment on elements of conflict, action and suspense without actually engaging in any of those topics. Instead we hear about melodrama, soap operas etc with some very cliched and tired tidbits on dialogue and short, choppy sentences (which anyone with basic writing ability knows anyway). Be warned, the author's definitions of these elements are vastly different to what you and I may define as conflict, action and suspense, and as a result wildly misses the mark. In short, this reeks of a direct transcription of a community college course for absolute novices to the craft.
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on September 16, 2009
It took me thirteen years to finish this book. My first attempt got me only halfway through before I gave up on it. When I found it again this month, I started reading where I'd left off and discovered a well-written section on Subtlety and Misdirection, something many books don't mention, with good examples.

But then came Hints and Shadows, repeating it all, and the author's style soon grew annoying, like when he says there's "hints and HINTS," and the HINTS are foreshadowing, and then he still goes on calling them HINTS. Like an elbow in your gut.

At its best it's a good overview with a breezy style and plenty of examples, both from classics and ones made up to demonstrate a point. There's a useful chapter on dialogue, covering drama, conflict, indirect responses, turning narrative into dialogue, and the suspense of what's unsaid.

Noble also tries hard to entertain, and he's definitely enthusiastic, like a good teacher caught up in what he's saying. But in the same way, he goes on and on about some things and repeats himself too much. For instance, the chapter on Pacing says you need breathers to slow the pace (and repeats this over and over) and then the next section, on Crisis, says you should put breathers between them (and repeats this over and over). You start skimming just to get to something new.

Another review said Noble sounds like the chef Emeril, and that's exactly right: "Presto-change-o!, we say, and what the reader expects is not what the reader gets."

To sum up, if you've read other books on writing, you already know most of what this one covers, and if you haven't read other books on writing, there's far better places to go, such as Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer and David Morrell's The Successful Novelist.
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