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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.


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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.

30 review for Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Orsodimondo

    SENZA PUDORE Francis Bacon (Dublino, 20 ottobre 1909 – Madrid, 28 aprile 1992. Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction è del 1966. In Italia è uscito presso l’editore La Tartaruga con questo titolo un po’ balordo, alla ricerca dell’effetto (con quel punto esclamativo che fa tanto messaggistica da cellulare), e poi di nuovo presso Minimum Fax che ha risistemato il titolo in Come si scrive un giallo – Teoria e pratica della suspense. Francis Bacon Ma non è un manuale di scrittura giallistica o di suspen SENZA PUDORE Francis Bacon (Dublino, 20 ottobre 1909 – Madrid, 28 aprile 1992. Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction è del 1966. In Italia è uscito presso l’editore La Tartaruga con questo titolo un po’ balordo, alla ricerca dell’effetto (con quel punto esclamativo che fa tanto messaggistica da cellulare), e poi di nuovo presso Minimum Fax che ha risistemato il titolo in Come si scrive un giallo – Teoria e pratica della suspense. Francis Bacon Ma non è un manuale di scrittura giallistica o di suspense come i titoli vorrebbero lasciar credere: non so proprio quanto aiuti a scrivere storie con sorpresa e azione, che ruotino intorno al pericolo, a uno o più delitti. Aiuta, invece, a capire il mondo di questa scrittrice che io ho molto amato e frequentato, autrice poco mainstream, sia nell’opera che nella vita: eccentrica, diva in tono non plateale, rifiutava compromessi, amava le donne, tante, ma le descriveva (e scriveva) con misoginia, quando le rimandavano un’immagine avvilente del suo sesso, al punto da farle desiderare di non essere una donna, quando non le trovava all’altezza degli uomini, e cioè in grado di realizzarsi, raggiungere e gestire potere, creare. Francis Bacon Scriveva storie basate e imperniate sull’assenza di principi, su quella che si suole definire amoralità. Personaggi che non esitano a uccidere per raggiungere il proprio scopo. Storie che rifiutano l’idea codificata del bene e del male. Non scriveva indovinelli lunghi trecento pagine, come Borges definiva i gialli, ma giocava il tiro alla fune con la credulità del lettore, lo conduceva in quel territorio dove l’attesa, il mistero, e la sorpresa non nascono dalla soluzione di un enigma, dall’individuazione del chi, ma, caso mai, del perché: lo spettatore al corrente di ogni (mis-)fatto potrà beneficiare di una tra le forme più pure di suspense, sussultando impotente e consapevole davanti alla realizzazione di un orrore preannunciato, drammaticamente ineluttabile. Prendeva per mano il lettore e lo portava a contatto, in intimità con l’assassino, con chi commette ciò che si considera Male. Francis Bacon Per avvalorare il concetto che la sua letteratura è lontana dalla tradizione giallistica, da Agatha Christie o Ellery Queen, i colleghi che Highsmith cita qui sono: Shakespeare, Eschilo, Poe, Proust, Kafka, Flaubert – e soprattutto Dostoevskij ed Henry James (su “Gioco di vite” scrive che non riesce a immaginare la governante partecipare a una battaglia di cuscini coi due piccoli Miles e Flora, ma le reazioni di quella donna davanti alle cose che vede, o immagina, fanno rizzare i capelli). Da Graham Greene riceveva apprezzamento e complimenti che qui ricambia con manifesta gratitudine. Ma gli artisti che sentiva più vicini a sé, più che altri scrittori erano pittori: su tutti, Francis Bacon. Francis Bacon

  2. 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.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nandakishore Varma

    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.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    I recently re-read Patricia Highsmith’s PLOTTING AND WRITING SUSPENSE FICTION. And I found it meant a lot more to me now than it did when I read it the first time, many years ago. She is one of my all-time favorite writers, so her words of wisdom resonate.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Dina

    Un libro sobre escribir, de una escritora que sabe de lo que habla. Es entretenido y muy didáctico. Es genial averiguar como la buena de Patricia era toda una señora y como se ven ciertas pinceladas de crítica social sin que ella parezca darse ni cuenta. Me ha encantado saber como nacieron algunas de sus novelas y "como" desde su punto de vista debe construirse una novela desde cierta distancia.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Eric Novello

    Opinião rápida: - É mais interessante se você já escreve alguma coisa. - As dicas sobre suspense em si são poucas. - Vale como registro de uma época em que o ofício de escritor e o mercado literário eram muito diferentes. - Papel carbono e máquina de escrever, aqui tem! :)

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lee

    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.

  8. 4 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 4 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.

  11. 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

  12. 5 out of 5

    Pickle Farmer

    One of the best books on writing I have ever read, no joke! So approachable and down to earth and warm and practical. I wanted to underline every page! Was very moved by the ending when she talks about the joy of writing, and how "it is good to remember that artists have existed and persisted, like the snail and the coelacanth and other unchanging forms of organic life, since long before governments were dreamed of." YASS!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Keren Verna

    Interesante de leer para conocer más de la autora pero no aporta nada nuevo. Lo que dice, es demasiado básico, rondando el cliché.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Marie

    Dans ce livre assez court, Patricia Highsmith (auteur notamment du Talentueux Mr Ripley et de Strangers on a train) nous parle de son métier d'écrivain. Le titre n'est pas vraiment adéquat, il s'agit plus ici de découvrir la carrière d'écrivain de Patricia Highsmith et la façon dont elle a écrit certains de ses romans, que de donner réellement une méthode sur comment écrire un thriller. Intéressant donc sur le fond, mais inapproprié si on cherche un livre de méthode.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Claudio

    Quizás el problema es que no es lo que esperaba. Buscaba "insights" sobre cómo escribir suspenso, y me encuentro con una autobiografía... y ni siquiera interesante.

  20. 5 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.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Gavin Armour

    Betritt man heute eine "moderne" Buchhandlung, findet man ja zumeist wenig Bücher, dafür umso mehr Bastelzubehör, Bürobedarf oder Schreibwarenartikel. Hat man sich dann zu diesen Gegenständen mit den harten Außenseiten und den weichen Blättern innendrin vorgearbeitet, stellt man fest, daß man es keinesfalls mit Literatur, nicht mal mit Spannungsliteratur zu tun hat, sondern mit....Ratgebern. Der Ratgebermarkt scheint jenes Feld an Büchern zu sein, das am schnellsten und stetigsten wächst. Ratgeb Betritt man heute eine "moderne" Buchhandlung, findet man ja zumeist wenig Bücher, dafür umso mehr Bastelzubehör, Bürobedarf oder Schreibwarenartikel. Hat man sich dann zu diesen Gegenständen mit den harten Außenseiten und den weichen Blättern innendrin vorgearbeitet, stellt man fest, daß man es keinesfalls mit Literatur, nicht mal mit Spannungsliteratur zu tun hat, sondern mit....Ratgebern. Der Ratgebermarkt scheint jenes Feld an Büchern zu sein, das am schnellsten und stetigsten wächst. Ratgeber gibt es so ziemlich zu allem - Garten, Seelenlage, Finanzanlagen, Drehbüchern - und natürlich auch zum Thema "Wie schreibe ich einen Beststeller und werde reich und berühmt". Es wäre zu wünschen, die Autoren letzterer würden sich zumindest die Zeit nehmen, ab und an einen Blick in einen Ratgeber für Ratgeberschreiber zu werfen - oder aber in den vorliegenden Band der großen Dame des Suspense-Romans, Patricia Highsmith. 1966 erschien PLOTTING AND WRITING SUSPENSE FICTION (Originaltitel). Seitdem wurde es durch die Autorin mehrere Male redegiert, sonst wäre es ihr nicht möglich gewesen, den Leser u.a. auf den Erfolg des bei Kritikern und Publikum sehr beliebten Romans EDITH`S DIARY (1977) hinzuweisen. Doch gibt sie - naturgemäß - vor allem Auskunft über Entwicklung und Entstehungsprozeß solcher Werke wie THE GLASS CELL (1964; dt: DIE GLÄSERNE ZELLE), A SUSPENSION OF MERCY/THE STORY TELLER (1965; dt: DER GESCHICHTENERZÄHLER) oder THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY (1964; dt: DIE ZWEI GESICHTER DES JANUARS) - also Büchern, die sie relativ kurz zuvor geschrieben, veröffentlicht oder beendet hatte. Highsmith, zu diesem Zeitpunkt schon lange eine etablierte und gefeierte Autorin, gibt in SUSPENSE - erstaunlich bereitwillig und unprätentiös - die Geheimnisse ihrer Arbeit preis und bietet erstaunliche Einblicke in ihr - auch in ökonomischen Belangen - ausgesprochen pragmatisches Denken. Sei es die Frage nach Ablehnung durch Lektoren, sei es jene nach Kürzungen, sei es Kritik oder die Angst davor, sich im Plot oder Aufbau eines Romans zu verstricken, Highsmith berichtet ebenso gleichmütig wie offen von ihrem Umgang mit all diesen Widrigkeiten des Schriftstellerlebens. Beginnend mit der Idee zu einem Roman, einer Geschichte, einer Story, folgt Highsmith der gesamten Genese eines Suspense-Thrillers, macht einen Abstecher in die Welt der Short Story, arbeitet die unterschiedlichen Anforderungen von Roman und Kurzgeschichte heraus, erklärt die Entwicklung von der Idee, über den Plot hin zur ersten Fassung eines Buches. Sie widmet sich dem Unterschied zwischen den sehr konkreten Problemen, vor denen gerade ein Suspenseautor steht (Polizeiarbeit, medizinische Details, Ablauf des Gefängnisalltags etc.) und den eher abstrakten, die den Autor sogenannter ernsthafter Literatur umtreiben (Beziehungsprobleme, Atmosphäre, Psychologie der Figuren etc.) und verdeutlicht wie nebenher, daß die des einen durchaus auch die des anderen sein können. Sie erklärt die "Stolpersteine", die sich dem Schriftsteller in den Weg legen: Wie wähle ich die richtige Perspektive? Wähle ich eine Ich-Perspektive oder eine auktoriale Erzählperspektive? Wie verschaffe ich mir Einblick in unterschiedliche Leben und Berufe? Wie erkenne ich eine Idee, wie kann ich eine Idee ausbauen? Wie gehe ich mit Sackgassen und Schreibstau um? Wann breche ich ab und fange von vorn an? Wann muß ich kürzen, wie entwickle ich ein Gespür für eine Story, für die Länge einzelner Kapitel oder Abschnitte einer Geschichte? Schließlich geht Highsmith anhand des Romans THE GLASS CELL den gesamten Ablauf, den sie zuvor theoretisch und an Einzelbeispielen abgehandelt hatte, noch einmal konkret durch. Man sollte dieses Referenz-Buch vielleicht erst gelesen haben, könnte dieses Zerpflücken der Story, der Personen und des Aufbaus das Lesevergnügen doch nachhaltig beeinträchtigen. Abschließend wendet sich die Autorin dann noch einmal dem Begriff 'Suspense' zu und untersucht ihn theoretisch. Es sind auch gerade die letzten Abschnitte des Buches, die ein wenig von Highsmith´ Verbitterung zeigen. Sie wusste wohl, daß sie sehr viel mehr schuf, mehr konnte, als herkömmlichen 'Suspense' zu schreiben. Im Essay unterscheidet sie - leicht sarkastisch - zwischen "Romanen" und "Thriller-Romanen", bzw. "Suspense-Romanen", um den Abstand zwischen "ernsthafter" Literatur und der als Unterhaltung geltenden Spannungsliteratur zu markieren. Es ist interessant zu lesen, daß gerade die amerikanischen Kritiker den Unterschied deutlich machten, Thriller eher nebenbei besprachen, selten bereit waren, sich darauf einzulassen und die entsprechende Qualität zu erkennen. Umso erstaunlicher, wo doch gerade die Amerikaner so vehement darauf bestehen, daß zwischen E und U, zwischen 'Hoher Literatur' und dem Trivialen kein Unterschied bestünde. Die Kunst der Patricia Highsmith wurde in Europa, gerade in Frankreich und Deutschland, sehr viel früher er- und anerkannt, denn in ihrer amerikanischen Heimat. Eine gewisse Verbitterung ist, wie angesprochen, durchaus aus dem Text heraus zu lesen. Doch ebenso berichtet sie vom Glück des Schreibens, davon, wie es ist, in diese inneren Welten abzutauchen und sich darin zu verlieren. Sie macht Autoren Mut, sie ermuntert zum Schreiben und - was den europäischen Leser dann natürlich stutzen macht mit seiner durch und durch universitär-elitären Ansicht, Literatur und die Kunst, die bestünden durch und durch nur sich selbst zuliebe - hat immer auch einen Blick auf die ökonomischen Notwendigkeiten. Es stimmt natürlich, daß man von seinem Schreiben wird leben müssen, was bedeutet, daß man seine Bücher auch verkaufen muß. Dementsprechend muß man dann natürlich auch bereit sein, den Lesergeschmack, was Länge, Story, Personal angeht, zumindest zu bedenken. Herrlich jenes Zitat ihres amerikanischen Verlegers zu THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY, der ihr mitteilt, ein Roman vertrage ja vielleicht zwei Neurotiker, niemals aber drei, und gleich gar nicht, wenn das die Hauptpersonen des Romans seien. Es ist ermutigend zu lesen, daß selbst eine Autorin, deren Erstling immerhin vom großen Alfred Hitchcock verfilmt wurde (STRANGERS ON A TRAIN; Verfilmung 1952), noch Probleme dieser Art mit späteren Werken bekommen sollte. Doch auch in Bezug auf diese Widrigkeiten äußert sie sich eher zurückhaltend. Sie redet dafür umso mehr der Begeisterung das Wort, die es braucht, einen Roman zu schreiben, auszuarbeiten, fertigzustellen und vom Glück des Schreibens und des Fertigstellens. Über Kollegen äußert sich die Autorin entweder anerkennend - wie über den von ihr verehrten Graham Greene - oder mit der ganzen ihr zur Verfügung stehenden Noblesse nur äußerst dezent. So wird man hier keine Schmuddeleien, keine dreckige Wäsche, keinen Tratsch und keine Kritik oder gar Verunglimpfung anderer erleben. Was man allerdings erleben wird, ist, wie es dieser zu Lebzeiten viel zu wenig geehrten (der Rezensent geht so weit und behauptet, sie hätte den Nobelpreis verdient gehabt) Schriftstellerin gelingt, sogar aus einem Auftragswerk, einem Essay, in dem sie sich unaufgeregt und mit der ihr eigenen Genauigkeit, ohne Hektik, mit ihrem Handwerk auseinandersetzt, einen durchgehend spannend zu lesenden Text fabriziert. Das ist dann allerdings schon wirklich große Kunst. Denn man folgt diesen 155 Seiten Fließtext mit eben jener Spannung, mit der man sonst den eigentlichen Werken der Autorin folgt. Selten, daß ausgerechnet einem Essay solches gelingt. So hat man mit SUSPENSE eine wunderbare Ergänzung zu den vorliegenden Werken dieser fabelhaften Schriftstellerin, aber auch eine Erweiterung ihres Schaffens aus dem rein fiktionalen Raum in den ebenso spannenden des realen Herstellens von Kunst. Das ist wunderbar!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Chitra

    WHAT I LIKED This was a brilliantly written book. No it isn’t an instruction manual but what Highsmith does is she takes all the mistakes she made in life, all the experiences she gained from her writing and her related successes and failures and tells us exactly where she thinks she went wrong and what we can do to avoid the same mistakes. It is wonderful to be able to learn from a great author’s mistakes without having observed them in close quarters. I am a fan of hers since watching Strangers WHAT I LIKED This was a brilliantly written book. No it isn’t an instruction manual but what Highsmith does is she takes all the mistakes she made in life, all the experiences she gained from her writing and her related successes and failures and tells us exactly where she thinks she went wrong and what we can do to avoid the same mistakes. It is wonderful to be able to learn from a great author’s mistakes without having observed them in close quarters. I am a fan of hers since watching Strangers On A Train, granted I haven’t read it but I have ordered myself a copy and I will be grabbing it soon because she talks about her writing process with the same. She takes you step by step through the writing process including the processes for short stories vs novellas vs full length novels which is another thing I didn’t expect to get with the book. I don’t write short stories because I tend to drag things out too much but I have learned a bit about the writing process if I ever manage to control myself from writing out every little detail. WHAT I DISLIKED This was originally published in the 1960s so a lot of things may not be relevant in todays day and age. I did appreciate that most of it ages well though so I can’t fault anything.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Beatriz Esteban

    No está mal, pero realmente se centra más en contar su experiencia, sus argumentos o detalles de sus novelas antes que en dar consejos sobre crear suspense. De hecho, los consejos que va dando a lo largo de la novela son genéricos (cosa que es buena, en cierto modo, porque se aplica a cualquier género, pero cuando buscabas que te ayudara a crear suspense es un poco decepcionante) y nada que no haya leído en otros libros. Por lo menos la forma de narrar era cercana y ágil. Y la forma en la que ha No está mal, pero realmente se centra más en contar su experiencia, sus argumentos o detalles de sus novelas antes que en dar consejos sobre crear suspense. De hecho, los consejos que va dando a lo largo de la novela son genéricos (cosa que es buena, en cierto modo, porque se aplica a cualquier género, pero cuando buscabas que te ayudara a crear suspense es un poco decepcionante) y nada que no haya leído en otros libros. Por lo menos la forma de narrar era cercana y ágil. Y la forma en la que habla de primeros y segundos borradores me ha hecho ver mi corrección con otros ojos, con un poco más de esperanza.

  24. 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.

  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...

  26. 4 out of 5

    Halley Sutton

    Salty but entertaining and some good pointers.

  27. 5 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.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Álvaro Arbonés

    Toda novela tiene suspense. Cada texto, incluso. Cuando algo carece de suspense, cuando conocemos todos los posibles giros o sucesos que acontecerán en un momento dado, entonces algo no va bien. No porque la función última de cualquier acto comunicativo sea el suspense, sino porque todo texto debe ser, necesariamente, más que la suma de sus partes. El verdadero suspense no se da en el descubrimiento de la primera lectura, sino en los detalles ocultos que van surgiendo a raíz de su relectura. Pat Toda novela tiene suspense. Cada texto, incluso. Cuando algo carece de suspense, cuando conocemos todos los posibles giros o sucesos que acontecerán en un momento dado, entonces algo no va bien. No porque la función última de cualquier acto comunicativo sea el suspense, sino porque todo texto debe ser, necesariamente, más que la suma de sus partes. El verdadero suspense no se da en el descubrimiento de la primera lectura, sino en los detalles ocultos que van surgiendo a raíz de su relectura. Patricia Highsmith disecciona en Suspense las claves más habituales para lograr moldear el texto de tal modo que sea sugestivo para el lector. Aunque en principio podría parecer que eso hace el texto sólo apto para los adictos al noir, sus claves son propicias para cualquier clase de escritor. Si es que no de autor. Todo cuanto hace es desgranar claves narrativas tal vez ya manidas en manuales más sistemáticos, menos biográficos —porque Highsmith se toma, tal vez en exceso, como ejemplo de lo que intenta explicar—, para mostrarnos cómo lograr que el texto no sea, y he aquí la clave, aburrido. Porque, según Highsmith, todo escritor tiene la obligación de no aburrir el lector. Y si bien tiene razón, habría que ponerle un gran pero. Todo escritor tiene la obligación de no aburrir al lector, pero el aburrimiento no nace exclusivamente de los elementos que redundan en la lectura. Highsmith olvida plantear cualquier cuestión que trascienda la forma narrativa más básica. No habla de simbolismo ni de subtexto —o, peor aún, cuando lo hace de forma indirecta se declara partidaria del moralismo—, como si una novela pudiera sostenerse exclusivamente por la fuerza de sus giros dramáticos. Del suspense de su historia. Ese es el problema de Suspense. Obvia que suspense también es el análisis posterior del lector, cuando intenta enlazar los símbolos detrás de cada personaje o circunstancia; que también lo es el subtexto, la forma o incluso algo tan prosaico como la belleza de la palabra justa. Cosa que tal vez quedan fuera porque Highsmith las da por hechas, pero que en última instancia tienen tanta importancia como saber mantener el interés a través de giros de guión y un desarrollo satisfactorio en el más inmediato, pero no por ello más simple, sentido de la historia. Porque narrar no es sólo contar una historia, sino cómo la contamos en el plano estructural y simbólico, que conforma su subtexto. Que en un libro titulado Suspense falte suspense es algo inaudito. O más bien, criminal. Pero dado que Highsmith es quien es, que acudir hasta ella para disquisiciones sobre esos temas sería absurdo —como ella propone, de hecho, en el propio texto—, es posible perdonárselo. A fin de cuentas, el suspense también puede resolverse en negativo. Incluso en una crítica.

  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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