Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, Patricia Highsmith

Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, by Patricia Highsmith

Have you ever seen the movies, Strangers on a Train, or, The Talented Mr. Ripley? They were written by Patricia Highsmith, who wrote over 20 novels, and wrote a helpful little book called, Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. Note: All fiction should employ some tension, and I think that is how you should regard the title.

Plotting is a fast read, chatty, anecdotal, no boring lists of rules and a nice recognition of the various intangibles— i.e. the unteachable parts you’ll have to work out for yourself. A far too dreary accounting of how even a writer of numerous books, which get made into movies, still frets over money and is plagued by paperwork and the basic administrative aspects of life.

Yet… still enjoyable and quite useful. She’ll tell you how she wrote something, thought it was lazy, and then later figured out what she really needed to do. Which sort of gives you both permission and roadmap to do the same thing. Sometimes, you have to write the wrong thing, to really know it’s not working. Then you backtrack and find the right path. She recommends writing a summary of your chapters, and then asking of each one, How does this move the story forward? I felt at least four chapters just evaporate from my draft as I read that. Naturally, I still  have to determine which four are getting the pink slip.

There’s quite a lot of information, sometime subtly delivered, sometime plainly so. She talks about failures and snags, delays and blocks. I’ve sort of been harboring the feeling that Real and Talented writers automagically know what they’re doing and it just pours out of them as a joyous, but lucid spree. Spoiler alert; No.

Patricia Highsmith quote from 1947

Patricia Highsmith quote from 1947

She talks about moving backwards and forwards, described as a type of weaving, that I thought was under recognized by most teachers of writing.  Even after writing numerous books, she still struggles, still feels stupid, still can’t find the right way forward. Until she does. This is undeniably comforting while working on my first book, but rather gloomy if I consider, you know, the entire rest of my life. Which, may just be counterproductive.

I became somewhat fascinated by the author, who is American but I always thought was British.

There are 3 links below, if you would also like to know more about her. I’ll also need to read at least 6 of her novels, maybe more. Super fun fact:

Highsmith once attended a London cocktail party with a “gigantic handbag” that “contained a head of lettuce and a hundred snails” which she said were her, “companions for the evening.”

Pass up spending time with that brain at your own peril. I think you will enjoy this book.

The author, with siamese cat

The author, with siamese cat

Interested in this book? Your options include;

You can preview it via Overdrive or Libby, ask your Librarian if your local library has access to these apps, and how they work.

If you decide it’s a keeper:

You may find it at a used book store: Books-A-MillionPowell’sThirftbooks, or The Strand. I’ve been having good luck with Abe Books and Better World Books lately, as well.

If you have a fabulous independent bookstore near you, please support them.

or, You can buy it via Amazon