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3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
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on June 22, 2003
I have never read Patricia Highsmith's work, but I have seen Talented Mr. Ripley on DVD. I picked up this book in order to get a better feel of what writing suspense fiction is all about. This book provided me with the essentials of suspense without going on and on about the mechanics of it.
You won't find exercises or lists or specific techniques. Reading this book is similar to reading a novel, or just sitting down with a cup of coffee while an esteemed author tells you her experiences. If you want a book that goes more deeper into plotting, I would recommend more technical how-to books like PLOT (ELEMENTS OF FICTION WRITING) or SCENE AND STRUCTURE (also from ELEMENTS OF FICTION WRITING SERIES).
The reason why I enjoyed this book so much was because it offered insight into the craft that most writing books lack. She talks about some of the obstacles she had to overcome as a writer (such as the "foggy area three quarters into the book")and I found myself with more direction after reading. I also picked up some handy tips on organization and focus, as well as crafting a good hero-criminal.
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on December 30, 2002
Patricia Highsmith produced some really wonderful works of suspense. It helps to be familiar with at least one or two of them before jumping into this book; she refers to her work quite a bit...maybe a little too much. Yet, Highsmith's comments are mostly helpful in such areas as plotting, point of view, and revisions.
From the very beginning, Highsmith advises writers to write in order to please one person: yourself. If you read good works and are satisfied with your own work, you're probably producing good writing. She also recommends focusing on characters and allowing them to take on a life of their own.
There are times when Highsmith seems to throw out all kinds of advice, sometimes contradicting what she has said earlier. For example, she strongly advises outling each chapter and its events, yet she also advocates winging it free-write style, without knowing where you're going.
Overall, a helpful book, but more valuable information should be packed into its 145 pages.
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on November 23, 2002
It is true that not all great writers are good teachers of writing; this book only proves the point. There are points of merit. Highsmith incorporates examples from her own work, even from her mistakes, and the manner with which she discusses her own work (with a mercilessly objective eye) is interesting to read.
That said, there is not much original advice this writer has to offer. Much of it is insipid regurgitations of what many others have said, or what the tortured inner selves of all writers say in their heads. She even makes a disclaimer of this fact in the beginning of the book, but when I found out that she really wasn't kidding - that this book really had nothing of real teaching value to offer - I was more than disappointed, because I highly respect Patricia Highsmith as a writer, and love her books.
She makes much of the craft of writing, but even when discussing writing itself, she makes it seem it's such bloodless working out of logic. This book made me understand why Ms. Highsmith chose to write suspense; much of her drive to write, and her writing practice itself, is driven by her relentless desire for a commercial success. This is not to say that she did not care writing for writing's sake. But reading this book, it became apparent that commercialism was the governing force in her writing, and this approach can be quite detrimental to a young writer learning his/her craft, I imagine.
The best of Highsmith's books and stories had a rare blend of artistry and craft. It's a shame that this book contains no special insights on making art, but only exposes grating machinery of the craft.
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on May 26, 2002
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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on August 25, 2000
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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on December 25, 2001
This book is an excellent essay on the craft of writing, far beyond any label or genre you might want it to focus on. Honest and intelligent, Patricia Highsmith writes without flamboyance of any kind about all the steps going along the creative process. And in doing this, she really helps the writer-reader take consciousness of his craft, giving him realistic advice and motivation.
"Plotting and Writing..." is not a "how to" book. It doesn't give you any formula nor pretends to have found the golden way of creating a story. But it is a true infusion of shared experience from a very talented writer and a bright person.
And most important: Mrs. Highsmith's book teaches there's not such a thing as "Suspense Literature" or whatever. As Duke Ellington said about music, there are only two kinds of literature: the good one and the bad one. Patricia Highsmith deals with the good one.
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on April 28, 2002
As noted on the cover of the book, Highsmith is the author of "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and "Strangers on a Train," both of which have been made into movies. That is not the main idea of this book though. She does mention that it requires a different kind of thinking, but she did not write the screenplays. She just mentions that some of her books were made into movies in England, American, France, and Germany.
If you are picking up this book to learn how to write suspense fiction, this should not be the book. There are no things to remember and no rules. Merely, she is telling you about how she has written books. If you are very familiar with her works (not just the more famous ones), then you may be able to make this work for you. Otherwise, the book is more about her. Writers should know that you should go through a few drafts at least.
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on July 6, 2000
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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on June 21, 2002
In this short book, Patricia Highsmith offers her opinions on writing suspense stories. She addresses story ideas, using personal experiences, story development and plotting, first and second drafts, revisions, and other dimensions of the writing craft. Highsmith is honest up front, stating that "This is not a how-to-do-it handbook." After giving writers the somewhat despairing advice that "It is impossible to explain how a successful -- that is readable -- book is written," she goes on to describe her own methods, describing failures as well as successes. There are some useful hints in here, but much of the material is too personalized to be of general use. Suspense writers need a better handbook than this one.
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on December 5, 2001
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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