Cover image for Plotting and writing suspense fiction
Plotting and writing suspense fiction
Highsmith, Patricia, 1921-1995.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Griffin, [1990]

Physical Description:
xiv, 145 pages ; 21 cm
General Note:
With new foreword, 1988.

Originally published in Great Britain by Polar Press Limited.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN3365 .H5 1983 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Patricia Highsmith, author of Strangers On a Train, The Talented Mr.Ripley, Found In The Street, and many other books, is known as one of the finest suspense novelists. In this book, she analyzes the key elements of suspense fiction, drawing upon her own experience in four decades as a working writer. She talks about, among other topics; how to develop a complete story from an idea; what makes a plot gripping; the use (and abuse) of coincidence; characterization and the "likeable criminal"; going from first draft to final draft; and writing the suspense short story.
Throughout the book, Highsmith illustrates her points with plentiful examples from her own work, and by discussing her own inspirations, false starts, dead ends, successes, and failures, she presents a lively and highly readable picture of the novelist at work.

Anyone who wishes to write crime and suspense fiction, or who enjoys reading it, will find this book an insightful guide to the craft and art of a modern master.

Author Notes

Patricia Highsmith wrote twenty-one novels including "Strangers on a Train" & the "Ripley" series. She died in 1995 in Switzerland, where she resided much of her life.

(Publisher Provided) Patricia Highsmith (January 19, 1921 -- February 4, 1995) was an American novelist and short story writer, most widely known for her psychological thrillers, which led to more than two dozen film adaptations. She was born in Fort Worth, Texas. Highsmith grew up with her maternal grandmother in Astoria, Queens, and attended Barnard College.

Her first novel, Strangers on a Train (1950), was adapted for stage and screen numerous times, notably by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951. In addition to her acclaimed series about murderer Tom Ripley, which was made into a film in 1955, she wrote many short stories, often macabre, satirical or tinged with black humor. Highsmith liked to examine the ways in which people can get to the point where they are capable of murder, as well as who they become after they have committed a crime. In carefully constructed stories and novels, she integrated this scrutiny of the human psyche into complex plots that often took unexpected twists. In Strangers on a Train, architect Guy Haines meets Charles Bruno on a train. Bruno conceives a plan to have Haines kill Bruno's father, while Bruno will kill Haines's wife. The effect that this plan has on Haines is the focus of the story.

Highsmith's awards include: O. Henry Award for best publication of first story, for "The Heroine" in Harper's Bazaar (1946), Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, for The Talented Mr. Ripley (1957), and the Dagger Award -- Category Best Foreign Novel, for The Two Faces of January from the Crime Writers' Association of Great Britain (1964).

Highsmith died of aplastic anemia and cancer in Locarno, Switzerland, at age 74. Her last novel, Small G: A Summer Idyll, was published one month after her death in 1995.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. ( Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The late Highsmith, author of 27 works of fiction, including The Talented Mr. Ripley, wrote this book over 20 years ago to help new writers craft suspense fiction. Writers will be glad that it has finally been published. Not that there is a lot of new information here the pleasure is in the style of the book. It is casual and personal, and writers will feel as if Highsmith herself were sitting next to them sharing tips and bits of advice she gleaned from years of experience. The book begins with getting ideas and moves on to plotting, drafts, snags, and revisions. A "case history" of her novel The Glass Cell and some general notes on suspense conclude the book. The book offers useful instructions to writers, plus a glimpse at how a suspense writer works. Highly recommended for public libraries. Lisa J. Cihlar, Monroe P.L., WI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Forewordp. xi
I The Germ Of An Ideap. 3
II Mainly On Using Experiencesp. 14
III The Suspense Short Storyp. 27
IV Developmentp. 37
V Plottingp. 53
VI The Frist Draftp. 61
VII The Snagsp. 82
VIII The Second Draftp. 97
IX The Revisionsp. 103
X The Case History Of A Novel: The Glass Cellp. 108
XI Some Notes On Suspense In Generalp. 133