Saturday, November 13, 2010

Writing for Suspense: Dennis Lehane, David Hosp, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Raffi Yessayan

Yours truly, masked for the vampire banquet.
Julia Spencer-Fleming made plain her philosophy this morning: Suspense lies in the character, rather than the plot. Dennis Lehane emphasized storytelling, suggesting that people who already know they're not good storytellers should avoid writing careers. David Hosp described the outlining process that he heard about from Robin Cook, as well as Jeffrey Deaver, saying that Cook does a 200-page outline first -- at which point Lehane cut in to say, "And then what, he adds verbs?" And Raffi Yessayan pointed to his training as a trial lawyer, where you'd better know your closing address to the jury before you start producing evidence at the trial -- and said the same thing applies to writing suspense.

All of which demonstrates the wide variety in writers, writing methods, and advice available at the New England Crime Bake this weekend. Lehane in particular quoted from playwright David Mamet on "how to progress the story," adding, "You can never exit a scene with the same energy that you enter it, so a scene is about a change of energy." And he urged writing "up" for readers -- make the assumption that a savvy reader is already guessing ahead of the plot, is "already there."

Lehane's final blunt comment was about a scene beginning with a "want" -- and ending when the character does or doesn't get it. "The bottom line is not that a character gets what they want -- who cares what they want? -- it's that they get what they need."

And that's as good a description as any for the reasons 250 people from across the country (and Canada) gathered for the Sisters in Crime/Mystery Writers of America event.

Me, I got a lot of what I wanted -- face time with strong writers of mystery in its many subgenres, signatures on some first editions of their work, some playtime at the vampire banquet, and a lot of laughing and "a-ha" moments that I guess I needed, because they felt pretty good.

Coming tomorrow: a look at the latest Brazilian mystery from Leighton Gage, EVERY BITTER THING.

1 comment:

LM Preston said...

Even though I don't write suspense novels, I've tried to put an air of it in my YA books. It's truly an art.