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“You’re a fiction writer. Invent, go further, say to yourself, ‘What if?’”
Mary Higgins Clark
With more than 24 bestsellers and 80 million in sales in the United States alone, Mary has learned a few tricks of the writing trade. While her genre of choice is suspense, in The Writer magazine, she offered some timeless tips that might prove useful to us all:
On plotting: A strong plot is the backbone of a strong story. To spark ideas for her novels, Mary looks for intriguing news items, builds files on them, and then mixes them with a healthy dose of “What if” questions to come up with a fresh plot concept.
On setting: A story’s physical environment and the use of time dictate a story’s atmosphere. Gloomy settings create a sense of foreboding and a “ticking time bomb” — a deadline for a negative event — helps create drama, tension, and reader involvement. “Suspense by its very nature suggests an express train or a roller coaster. Once on board, you cannot get off until the ride ends. I am committed to the belief that this kind of speedy action is essential to good suspense writing.”
On character developent: Before beginning a story, Mary suggests writing biographies of your characters that flesh out their histories, appearance, and personalities so you come to know them intimately. “Think of someone you know or knew as a child who reminds you of the character you’re trying to create.”
On research: Start your research before you begin writing and then keep researching as you write. Mary often interviews specialists and reads hundreds of articles for her novels. “Authenticity of detail gives the ring of truth to a book.”
On rewriting: Mary’s biggest tip: Don’t spend months endlessly rewriting Chapter One to get it perfect. Instead, plow forward and build momentum through your ongoing writing process. “Get it down. Bumble through it. Tell the story. Then when you have 50 or 100 pages typed, you have something to work with.”
Sage advice from a successful storyteller. Write on!