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Monday, January 08, 2007

[WR] Ten Rules for Suspense Fiction

Ten Rules for Suspense Fiction
Brian Garfield

[Editor's note: In 1994, John Grisham revealed to NEWSWEEK that he credited the following article by Brian Garfield with giving him the tools to create his ground-breaking thriller, THE FIRM , as well as subsequent books. Garfield himself is a noted bestselling novelist, as well as a screenwriter, producer, and nonfiction writer. He won the Edgar Award for HOPSCOTCH, which was made into the prize-winning movie of the same name, starring Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson. For more of this renowned author's credits, please see his bio at the end of this article.]

The English call them thrillers, and in our clumsier way we call them novels of suspense.

They contain elements of mystery, romance and adventure, but they don't fall into restrictive categories. And they're not circumscribed by artificial systems of rules like those that govern the whodunit or the gothic romance.

The field is wide enough to include Alistair MacLean, Allen Drury, Helen Maclnnes, Robert Crichton, Graham Greene, and Donald E. Westlake. (Now there's a parlay.) The market is not limited by the stigmata of genre labels, and therefore the potential for success of a novel in this field is unrestricted: DAY OF THE JACKAL, for instance, was a first novel.

The game's object: To perch the reader on edge --- to keep him flipping pages to find out what's going to happen next.

The game's rules are harder to define; they are few, and these are elastic. The seasoned professional learns the rules mainly in order to know how to break them to good effect.

But such as they are, the rules can be defined as follows.

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