How to write suspense.



Sunday, October 30, 2011

Stealing--I Mean Copying--I Mean Rearranging Ideas

John Clausen wrote a book titled Too Lazy to Work, Too Nervous to Steal. While this book is about how to have a profitable freelancing career, the title also fits writing in general, because whether we like to admit it or not, every author "steals" ideas from other authors. After all, who hasn't heard there are a limited number of plot structures? Some say as few as seven. I have a book that lists 20.

However, though we must sometimes "borrow" from others, our challenge, albeit, our job, is to take that idea or technique and alter it until it becomes uniquely ours. For example, in my novel Trapped, I "borrowed" a situation from Alfed Hitchcock's movie, Notorious. In it, Ingrid Bergman, a spy who's in love with her control agent (Cary Grant), marries the dangerous man she is spying on in order to fulfill her responsibilities.Cary Grant's character is also in love with her. I loved this deliciously intriguing and romantic triangle, but I also felt it fit perfectly with my story. So, naturally (grin), I borrowed it; I allowed my POV character, Emi, to become engaged to the man she was spying on while the man she really loved looked on. 

BUT, as I indicated earlier, I then made that suspenseful plot point a unique part of Trapped by coloring it with my own characters, my own setting, and my own story line.

Still not convinced this is a valid technique? Consider the movie, While You Were Sleeping. In it, Sandra Bullock's character not only falls in love with the brother (Man #2) of the man she "loves" (Man #1), but she also, ultimately, becomes engaged to Man #1 even though she now realizes she's really in love with Man #2. Not only that, Man #2 is in love with her! Doesn't this sound a lot like the situation I just described in Notorious and Trapped? And yet, all three stories are vastly different.

That's my secret for this week: borrow suspenseful elements from those you admire then make them yours.

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