The Master of Suspense

A few months ago I stumbled across a book sale at my county library and picked up a silverfish-nibbled copy of Stories to be Read with the Lights On, compiled by none other than the magnificent Alfred Hitchcock.  My obsession with British crime dramas – film or print – led me to this quote by the ego-driven genius himself:

With a characteristic lack of modesty I have allowed myself to be billed as a Master of Suspense.  The description is indeed accurate, and you must admit, fully justified.

As with all so-called experts my counsel is often solicited by interviewers seeking definitions.  Just what is this business of suspense, they inquire.  Well, years ago I consulted one of those massive unabridged dictionaries one lifts only with the aid of a derrick.  It defined suspense as uncertainty accompanied by apprehension.

Fair enough.  In my films I try to intensify this apprehension to a point where it becomes unbearable.  That is the name of the game.

With monumental films like Rear Window and Psycho, Hitchcock undoubtedly deserves the Master of Suspense title in film, but his advice can be easily adapted from movie reel to printed page.  He insists the key to writing suspense is in architecting spine-tingling anxiety until it becomes “unbearable” to the reader.  So many authors build and build their complicated plots only to rush the endings and ruin the books.  Hitchcock’s method is tried and true.  Build the suspense slowly . . . and deliberately . . . until your audience cannot take another moment . . . and then give them a real Hitchcockian ending.

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2 Responses to “The Master of Suspense”

  1. Interesting I have never read any of his work, but being an aspiring writer i guess it’s time to pick up his book(s).

    • He only edited a few books, and the short stories were pretty good if you’re into murder and mystery and all that. But his films are incredible. He was a great cinematic writer.

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