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So, I Took A Suspense Writing Class

Lately I’ve been feeling like I don’t have the energy to keep up with this blog. You might have noticed it because I post much less than I used to, both here and on my Medium page. It’s not the writing part per se, I just can’t find the will or the strength to find stuff to write about, if we exclude the reviews of the stuff I read.

“I should write a post, but about what?”

“I’m energised and happy about the job I’ve started back in March, but it requires a lot more effort than the previous one and my brain is fried when I finish…”

I’ve been saying these phrases or some variations of them quite a lot in the past few weeks, desperate because I couldn’t find a single topic to sit down and write about. All this while attending a 4-lessons online class that would actually give me a lot to write about, if only I had the strength to make the connection. It was a class about suspense writing I purchased with the annual productivity bonus given by my former company.

If you know me a bit, you know I’m a huge reader of mystery books, from the adrenaline-packed thriller to the mind bending supernatural to the cozy mystery. My long (but very very long) term goal is to be able to write my own murder mystery one day, and I decided that since it was a gift trying a specific class about it could do no harm.

And I have to say it didn’t, indeed.

Ok, and what did you learn?

It was the first time for me, and I wasn’t sure about how a “writing class” should be structured. I’ve always seen writing as something strictly personal, something where every writer has their own style and modus operandi, and the concept of writing class has always puzzled me. As an happy surprise, the class resembled more a dialogue, a discussion more than a traditional lecture.

It was less technical than expected, as it didn’t give formulas o strict rules. The discussion revolved around what is that helps build a memorable suspence story, with a lot of examples taken from the instructor’s career as a writer and a screenwriter for Italian tv and from a few of the most famous tv shows of the past few years.

Very few rules were presented, one of them being that one of the most important things when starting to write is to have the context clear in mind. It all should start with a single question: “What story do I want to tell?” This of course holds true for other genres as well, but it’s very important in crime and noir fiction too. A lot of times as writers we are so caught up in orchestrating the most twisted crime and the smartest solution that we forget that the reader doesn’t give a damn how clever and witty the writer is. All they want to be carried away by the story.

As a point related to that, he suggested to start from what we know. There’s nothing wrong in putting a few of our knowledge into the book we’re writing if it fits the story. On one side, it will be more real than it would have been if the writer had made it up entirely, making it harder to fall into stereotypes. Moreover, it prevents us from making blatant mistake when trying to write about a topic we’re not so confident about.

The alternative, of course, is thorough research about what we want to write, but for the most of us, a good deal of research is required anyway: not many people who don’t work in that field know how investigation procedures work. In that regard, once you know the procedures of a real investigation, the hardest part is to explain why the culprit is found after 300 pages instead of right away.

A story revolves around its main theme, and mysteries are no exception. There can be more themes intertwined, but only one will emerge from the story as the main one. These themes can be related to the story and the characters, but also to one or more aspects of today’s life. Theme drives the story, which in turn reveals the characters (and is revealed through them) and finally the plot.

This was just the introduction to the class: in the other three lectures we talked about the relationship between plot and character and about how seriality changed the way a story (specifically a mystery) is told and experienced. We also read some of our work aloud in front of the class, and I have to say it was quite the experience.

Next week I’ll tell you more about this.

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