Ruth Rendell On Writing Suspense

Ruth Rendell On Writing Suspense


Writers Write shares writing resources and writing tips. In this post, we share snippets from Ruth Rendell on writing suspense.

Ruth Rendell, who also wrote as Barbara Vine, was born 17 February 1930 and died 2 May 2015. She was an English author of thrillers and psychological murder mysteries.

Her first novel, From Doon with Death, was first published in 1964. It featured Inspector Reginald Wexford, who starred in 24 of her novels. When she wrote as Barbara Vine, her novels were edgier and darker, concentrating on the psychology of the victims and criminals. A Dark-Adapted Eye and The House of Stairs was written under this pseudonym.

She is the winner of the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award. She is also the recipient of three Edgars from the Mystery Writers of America and four Gold Daggers from Great Britain’s Crime Writers Association. In 1997, she was named a life peer in the House of Lords.

She wrote more than 60 novels, and sold more than 20 million books, continually exploring psychological elements in her crime writing. She was a big believer in the power of suspense.

Ruth Rendell On Writing Suspense

In 2013, Ruth Rendell wrote the following about suspense:

  • Suspense is my thing. I think I am able to make people want to keep turning pages. They want to know what happens. So I can do that. Mind you, I think this ought to apply to any fiction, because however brilliant it is in other respects, you don’t want to go on reading it unless it does that to you.’
  • ‘What is it that makes a good suspense writer? A sort of withholding I would say. I think one has to look at great fiction to sees how that is done. Think about Emma. We know there’s something strange about Jane Fairfax, but it’s not until very far on that we realise that all the time she’s been engaged to Frank Churchill. It’s done in a masterly fashion. There’s nothing clumsy about it, nothing appears to be contrived, and it’s done by simply withholding.’

Ina 1996 interview in The Irish Times, she was asked why she started writing as Barbara Vine:

  • ‘For years they asked why I did it. Some say they see no difference – which is nonsense, I think. Others see a great difference. But it suits me very well. You see, if you write crime fiction – or whatever you like to call it – you may not be formulaic, and I hope I’m not, but you still keep within certain bounds, and I felt with Barbara Vine I could write pretty much whatever I liked. Except that it’s natural to me to write suspenseful fiction because whatever I write, it’s going to have suspense in it, and that sort of enigmatic stuff, and a mystery, because it’s in my nature to do that.’

In an interview with the BBC, she revealed how good she was at creating suspense – even for herself:

  • ‘I have an idea and I have a perpetrator and I write the book along those lines, and when I get to the last chapter I change the perpetrator, so that if I can deceive myself I can deceive the reader.’

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 by Amanda Patterson

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TIP: If you want help writing a book, buy The Novel Writing Exercises Workbook.