What Henry James Taught Me about Writing Suspense

What Henry James Taught Me about Writing Suspense

If you’ve read any works by Henry James, American-born British author (1843-1916), great suspense probably isn’t the first thought that leaps to your mind. Consider the all-important first sentence of his famous┬ánovella┬áThe Turn of the Screw. The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as, on Christmas Eve in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to say that it was the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child. That’s sixty-two words in the first sentence alone. By today’s standards, such writing is “wordy” at best and “frankly hard to read” at worst. But writing styles come and go just like the bell-bottoms of the seventies, and during James’s day, this was cutting-edge stuff. Perhaps the economical writing so popular today…

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