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Conflict, Action and Suspense (Elements of Fiction Writing) Hardcover – 8 Oct 1994

4 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Writer's Digest Books; First Edition edition (8 Oct. 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0898796342
  • ISBN-13: 978-0898796346
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 15.2 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,287,718 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Format: Hardcover
Here's a list of chapter topics:
Nuts and Bolts of Drama
Leave-em Hanging
Mood and Atmosphere
Character Development
Point of View
Subtlety and Misdirection
Time and Place
If you look at the list, you'll see many of the "usual suspects" of writing subjects - things that you may well have studied before.
What this book tries to do is to show how each of these areas relates to the subject matter - conflict, action, and suspense. So, for example, building these through dialogue, or point of view, is covered.
This worked well for the first few chapters - even with topics with which I'm very familiar, I felt I was learning new ways of looking at the tools available, and using them in the service of better conflict.
But I'm afraid it got very flabby towards the end, as if the author was running out of things to say, or had left the things he's less comfortable with until last. All in all, the points he has to make could be distilled down into a far more compact form, which would be quicker to read and easier to refer to.
Also, I'm afraid the samples he offers to illustrate his lessons are dreadful (except where he's culled them from other, more accomplished writers). That shouldn't make a difference, perhaps, because they're only examples after all, but in a series that includes people like Orson Scott Card, who's a superb writer as well as teacher, I expected better.
Overall, while I've certainly gleaned some useful insights from this book, I came away disappointed. I was far more impressed by other titles in the series: Character and Viewpoint, and Beginnings, Middles, and Ends, come to mind.
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Format: Hardcover
A great book, useful even for experienced and professional writers. I picked up several useful tricks.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9160ceac) out of 5 stars 33 reviews
50 of 51 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x915ff2b8) out of 5 stars A handy, if slightly flawed, book 20 May 2004
By H. Grove (errantdreams) - Published on
Format: Paperback
Drama produces excitement in our writing. It keeps the reader interested. And how do we create drama? By playing with conflict, action, and suspense. Noble's book covers the basic concepts of drama, confrontation, pulling on the reader's emotions, escalation, and immediacy. He also deals with elements that keep your story moving: appropriate grammar, charged images, shifts in point of view, and contrast. He does a good job of telling us the how and why of things, rather than simply telling us what to do.
He touches on suspense's relationship with all sorts of basic writing issues such as dialogue, openings, cliffhangers, mood and atmosphere, character development, point of view, pacing, endings, and so on. Noble does a good job of focusing on specific techniques relevant to suspense for the most part.
It isn't a perfect book. It isn't as dry as most textbooks, but it could certainly be better than it is. Some of the examples that Mr. Noble makes up to use in the book are a bit on the overblown side, which kind of undercuts some of his points. He might have been better off using more examples from published fiction. Also, some of Mr. Noble's assertions regarding his topics have since been proven to be wrong. For example, when talking about the logic of settings: "...And a horror-suspense story would have problems if it was set in the unfolding of a miracle." I've seen this done quite well, actually.

This book was originally copyrighted in 1994, and this may be part of the problem. Since then some of the techniques that he lauds as strong and effective have become over-used and trite. (Overused techniques became that way precisely because they're so effective.) Some of the things he says can't be done have been done. As it is, this book serves as a very good example of why you need to do a lot of reading in the fiction field you want to write in. Otherwise, how will you know which of his techniques have been over-used, which can be seen as trite if you aren't careful how you use them, and which are still seen as solid, useful methods?
54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xad101f90) out of 5 stars It's the Emeril Show of fiction writing! 12 May 2003
By Wayne Rossi - Published on
Format: Paperback
William Noble, from the start of Conflict, Action & Suspense, writes about making your story into DRAMA! (And yes, the way he talks about it, emphatics like that are appropriate.) The book is written in a rather appropriate style, going short and choppy when it needs that dramatic emphasis, and giving ominous warnings about how, if you don't do things right, bam! Another reader lost. But in the end, it reads like watching the Food Network's Emeril hovering over your shoulder while you're writing and telling you to "Kick it up a notch!" - it gets as tiring as a book written as per Noble's advice would.
Most of Noble's examples are action-oriented melodrama; his techniques lend themselves naturally to the same. On the bright side, it doesn't have to be action-oriented; Noble endorses soap operas at one point, meaning that you can also use emotions as what you're constantly escalating. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against having your writing be exciting; but it should be exciting because there are dynamic characters at opposition, not because you're using tricks like Noble's to artificially generate it.
You can write a pretty good, forgettable airport novel if you follow Noble's advice; if you also buy Jack Bickham's Scene & Structure, you can even think about elevating your potboiler up to the level where you can make some cash off of it. But don't get it into your head that this is the right, or only, way to write...because it's not.
41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x92b889fc) out of 5 stars More is less 5 Jun. 2000
By Standback - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the first book I've read from the "Elements of Fiction Writing" series, and I can't say I'm very impressed. The first couple of chapters were very annoying. Basically, Noble keeps writing that, to create suspense, you need to EMPHASIZE things. You need to employ wods that NO ONE EVER USES in order to seem original. You need to OVERUSE ITALICS. You get the idea. I completely disagree with this approach, because such prose seems forced and jarring. The examples Noble gives are also not very enlightening, as the "bad" ones are so horribly contrived that you have to be TRYING to sound awful to think of them, and the "good" ones aren't that enthralling either. In the later chapters, the book improves somewhat, giving more examples of methods to create suspense and action. Still, these are not terribly insightful and most could come up with these ideas on their own by reading a few action and suspense novels - plus they'd get to read the novels, rather than an annoying book which seems to be written by one of those guys who thinks that if you repeat something often enough and with enough ITALICS, it might actually work.
45 of 53 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x91a33900) out of 5 stars Rating the Elements of Fiction Writing series 22 April 2001
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
I've read all the books in the Elements of Fiction Writing series and this is how I'd rank them.
"Scene & Structure" "Characters & Viewpoint" "Beginnings, Middles & Ends"
The above three books are invaluable -- must reads. They are the best of the series, in my opinion, and are packed with good information on every page. Well-done.
"Conflict, Action & Suspense" "Description" "Plot" "Manuscript Submission" "Setting"
The above five books are good, solid reads. Again, they contain good information and cover the subject decently.
"Voice & Style" "Dialogue"
To me, the last two books need to be rewritten. They are by far the weakest of the series. Both suffer from an annoying style, particularly Dialogue, and both are very skimpy on real information. Neither one is very helpful.
This is the order in which I'd recommend reading them.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x915ff51c) out of 5 stars Excellent reference but needs a 'governor' 11 Nov. 2002
By Don R Waterman - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book could help you become the next Orson Scott Card or Stephen King. It could also ruin your writing completely.
Conflict, Action & Suspense is a treasure trove of tools and techniques to help control the pace and effect of fictional scenes. The only thing it really lacks is a governor. Noble does inject a cautionary note about not overusing some of the more esoteric techniques but, for the most part, his advice seems to be `more is always better'. If you take him literally you could wind up with some REALLY horrendous writing.
As an example, take the technique of rapid-fire viewpoint switching. It could be effective in very limited fashion but, used in the way he seems to be suggesting, it would not only be confusing and irritating but, more importantly, it would almost certainly nullify any character identification. The equivalent of having a madman in charge of the video editing in an arty film production obsessed with making you dizzy.
There is a fundamental principle in danger of being violated here. If your technique becomes intrusive- if the reader notices WHAT you are doing rather than being carried with the flow- then you are doing something wrong. Period. Bottom line: Check your favorite authors to see how they handle a particular technique before overusing it yourself.
He also managed to punch my buttons with another pet peeve: Referring to `classical' literature as though that is still how people should be writing. He's quite correct in saying that drab cliche' descriptions should be avoided... but so should the flowery frippery and exaggerated imagery of bygone eras of literature. You'll lose your modern audience (except for a few literary eggheads) in a bout of disgusted snickers.
The above reasons are why I give the book only four stars. BUT in every other respect I'd rate it as a five star plus. Noble does a masterful job of presenting a vast array of techniques (several of which I have not seen elaborated elsewhere) to keep your audience breathless in anticipation of your next devious twist of fate. This is a reference I plan to keep close at hand. The major challenge will be learning to use it responsibly.
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