Writing Suspense in the style of Alfred Hitchcock by Tony Lee Moral
-How are you inspired by Alfred Hitchcock when writing?
Alfred Hitchcock had the greatest of all things, a story to tell. In finding ideas to adapt to film and television, he often turned to newspaper articles, short stories, plays and novels. Audiences knew that with a Hitchcock story they would have a good time, they may be frightened, or they may be amused, as Hitchcock had an individual personality as a storyteller and the Master of Suspense. I used his principles of suspense when writing my new novel The Haunting of Alice May. Nearly all stories do well with suspense, no matter the genre. Suspense has largely to do with the audience’s own desires or wishes, so getting it right is a very important part of the writing process.
-Is there anything you can share about your new novel The Haunting Of Alice May?
The Haunting of Alice May which is published this month is a love story between a ghost and a human. When Alice May Parker moves to Pacific Grove, California, she is rescued from drowning by Henry Raphael. Handsome, old fashioned and cordial, he sees straight into her soul. Soon the two are involved in a romance but destructive forces threaten to tear them apart. Themes in the novel include what it means to be alive, what it’s like to lose someone you love, and the possibility of an after life.
-So you’ve written three non-fiction books about Alfred Hitchcock. How much was your novel inspired by Hitchcock’s films?
The Haunting of Alice May was greatly inspired by Hitchcock’s films, as many of the chapters are written like scenes in films. I was also influenced by a story that Hitchcock always wanted to make but never did called Mary Rose about a young woman who disappears on a Scottish island, and appears many years later as a ghost. This is the equivalent of the Henry character in my novel, who seems unchanged while all around him grow old.
-What’s the difference between mystery and suspense?
Many readers become confused by the two terms. Mystery is an intellectual process like a riddle or a whodunit. The mystery in The Haunting of Alice May, is who is Henry? Is he a ghost? Where does he come from? These are all mysteries that run through the book. Suspense on the other hand, is an emotional process, rather like a rollercoaster ride, or a trip to the haunted fun house. All suspense comes out of giving the audience information. If you tell the reader that there’s a bomb in the room and that it’s going to go off in five minutes, that’s suspense. The suspense in The Haunting of Alice May is what will happen when Alice finds out who Henry really is? The suspense drives the narrative and invites readers to keep turning pages.
-How do you use locations in the book?
Hitchcock believed that if you are using a unique location, it should be used to its utmost. Never use a setting simply as background. Use it 100%. He was adamant that the backgrounds must be incorporated into the drama and made it a rule to exploit elements that are connected with a location. When writing my locations, I also thought how they could be used dramatically. In The Haunting of Alice May, when Alice climbs the Point Pinos Lighthouse, it twice becomes the setting for her attempted murder. Heather, the high school prom queen’s disappearance becomes the MacGuffin, a plot device that Alfred Hitchcock often used, which is the engine of the story that drives the characters in the second half of the book. The sudden switches of location in a book are also very important to keep the reader entertained. I start the novel with a quick succession of chapters, using famous landmarks around Monterey Bay, such as the Aquarium, Point Pinos lighthouse and Pacific Grove Church. These will become absolutely crucial locations and settings for the action later on.
-How do you write characters like Hitchcock?
Characters in Hitchcock’s films often fall into three types; the wrongfully accused man was a subject Hitchcock repeatedly returned throughout his career from The 39 Steps, North by Northwest to Frenzy. The serial killer or psychopath in the story has long fascinated Hitchcock ever since The Lodger through to Psycho. One central rule is to avoid writing clichéd characters and stereotypes. Hitchcock has given us some of the most memorable villains to grace the screen. That’s because he avoided the cliché through character and made his villains attractive. “All villains are not black, and all heroes are not white. There are grays everywhere. You can’t just walk down Fifth Avenue and say he’s a villain and he’s a hero. How do you know?” said Hitchcock. “In the old days, villains had moustaches and kicked the dog.” Very often you see the murderer in movies, made to be a very unattractive man. I’ve always contended that it’s a grave mistake, because how would he get near his victim unless he had some attraction?”
-What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
The book is about what it means to be alive and the challenges that come with young adulthood and trying to understand how one fits into the larger workings of the universe. It’s a meditation on love, loss, growing up and also being alone, which I hope I have written in a suspenseful and entertaining way.
-What else inspires your writing?
People and travel. Writers are natural psychologists, so I’ve drawn much inspiration from the people I meet and the places I’ve visited. I’ve been very fortunately to travel around the world in my job as a documentary filmmaker, so I find people and situations fascinating.
-Is there any advice you wish you’d had early on in your writing career?
Build your author’s platform and cultivate your readership and followers. In today’s social media age, your readers are everything. Nurture them and you will see the fruits of your labour.
Tony Lee Moral is the author of three books on Alfred Hitchcock; Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie; The Making of Hitchcock’s The Birds and Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Masterclass. His new novel, a Hitchcockian suspense mystery, The Haunting of Alice May is published by Sabana Publishing.