David Letterman’s famous Top Ten lists are a staple of his Late Night Show. I came across a great Top Ten list in a Twitter feed from Writer’s Digest magazine. Brian Garfield wrote the list, Ten Rules for Suspense Fiction, in a 1973 Writer’s Digest article. The list reportedly paved the way for John Grisham to write his breakout novel, The Firm.
Here are Garfield’s top ten rules for suspense fiction:
- Start with action; explain it later.
- Make it tough for your protagonist.
- Plant it early; pay it off later.
- Give the protagonist the initiative.
- Give the protagonist a personal stake.
- Give the protagonist a tight time limit, then shorten it.
- Choose your character according to your own capacities, as well as his.
- Know your destination before you start out.
- Don’t rush in where angels fear to tread.
- Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want to read.