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The Writing Style of Mary Higgins Clark
by Evelyn Hepburn

The Writing Style of Mary Higgins ClarkChief among novelists in the genre of mystery/suspense is Mary Higgins Clark, author of over 40 novels. Her sales have totaled over 100 million around the world. Although many critics have called her work formulaic, fans of Higgins Clark’s novels enjoy their realistic tone. Combining this realistic tone with the use of suspense-building plot devices and an inventive storytelling style, Mary Higgins Clark effectively captures the attention of her readers in a way that leaves them wanting more.

A primary reason why Higgins Clark is such a popular novelist is her utilization of real-life events as source material. Working from the literary tradition of dramatic true crime books like In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, Higgins Clark merges real events with an engaging fictional universe. Because many of the stories told by Higgins Clark actually did occur in small towns across the United States, the audience connects to the work as being potentially real and, therefore, frightening.

book cover of the Mary Higgins Clark novel Where Are the Children?Adding to the plausibility of the settings and plot structures utilized by Higgins Clark is her seemingly unsophisticated character dialogue. Higgins Clark writes using common dialogue in order to increase the realistic feeling of her suspense stories. Given that her stories are based on actual events, the author presents her victims in a way that gives the audience a chance to step into the character’s shoes. When the audience feels that they would say and experience exactly what appears in the text during a particular scene, the audience becomes that character. Manipulating the reader to unconsciously become part of the work demonstrates that Higgins Clark is an expert storyteller.

Further drawing the audience into the flow of the work, Higgins Clark employs plot devices that enhance the suspense in her novels. One signature device employed consistently throughout her novels is the cliffhanger, which appears at the end of a chapter. The Higgins Clark cliffhanger typically contains one of these two elements: the name of a person the audience has not been introduced to yet, or an event or person with an unknown fate. The latter of these situations is commonly employed when one of the author’s heroines encounters mortal danger—a sign that the climax has just occurred.

Mary Higgins Clark's signature

Another signature of a Higgins Clark novel is a frequent change in point of view. While all of her works are written from the third person point of view, the limited omniscience of the narrator frequently changes focus between chapters. This is one way that the author forces the audience to see an incomplete picture of the action. By controlling the point of view during key scenes, Higgins Clark maintains suspense in her works. Focusing on the protagonist during an attack scene allows the antagonist’s motivations to remain unknown, ensuring that a suspenseful cliffhanger can follow.

Mary Higgins Clark utilizes a number of techniques to ensure that her works of suspenseful fiction are successful. However, the most important key to her success is a keen understanding of the audience. Connecting with the real-life fears and experiences of her audience enables Mary Higgins Clark to produce effective novels that are read by the masses.

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