Patricia Highsmith and Point of View

My first exposure to Patricia Highsmith was in 1999 with the release of the movie, The Talented Mr. Ripley, starring Matt Damon and Jude Law. I thought it was phenomenal film, and I saw it on opening day at the theater.

I always love psychological thrillers that are more about the characters and less about detectives trying to solve a mystery. I never read any of her books until I decided to start listening to the audio book version of The Talented Mr. Ripley this past week. I’m well-pleased that the book and the film and very similar. It’s the first in a series of books about Ripley. I’m going to keep going and listen to the others.

In early August, I started writing a new novel about a man who becomes obsessed with his dead father’s adulteress and starts stalking her. I wrote to a writer friend that I felt like I was channeling Highsmith. That stuck with me which is why I wanted to listen to the audio of Ripley now. I’d started my book in first person point of view from the lead character’s perspective. It didn’t feel right to me though and I was struggling to tell the story. I felt like there was too much “I did this” and then “I did that,” and I was missing out on the real thoughts and feelings of the characters.

Ripley is told in third person omniscient which means there’s an unknown narrator who knows all. I knew right away I needed to go back and change my story to third person. Doing so fixed the story immediately. Now I can dig deeper into the psyche of all of my characters, not just the lead one who was previously telling the story.

That’s the pleasure of writing. If you change your perspective, new details always reveal themselves.

It’s only been a month, but writing this book has been difficult because I’m drawing a lot of the material from personal experiences. No, I never stalked anyone. But my own father had a long-time affair that was kept secret from me when I was a child.

Over the years, I have learned more about it. And in the four years since my father’s death, I have occasionally asked my mother questions about it out of curiosity. As someone once told me, “it’s not your past.” And that’s true. My place in the real-life story of my father’s affair is very small. But the details my mother has been willing to share have inspired a new story that I’m making my own. As I said, if you change your perspective, new details always reveal themselves.

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