Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How to Become a Writer: Robert Bloch's Psycho

Psycho HouseImage by fillzees via Flickr

Brief biographical notes

Nothing in Robert Bloch’s background would even hint that one day in the 2oth century he would become the author of the greatest psychological thriller ever produced in print or in films: Psycho.  Robert Bloch was born on April 5, 1917, in Chicago, to a modest family: a bank cashier and a social worker.
To look for employment and better prospects —and skirting as well as they could the Great Depression— the Bloch family moved to Milwaukee in 1933.

As a teenager, Bloch was already writing stories that he pitched for publication. His baptism —at age 17—into becoming a professional writer came when the publisher Weird Tales bought his story entitled "The Secret in the Tomb."

How to become a writer

Disillusioned, despondent, and poor, Robert Bloch at age 41 suffered a mid-life crisis. Assessing what he had accomplished during his years of writing he listed hundreds of short stories —of all kinds, fantasy, horror, mystery, suspense, crime, and science fiction— and novels, screenplays, and even non-fiction articles. Yet he could not even support his family.

But like all true writers who must write to justify their existences, he never gave up, continuing with his daily production of stories. Writing to live for some men of letters is a truism.

Fame, glory, and fortune came to Robert Block published his psychological novel Psycho.


Often denigrated as pop writing and of minor importance, Psycho is a well written novel in which readers can find all the elements of fine fiction writing. A good deal of what happens in the novel is told with different points of view. Of particular importance is the Indirect Free Speech (IFS) that Bloch had mastered to allow readers into the minds of his creatures.

Although Robert Bloch's 1959 novel was overshadowed by Alfred Hitchcock's enduring film adaptation, and while the violence and surprise of the film evanesce with time, the text, the actual novel grows in reputation. It is good for many re-reads. Contemporary writers can pick up excellent writing techniques from Robert Bloch’s style.

The plot contains two parts. In the first part the attention focuses on Mary Crane, who after absconding with a large sum of money from her employer, she reaches the Bates’ Motel. Norman Bates, the middle-­aged motel manager, seems to be an ordinary fellow, though a little odd. Later we know that first impressions are a way of misdirection, to augment the suspense.  When the run-away Mary Crane is murdered —a film episode that no one can forget— the plot seems to end. But recall that this is only the first part.

Tout and tense in the second part, the author leads readers into the mind of the loner Norman Bates, into his habits, his odd speech, his rants, his cunning, and his sexual proclivities. With adroit and terse prose Bloch dove into the mind of a serial killer to let his audience experience the horror of a deranged mind.

To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.

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