Friday, May 31, 2013


Picturing all the details of a whole book in my head is beyond my spatial capacities so I recently made a big new outline grid that I can tape on to the wall in front of me like William Faulkner does here.
Being a visual person, I need to see the book before I can write it. I especially need to see the spots where stuff must happen, according to the experts. Stuff like:
  • the inciting incident, 
  • the trigger,
  • the quest,
  • the surprise,
  • the first plot point,
  • the mid point, 
  • the critical choice, 
  • the second plot point, 
  • the climax, 
  • the dénoument,
  • the resolution. 
  • And all the points of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey 
Seeing the exact placement of plot points makes writing so much easier and quicker. Words don’t just disappear into the dark maw of the hard drive. I don't need to spend hours straining to remember what happens when and wondering if I've repeated myself. Characters' actions can be more easily crafted to justify their goals and ambitions. Obstacles can be timed to show up just when the protagonist is feeling cocky, rewards can be more precisely dangled to keep him or her going.  
A plot laid out on paper lets you construct chapters  more meticulously, accelerate arcs more smoothly, escalate events more gradually, build suspense step by step, make disasters and catastrophes happen more unexpectedly, boom, and make triumph and victory more nuanced.
Like drawing with words.
An outline grid is very empowering.                                     

Friday, May 3, 2013


So many literary characters are part of our lives. Some inspire us, some repulse us some make us laugh, all entertain us. How impoverished we’d be if we’d never known Harry Potter, Stephen Dedalus, Philip Marlowe, Hercule Poirot, Lolita, Andy Dufresne, Mr. Wemmick or Magnus Pym, among others.
    If some bold and adventurous publisher hadn’t taken a chance on JK Rowling, James Joyce, Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Vladimir Nabokov, Stephen King, Charles Dickens or John le Carré, they would have continued their lives as teacher, singer, petroleum executive, housewife, entomologist, gas station attendant, law clerk and spy. Their stylish stories and brilliant characters would have rotted away in a drawer or a hard drive, never to come to life on page or screen. An unbold publisher is not unlike a jailer, keeping all those characters prisoner in their pages, unable to entertain and enlighten.
    How many other vivid, inspirational characters and stories have we been deprived of by today’s fearful publishing industry? How many other writers are still driving trucks, selling cars, frying Big Macs, exterminating termites or picking strawberries? We know publishers are legitimately afraid of being obliterated by self-publishing and e-books but is fear good for publishing? Will it cause publishers to produce books with the same bland vanilla characters often found in self-indulgent self-publishing? Or will it make them publish more books with feather-ruffling, mind-stretching characters? Characters who might, incidentally, make more money than the bland vanilla stuff.
    We understand publishers’ promoting and brandifying well-known, best-selling authors and their books to the broadest possible demographic to stay afloat and also to generate cash. This cash gives them the means to publish lesser-known writers, not to mention un-discovered ones still working themselves to the tendons in poorly-paid, soul-destroying jobs and maybe bitterly burning manuscripts containing characters who could possibly illuminate the world.
   So, we buy the books featuring Katniss Everdeen, Bella Swan and Robert Langdon in the hope publishers will eventually be able to publish more books featuring characters like Jonathan Pine, Scarlett O’Hara, Sherlock Holmes, Joe Kavalier, Henry Skimshander, Miss Haversham and Charles Swann.

Pen and ink drawing by H. M. Brock: "’Well, aged parent,' said Wemmick, 'how am you?'"