Saturday 23 April 2011

'It's all in the planning'... Deighton in the WSJ

Len's popped up this week in the Wall Street Journal, in its Word Craft section to be exact, writing about his approach to planning a book and the extensive work that goes into it before the pen touches the paper, or a finger stokes the keyboard.

The article, Facing the hard questions before chapter one, is by-lined by Len. In it he sets out his approach which has long been recognised as being among the most thorough of modern fiction and thriller writers. Understanding the era about which you're writing is his first point; and be clear about the time context for the story. His books has ranged from covering 24 hours - in the case of Bomber - to fifty years, as the reader experiences with Winter.

It's a wide-ranging exposition, written as much for the aspiring writer as the interested reader. So, he recommends that writers follow his example and write out a sentence on a blank sheet of paper for the main theme of each chapter, allowing the writer to add and subtract ideas and see how the structure of a book develops before the main text is written. Clearly, this approach will have come in handy when writing a major triple trilogy such as the Bernard Samson series, where short and long-term narratives intertwined.

He also writes about his aborted novel on Vietnam, a subject of much curiosity among readers of his books. While the story never made it beyond the planning stage, the work wasn't wasted, as he recounts:
'For a book I planned to do about the American air war in Vietnam, I flew in Phantom fighters and spent many weeks with a U.S. fighter squadron, but my timing was wrong. By the time I had all the necessary paperwork, the war was winding down. But the experience of living with those fighter pilots sowed the seeds for another book. "Goodbye, Mickey Mouse" was set in World War II but benefited greatly from my earlier research. So never throw anything away.'
An intriguing insight into the mechanics of story-telling.

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