"For me, the plot is the least intriguing part of a book" - and other thoughts on the process of writing

The first draftWriters want to hear about how other writers do it. It's something a writer can't help but seek, especially if they are feeling like they've been writing utter crap and are having a moment of despair that the project will never be completed -- or worse, we'll get to the end but it's a terrible mess with no hope of becoming anything worth reading, ever. All writers have these moments, at least, I hope and think they do. I have been reading Gillian Flynn's book Gone Girl for my book club this month, and her beautiful character development and intriguing story have me internally weeping over their beauty, and despairing because I feel like what I'm writing is crap comparatively. Though I often remind myself (crucially) that I'm reading final drafts, published works, while what I'm working on is a first draft.

But I still found myself compelled to Google "Gillian Flynn writing technique," just to see if she's ever spilled any information on how she does this thing called writing. And she has. And she has reassured me gloriously with her answer.

Parenthetically, I love this statement below, as I also feel like the most compelling stories are about characters, people, who find themselves caught in circumstances that have gone entirely beyond their control, and how they do or don't get themselves out of it drives the rest of their story. This is true for books and films and television -- I'm a sucker for a good story told in any medium.

[quote cite="Gillian Flynn, How I write" url="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/11/21/gillian-flynn-how-i-write.html"]

What scares you in a good book? It seems that it takes more to sustain thrills, in this age of film, Internet, and quick-cut editing.

I’m old-fashioned. The stuff I love isn’t about gotcha scares, and gore doesn’t frighten me much either. It’s that sense of dread, and the sense that characters have gotten swept up in a current they can’t control, leading them toward something awful and dark. It’s why I love Scott Smith’s books, and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon, and Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby. That sense of inevitable doom.


Yes, yes, yes! This is why I love the flailing, seedy, faltering, despicable Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) in FargoHis descent into events out of his control, but which he triggered, is absolutely brilliant storytelling. Actually, the same can be said of Ed Crane's (Billy Bob Thorton) experience in The Man Who Wasn't There, and The Dude's (Jeff Bridges) inclusion into events beyond his control in The Big Lebowskiand the role every single character plays in the spiraling tale of tragedy and comedy that occurs in Burn After Reading -- a most brilliant tale about a bunch of terrible things that arise from an inconsequential event: John Malcovich's wife forgetting her bag at the gym. (Ok, obviously I have an admiration of the Coen brothers. But they have mastered this exploration of "man in circumstances beyond his control, flails, kills, runs, fights back, etc.)

And of course, any novelist needs to know the method of other successful authors, of whether they write with the end-point in mind, the plot in their head, or just from a situation, and then see how the characters act and react until, voila!, a novel is writ. Again, massive relief in her comments on the craft.

[quote cite="Gillian Flynn, How I write" url="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/11/21/gillian-flynn-how-i-write.html"]

Do you like to map out your fiction plots ahead of time, or just let it flow?

I let it flow, although that makes it sound more jazzy and less despairing than the actual process often is for me. I wish I could plot more efficiently or stick to an outline, but I just can’t. Partly it’s because, for me, the plot is the least intriguing part of a book. I start writing because of certain characters or themes or events I want to explore, but I’m often not sure what form that will take. So I do float along a bit. I probably write two novels for every one I end up with—lots of deleted scenes as I try to figure out what it is I’m really interested in, what it is I’m actually writing.


And of course, the blessed reassurance that we all must plea with ourselves, like we're some unwieldy force that cannot ever simply sit, and write, without being coerced. As if this was something we were doing by force rather than by choice. Nope, even when I am so compelled to put words down on paper [word processor], I still need lots of self-control and personal incentives to actually do it, day after day. It is such, such an active process. There is absolutely nothing passive about writing a story.

[quote cite="Gillian Flynn, How I write" url="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/11/21/gillian-flynn-how-i-write.html"]

Describe your morning routine.

Drink half a pot of coffee. Go downstairs to my basement writing lair. Sit myself in my chair and threaten myself like a recalcitrant child: you will sit in this chair and you will not move until you get this scene written, missy. Get the caffeine shakes. Regret drinking so much coffee. Finish writing the scene. Reward myself with a game or eight of Galaga.


Keep writing, keep writing. The first draft of anything is shit. It's ok. Just keep writing.

[quote cite="Gillian Flynn, How I write" url="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/11/21/gillian-flynn-how-i-write.html"]

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Read all the time and keep writing. There are a million talented writers out there who are unpublished only because they stop writing when it gets hard. Don’t do that— keep writing.


Christoph Waltz explains his love, and mine, for Tarantino's dialogue

christophwaltz_big Christoph Waltz spoke to Terry Gross on Fresh Air on December 19, 2012, to talk about Tarantino's new movie, Django Unchained--which is the second of his films for Waltz. They talk about a lot of things, including Django, and how Tarantino finally found him, an actor who is fluent in English, French, and German, but also had the skills to deliver his signature dialogue. That delivery ability is what got him the part as the Jew Hunter in Inglourious Basterds, and it's what won him the Oscar for it, too, easily. If you haven't seen that movie, watch it for Waltz's performance alone. Seriously. And if you have seen it, go watch it again. And call me and I'll come watch with you.

In the meantime, read Waltz's answer to Terry's question, in which he perfectly explains Quentin Tarantino's insane ability to keep us totally enraptured by seemingly pointless moments in the lives of his characters. I could swim in his dialogue, and he clearly agrees.

TG: So when you had your audition for Inglorious Basterds, how well did you know Tarantino’s movies?

CW: I knew all of the movies.

TG: You’d already seen all--?

CW: I had seen all Tarantino movies as they came out, as they were released. Starting with Reservoir Dogs, and I even had seen Death Proof. So I knew them all.

TG: So you already had an ear for what he was doing [in terms of dialogue and delivery of Tarantino’s writing]?

CW: In a way, in a way. I had a fascination. You know, even in Death Proof, which is somewhat, you know, not as easily accessible, but somehow watching Death Proof, I understood something about the dialogue, because these girls were driving in a car and one had her legs out the window, and the other one was just bored and getting on with it somehow, and they were talking about nothing in particular, for a long time… and… I was mesmerized. And I always wondered, what is it that I’m so interested in? There’s nothing interesting. But why am I captured, why am I at the edge of my seat, even though nothing is happening other than two bored girls driving along?

Exactly! But we are. The first time I saw Pulp Fiction, it was only a portion of it, playing on cable television (which in retrospect seems a shockingly inadequate way to watch Pulp Fiction), and I kept watching out of pure intrigue, because I loved how the characters were talking. That was it. I wanted to listen to them talk to each other all day. It was the superfamous scene at Jackrabbit Slims, the retro restaurant Vince Vega takes his boss's (Mrs. Mia Wallace) wife to for dinner. I was in high school, maybe seventeen years old. I bought the dang DVD because I had to hear more, after I kept seeing only snippets when it aired on TV. Then over time, I devoured all his other movies. I even like Death Proof; yes, what is it about those girls that I'm so interested in, every time? But I cannot look away.

I would easily take Tarantino's dialogue over Shakespeare's any day. That is all.