The Page a Day Writers Group

Learning from ThrillerMasters

Posted on: November 2, 2010

We’re constantly searching for those keys to the kingdom- the sage advice from a veteran writer that will make everything seem do-able and crystal-clear. That feeling has alighted on my shoulders, but it usually stays there as long as a feather would in a breeze before it sighs its way to the ground. One piece of wisdom that seems grounded in concrete reality is “Just keep writing. Then rewrite.” All experienced writers communicate this in their interviews on some level, though they may have crafted a more clever way to say it.

Writer’s Digest editor Jessica Strawser interviewed Ken Follett and David Morrell in the most recent issue (Nov./Dec. 2010) and, though one message is “Just keep writing; then rewrite,” this piece is rich in personal reflection. Follett and Morrell share generously about their process; it’s well worth the read.

In sync with some of our recent Page a Day discussions, the conversation turned toward outlining vs. not outlining (or seat-of-the-pants-ing, as some would refer to it). Follett is much more of an outliner than Morrell. This difference creates dynamic dialogue between the two iconic authors as they goodnaturedly spar their contrasting views. They don’t actually spar. They agree to disagree in a gentlemanly fashion. But we can hear what they’re not saying. “My way is SO much better.” “Nuh Uh! Your way is boring!” Well, I’m imagining things, of course. These sophisticated fellas would never utter those phrases. To each other’s face, anyway.

No; truly we can sense the camaraderie between them- perhaps even because of their distinct points of view. A real respect emanates from the conversation between the ThrillerMaster colleagues. Imagine- peers as ThrillerMasters. Morrell had the honor of presenting Follett with his award last summer, given by the International Thriller Writers association. A ThrillerMaster “must have a substantial career of at least 20 years and must have contributed to the thriller format in such a way that it was a game-changer,” Morrell states of the ITW bylaws.

Here’s a tasty kernel from Follett, who says,” …every four to six pages the story should turn. If you leave it longer than that, people start to get bored. If it’s shorter than that, it’s too frenetic. A story turn is anything that changes the situation for the characters, so it could be quite minor- somebody telling a little lie- but it’s a turn.”

And now one from Morrell: “I like to know where I’m going, but after that I like to think of the book as being an adventure… Serve the story, listen to the story. Often the story knows better than I do what it wants to be.”

Aahh… a turn of the story every four to six pages. Just listen to the story. It all sounds so do-able and crystal-clear now, doesn’t it?

Thank you, dear game-changing ThrillerMasters. Off I go to write and re-write.

Ondine Brooks Kuraoka

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2 Responses to "Learning from ThrillerMasters"

Great post Ondine. I love it when writers offers a succinct and applicable little nugget. A turn of the story every 4-6 pages. I will remember that one.

Wow, Ondine. I never thought about that (4-6 pages), but as a reader, I certainly feel that way. Now the tough part (as you alluded to) putting the concept into practice.

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The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!

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