Ken Follett’s intense novel outlining, and his thoughts on thriller essentials

Author:
Publish date:


Outlines. Mine generally take the form of scatterbrained, fast-and-loose Word documents packed with ideas, and I’m always in awe of writers who flesh out intricate visions beforehand. Take Ken Follett, who does some intriguing and intense outlining to give himself a concise framework for the direction of his books. His strategies are the latest from Promptly’s Top 20 Tips From WD in 2010 series. A regular prompt follows. Avoid the Midwestern blizzards!

No. 6: Eniltuo
“It’s pretty detailed—it’s typically 50 typed pages. What takes me the time is that I change it a lot. I start out with a concept, and then I see what’s wrong with it, and I see how to make it better. One thing I quite often do is I go through it backwards and I write a one-line summary of each chapter, but starting with the last chapter. What that does is it shows me where the final scenes are not fulfilling the promises raised by the early scenes—which is terribly important. Whatever happens in the last few chapters must be something either feared or longed for by the characters in the early chapters. And a little trick for focusing on that question is to go through it backwards."
—Ken Follett, The WD Interview, by Jessica Strawser, November/December 2010(click here to check out the rest of the issue, which also features our writer's guide to the Web)

[Also, here are some of Follett’s thoughts on the essential elements of a thriller—]

"I always say thrillers are about people in danger. And while it’s easy enough to think up a dangerous situation to put the people in, the challenge then is to draw that out for 100,000 words in such a way that the danger is constantly present, that the story is still developing internally. There’s a rule of thumb that 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. And 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 so, the challenge for me is not thinking of dangerous situations to put the people in—that’s easy. The challenge is then drawing out that suspense, their responses to it, their interactions with one another, their interactions with the bad guys, and making that into a consistent drama that lasts 100,000 words."

***

WRITING PROMPT: You Can Have Your Cake …
Feel free to take the following prompt home or post a response (500
words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below.
By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional
around-the-office swag drawings. If you’re having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail your piece and the prompt to me at
writersdigest@fwmedia.com, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.

You bake the cake, careful to place the secret ingredient inside just right …

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 16

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a city poem.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Under the Influence

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Under the Influence

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, let a character fall under the influence of something or someone.

WD-PersonalEssay-2020-WinnerGraphic

Suspended: Writer's Digest Personal Essay Awards Winner

Congratulations to J.E. Stamper, grand prize winner of the Writer's Digest Personal Essay Awards. Here's his winning essay, "Suspended."

Planting Clues: Red Herrings That Fool but Don't Frustrate Your Readers

Planting Clues: Red Herrings That Fool but Don't Frustrate Your Readers

Want to know how to keep your readers engaged and entertained with your mystery novel? Let these six tips from thriller author Kris Calvin guide you!

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 15

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a blank story poem.

Kristin Beck: On Writing Quickly and Publishing Slowly

Kristin Beck: On Writing Quickly and Publishing Slowly

Debut novelist Kristin Beck shares what it was like to write her historical fiction novel Courage, My Love and why she was so thankful for a slow publishing process.

Whitney Hill Elemental

Whitney Hill: Self-Published E-Book Awards Winner

Whitney Hill, winner of the 8th Annual WD Self-Published E-Book Awards, talks fan fiction, creating her own stories, and why she chose to self-publish.

8 Tips to Build Your Supportive Writing Network

8 Tips to Build Your Supportive Writing Network

Writing can be a solitary activity ... but it doesn't have to be. Let author Gale Massey give you some tips for building a supportive writing network.

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 14

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a "from where you're sitting" poem.