By Margaret S. Hamilton
The day after Murder and Mayhem in Chicago, I attended Jeffery Deaver’s Writing Commercial Fiction workshop, sponsored by the Midwest MWA chapter, and held at Concordia University in a nearby suburb. Deaver is giving his much-praised workshop to every MWA chapter nationwide. The experience was well-worth the trip to Chicago.
WWK blogger Paula Gail Benson wrote in detail about Deaver’s workshop in South Carolina last summer:
I’ll add my impressions of the three-hour workshop to Paula’s overview.
Deaver made a compelling and persuasive argument for extreme plotting. First, he fills a wall with sticky notes for every character and scene. He shifts the notes around, mulling over plot problems (in humid North Carolina summers, they often fall off the wall). Deaver spends eight months writing a seventy-five-page outline, with bullet points for each scene and point of view. During this time, he conducts all the necessary research for his book. He inserts into his outline the location in his research notebook of necessary facts and figures for quick reference (unlike less organized souls fumbling through a messy stack of print-outs).
Deaver's outlines are detailed enough to include dialogue and description. He gave us an example of how he rewrites a scene from his outline:
A character bandages another character. He rewrote the scene to include the specifics of “pressing gauze” against the wound secured with “criss-crossed adhesive tape” that reminded the patient of childhood tic-tac-toe games.
Deaver noted that Lee Child, Harlan Coben, and George R.R. Martin do not outline.
Deaver rejects the idea of writer’s block, terming it instead an “idea block.” If you don’t know what to write, it might not be the right time to try. Move on to something else.
Deaver writes his books to be emotionally enjoyed by his readers. There is a core story, embellished with “soap opera” family and relationship subplots as well as geopolitical situations or themes. Subplots must have a twist and a surprise ending. He maintains and heightens suspense in his novels.
Of the four components of a novel, plot and character are more important than setting and dialogue. Creating active characters is crucial. Deaver reminded us that villains should be likeable too—they are the heroes of their own story.
Deaver likened the pacing of his books to a symphony, with varied intensity of movements rising to a vast crescendo at the climax. He matches his writing style to individual scenes, more languid, with longer sentences, for description, and staccato for fast-paced action scenes. In recent years, he’s shortened sentences and paragraphs to match the faster, succinct pace of social media. He prefers a close third person point of view, showing the story unfold through the character’s perceptions and actions.
It will take me weeks to sort through all that I learned during the two-day workshop. Perhaps I’ll try sticky notes stuck to a table top as a plotting method. My dogs would rip them off a wall.
Writers, have you attended Deaver’s workshop? Readers, have you read Deaver’s books?