Last night, J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, and John Irving held a live reading at New York’s Radio City Music Hall to benefit The Haven Foundation (established by King to support disabled, uninsured artists — no web site seems to exist as yet to promote this foundation) and Doctors Without Borders (a group — providing emergency assistance where needed in over 70 countries — supported by Rowling). This was Rowling’s first visit to the U.S. in nearly 6 years. The two-night event, billed as “An Evening with Harry, Carrie, and Garp,” wraps up tonight and hopes to raise a quarter-million dollars for each charity.
Now, of course all news sources large and small are clinging to every whispered syllable that Rowling shares publicly (which is why King said he felt like he and Irving were just warm-up acts to the “big show,” a.k.a. Rowling); they are anxious to glean any new clue to who will perish in the final book. Will Harry die? (Both King and Irving pleaded with Rowling to “do the right thing” and let him live) Who will be the two who don’t make it?
Rowling did little to share any new info, much to their disappointment. What she did share, however, was thrilling to me as a writer and a teacher of writing.
The anonymous AP reporter, in her/his article syndicated nationally to papers like Baltimore’s Sun, writes: “In talking about the writing process, both Irving and Rowling said they worked their plots out in advance so that they knew going into the writing whether they would be killing off characters, something which made writing the death scenes somewhat easier.” Said Rowling, as reported by the author of the article: “I don’t always enjoy killing my characters. I didn’t enjoy killing the character who died at the end of book 6. . . .But I had been planning that for years, so it wasn’t quite as poignant as you might imagine.”
How I love to see writers discussing process. I think it’s a good idea to do this for many writing projects, and she is right; in the pieces of writing that I have done when a character has died, my advance planning has allowed me the opportunity to reflect on that death so that my writing can serve the needs of my audience a little less dramatically — at least from my point of view. It allows you, as the writer, to focus on what your reader needs and not necessarily what you are feeling at the moment you are writing the scene or chapter.
With that said, there’s a particular scene in my latest book that took me by such surprise that it totally derailed my entire outline and forced me to turn the story over to the characters to see where they were going to take the plot and resolve the conflict. That book, The Journey to Cold Rock (still in revision), was written in one month during NanoWriMo last November, and there was no time to think about whether this new direction was good or bad for the story. I’m glad that I trusted the process, as i think this novel is the best piece of writing I’ve ever produced.
Does that mean I’ve abandoned the outline? Absolutely not. Another story of mine that is still in draft stage, Fourth Strike, is so complex that it requires a strong outline to keep the storyline from straying in any direction. In that thriller, I already know the outcome, all of the twists, turns, and surprises that, hopefully, will leave my readers turning the pages faster than they can read them.
That’s what makes the writing process such a beautiful thing. There are countless strategies that you can select from with each new writing project. All you have to do is consider your goals and the needs of your audience.
Oh–and to write the damned thing once you pick a strategy!