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Author Topic: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It  (Read 1126 times)  

Offline Word Fan

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Cafe member okey dokey asked about James Patterson's Master Class:

http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,258694

...and the discussion and comments lead to this review of that Class:

https://www.standoutbooks.com/james-patterson-masterclass-review/

In the review, Robert Wood says: If you want to follow along as someone charts the process of writing, Patterson's masterclass may not be what you're after...

That got me to remembering that there is, however, a place where you can do exactly that... follow along, I mean. The author being followed is Lee Childs and his book is Make Me, his twentieth in the Jack Reacher series. Writer Andy Martin says that he "had this crazy idea of writing a book about a novelist working on a story from beginning to end" and Lee Childs was the author who said O.K.

The finished book-about-writing-a-book is REACHER SAID NOTHING: Lee Child and the Making of "Make Me" and it goes into pinpoint detail that is by turns boring and fascinating. If that is just too long for you to slog through, a compact version of the book is the article on the website, The Conversation, called The man with no plot: how I watched Lee Child write a Jack Reacher novel.

http://theconversation.com/the-man-with-no-plot-how-i-watched-lee-child-write-a-jack-reacher-novel-51220

The story is a bit of a vindication for all of the pantsers out there who insist that they can only do it "their way." On the other hand, to be fair to the plotters among us, Lee Childs, despite what Andy Martin says near the beginning of the article, is definitely not "fundamentally clueless when he starts writing." As Andy later points out, "Of course [Lee Childs] is not totally tabula rasa. Because he, and I, had a fair idea that the name "Jack Reacher" was going to come up somewhere in this, his 20th novel in the series." And, I will add, not just a name but all sorts of characteristics that had been established in the earlier books: personality, habits, physical appearance, etc. Not tabula rasa at all.

Anyway, there you have it, the chance to look over the shoulder of a best-selling author as he creates his next book. Whether you choose the long- or the short version, it's interesting stuff.
« Last Edit: December 06, 2017, 04:09:01 PM by Word Fan »

Offline notjohn

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #1 on: December 06, 2017, 03:17:31 PM »
Lee Child is a genius, like Agatha Christie or the young Stephen King. There's no point in taking lessons from a genius, because you're (we're) not one.

(That said, it is worth listening to Stephen King on the subject of adverbs: "The road to hell is paved with adverbs.")
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Offline Lynn Is A Pseudonym

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #2 on: December 06, 2017, 03:43:38 PM »
I fully intend to buy that book as soon as I finish my latest. I just want to have the free time to sit down and really sink into it, boring or not! The sample has been sitting on my Kindle for a month.

Offline Word Fan

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #3 on: December 06, 2017, 04:11:17 PM »
I fully intend to buy that book as soon as I finish my latest. I just want to have the free time to sit down and really sink into it, boring or not! The sample has been sitting on my Kindle for a month.

If you don't mind going over a bit of the same ground when you read the book, read the article. It's not long and it's a good place to start.

Offline Atlantisatheart

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #4 on: December 06, 2017, 04:36:33 PM »
Cafe member okey dokey asked about James Patterson's Master Class:

http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,258694

...and the discussion and comments lead to this review of that Class:

https://www.standoutbooks.com/james-patterson-masterclass-review/

In the review, Robert Wood says: If you want to follow along as someone charts the process of writing, Patterson's masterclass may not be what you're after...

That got me to remembering that there is, however, a place where you can do exactly that... follow along, I mean. The author being followed is Lee Childs and his book is Make Me, his twentieth in the Jack Reacher series. Writer Andy Martin says that he "had this crazy idea of writing a book about a novelist working on a story from beginning to end" and Lee Childs was the author who said O.K.

The finished book-about-writing-a-book is REACHER SAID NOTHING: Lee Child and the Making of "Make Me" and it goes into pinpoint detail that is by turns boring and fascinating. If that is just too long for you to slog through, a compact version of the book is the article on the website, The Conversation, called The man with no plot: how I watched Lee Child write a Jack Reacher novel.

http://theconversation.com/the-man-with-no-plot-how-i-watched-lee-child-write-a-jack-reacher-novel-51220

The story is a bit of a vindication for all of the pantsers out there who insist that they can only do it "their way." On the other hand, to be fair to the plotters among us, Lee Childs, despite what Andy Martin says near the beginning of the article, is definitely not "fundamentally clueless when he starts writing." As Andy later points out, "Of course [Lee Childs] is not totally tabula rasa. Because he, and I, had a fair idea that the name "Jack Reacher" was going to come up somewhere in this, his 20th novel in the series." And, I will add, not just a name but all sorts of characteristics that had been established in the earlier books: personality, habits, physical appearance, etc. Not tabula rasa at all.

Anyway, there you have it, the chance to look over the shoulder of a best-selling author as he creates his next book. Whether you choose the long- or the short version, it's interesting stuff.

Wow, I want to thank you for this article. I finally understand myself - sounds silly, but it's true.

I can't plot because when I plot I've already written the book and boredom won't allow me to fill it out into a real novel.

But the thing that actually, finally, struck me was - I'm not the writer - I'm the reader.

Seriously, thank you.

Offline DonovanJeremiah

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #5 on: December 07, 2017, 04:28:14 AM »
Quote
I realised that there was a simple mistake I had been making all along. I had been mixing him up with his hero Jack Reacher. Whereas I now realised what I should have realised long before that he was also every single bad guy he had ever dreamed up. All those fiendish plots were actually his. The role of Reacher was to stop him plotting and for all I know taking over the world. Reacher keeps the author in check.

I loved this. It's a different take on what I do as a writer (which I believe is to tell a story). I should try it sometime if I can relax my death grip on my outlines. It could be fun!

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #6 on: December 07, 2017, 04:44:49 AM »
Lee Child also adheres to a strict regimen of ungodly quantities of coffee and cannabis, perhaps the true key to success.  8)

Offline Word Fan

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #7 on: December 07, 2017, 06:35:24 AM »
Lee Child also adheres to a strict regimen of ungodly quantities of coffee and cannabis, perhaps the true key to success.  8)

Well, they might be "the true key" to something but the people that I've known in my life who consume "ungodly quantities of cannabis" do not have a high rate of success of any meaningful kind.

Offline katrina46

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #8 on: December 07, 2017, 06:51:06 AM »
Lee Child also adheres to a strict regimen of ungodly quantities of coffee and cannabis, perhaps the true key to success.  8)
Ditto on the coffee, but I prefer red wine to cannabis.

Offline Sam Kates

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #9 on: December 07, 2017, 07:21:26 AM »
Quote
The story is a bit of a vindication for all of the pantsers out there...

Not sure about vindication, but it's definitely reassuring to know there are incredibly successful writers out there who embark on writing a novel with only the vaguest idea of where it's going and sometimes without even a title.
    
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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #10 on: December 07, 2017, 07:23:05 AM »
Well, they might be "the true key" to something but the people that I've known in my life who consume "ungodly quantities of cannabis" do not have a high rate of success of any meaningful kind.

"Ungodly quantities" was modifying coffee, not cannabis, actually, as I didn't see him state how much he smokes, only that he's smoked it without interruption for decades. 

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #11 on: December 07, 2017, 07:25:33 AM »
"Ungodly quantities" was modifying coffee, not cannabis, actually, as I didn't see him state how much he smokes, only that he's smoked it without interruption for decades.


... and has his dealer on speed dial.

That probably says something. :)
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Offline Lynn Is A Pseudonym

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #12 on: December 07, 2017, 08:31:48 AM »
If you don't mind going over a bit of the same ground when you read the book, read the article. It's not long and it's a good place to start.

One of those articles Andy Martin wrote is how I found the book. :)

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #13 on: December 07, 2017, 08:40:38 AM »
I love the idea that he's writing as a reader - that's SUCH a good way of putting it. I'm a pantser, and while I have more idea of where I'm going than Lee Childs does (I know how I want the story to end, though it often morphs a little during the process) I definitely do get bored if I try to plot ahead more than is strictly necessary.

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #14 on: December 07, 2017, 08:47:34 AM »
I have enjoyed Reacher books in the past, but just finished "The Midnight Line" (whatever that is) and found it a hot mess. It's a very rambling plot, conveyed with often clunky prose. One of those "a bunch of stuff happens" stories that lack a genuine throughline. Most of all there's very little peril or compelling need for Reacher to be involved in the events.

I'd think twice about trying to learn anything from Childs' process, which can apparently result in stories that vary from genius to head-scratching.

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Offline Kal241

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #15 on: December 07, 2017, 08:50:28 AM »
I'll be skipping this one. I don't ever want to mimic that book in any way, shape, or form, if I can avoid it.

If this was 61 Hours, I'd be interested in following such a plot breakdown, but sadly this isn't. Sometimes a good writer writes a book that screams "I was hit by a bus, then decided to write this," and this book is Lee Child's. (Stephen King fans will get that ref. For everyone else, it's where your writing takes a sudden, sinisterly dark turn, darker than the dead eyes of a shark, and may or may not be caused by getting hit by something big and heavy, literally or otherwise.) I love his work, but not this one.
« Last Edit: December 07, 2017, 08:55:48 AM by Kal241 »

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Offline Usedtoposthere

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #16 on: December 07, 2017, 09:04:11 AM »
Yeeeppppp. My process is close to his. Fundamentally terrifying, angst-inducing way. Right now Im at the angst point where Im through the first section and trying to figure out what goes next. Super scary.

Especially for funny books, which this is, writing is leaping into the dark every day. Will I be funny today? God only knows.

Thanks for sharing. Great insight. 

Personally, I disliked MAKE ME (much too dark for me) and hated 61 HOURS (Reacher loses. Not OK), and loved THE MIDNIGHT LINE. (More about unraveling the mystery and about the characters than action. Lots of readers just read to hang out with Reacher. That is lots of Childss Brilliance as a suspense writer IMHO). Thats more the trend of the reviews also. And I disagree that we cant learn from him. Ive read most of his books twice and have absorbed a ton from them that has gone into my own suspense.

« Last Edit: December 07, 2017, 09:07:19 AM by Usedtoposthere »

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #17 on: December 07, 2017, 09:11:13 AM »

Personally, I disliked MAKE ME (much too dark for me) and hated 61 HOURS (Reacher loses. Not OK), and loved THE MIDNIGHT LINE.

I don't know about that. The end of 61 Hours has both a loss and a neck-breaking satisfying mini-win, and I give it a pass because Reacher was still clearly in his element. He does everything right, and it doesn't pan out, just like reality. Make Me, on the other hand, is unbelievably dark, needlessly so, and only serves to tell the reader and the audience that Reacher is old and nearing his limits.
« Last Edit: December 07, 2017, 09:15:16 AM by Kal241 »

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #18 on: December 07, 2017, 09:20:32 AM »
It's so funny that the book is called Reacher Said Nothing.

Childs writes "xx said nothing" a lot, and I've adopted that to some extent, much to the chagrin of my critique partners.

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Online Diane Patterson

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #19 on: December 07, 2017, 09:22:09 AM »
That got me to remembering that there is, however, a place where you can do exactly that... follow along, I mean. The author being followed is Lee Childs and his book is Make Me, his twentieth in the Jack Reacher series. Writer Andy Martin says that he "had this crazy idea of writing a book about a novelist working on a story from beginning to end" and Lee Childs was the author who said O.K.

I have read "Reacher Said Nothing" and felt I didn't learn a thing about Child's process. I learned about his fantabulous Manhattan apartments (seriously, I have deep envy) and how he has a pretty awesome life. I learned the author, Andy Martin, is a frustrated fiction author (he has a couple of weird interludes in the book that didn't add much, in my opinion). And I learned that Child smokes a TON.

In terms of writing, he starts writing, and at the end he finishes writing, and we don't learn too much about the book in between.

If you're really interested in Child, I recommend getting the book out of the library.

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Offline Usedtoposthere

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #20 on: December 07, 2017, 09:22:48 AM »
My point was not which book was objectively good or bad, just that different people have different reactions. Reachers Character is I believe a lot of the reason for the books success, and also the way he treats women. Yes he sleeps with the beautiful woman, but women are not in his books as objects to be slept with. They are colleagues and characters with as much agency and as much personhood as the men, and every woman in the books, including the ones he sleeps with, is not a 25 year old babe. As a very longtime thriller reader, I cant tell you how refreshing that is. I know he has a huge female readership.

And for example in the book Im reading now, I knew from the start that he would not be sleeping with the beautiful woman, because she is married. His decency is unwavering which is a huge part of the books success. Anyway, I am off topic. I just find the books a fascinating exercise in how to write the kind of suspense I like to read, so I am happy to learn more about how he does it. 
« Last Edit: December 07, 2017, 09:28:24 AM by Usedtoposthere »

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #21 on: December 07, 2017, 09:24:55 AM »
Make Me is probably my favorite Reacher book out of the last 8 or so. Might even be in my top 5 overall.

And I enjoyed Midnight Line. More subdued than usual and a little bleak, but it kept me turning pages.

If I'm remembering it right, I didn't enjoy the end of 61 hours but I was loving it up to that point.

My point wasnt which book was objectively good or bad, just that different people have different reactions.

Definitely seems to be true. There's really a huge amount of variety in the series. Something for everyone.
« Last Edit: December 07, 2017, 09:30:47 AM by Jacob Stanley »

Offline lethomasjr

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #22 on: December 07, 2017, 10:44:32 AM »
Thank you for sharing that glimpse into another writer's process. Very cool!
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Offline Word Fan

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #23 on: December 07, 2017, 02:58:46 PM »
I have read Reacher Said Nothing and felt I didn't learn a thing about Childs' process.

Then you didn't pay attention, or you were looking for something that wasn't there and missed what was. It just wasn't all laid out in bullet points for you.

Childs starts with a now-well-developed character, then thinks of a situation that may or may not directly involve the character at the beginning of the book. Then he sits and thinks and an idea will come to him and he will put it down. And then he will wait for more ideas to come. And he will look back a bit at what he wrote earlier and re-write it a bit to better fit in with the new ideas and situations and characters that have arisen. He may only write 500 words in a day. And he's o.k. with that because he knows that the book will eventually all come together.

That's his process: he is a pantser (with a starting character) who takes his time and lets the ideas come in their own way and at their own pace. Make Me started September 1st and was finished the following April. Seven months for one book. He doesn't push it (unlike some of the pantsers that I hear about on here); he just lets the book come as it will and he just writes it down as it appears.

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Re: THE WRITING PROCESS: How Successful Semi-Pantser Lee Childs Does It
« Reply #24 on: December 08, 2017, 09:22:12 AM »
I just find the books a fascinating exercise in how to write the kind of suspense I like to read, so I am happy to learn more about how he does it. 

Same here.

Here's the main thing I've gotten: For me, the big payoffs happen when there's an action sequence in which Reacher succeeds against impossible odds. For example, three guys with guns get the drop on him, and he's able to kill them all.

There are usually only a few of those in the book. You know they're coming, and you know he'll succeed, and the suspense builds as you read.

Also, I like a protagonist that is extremely confident. One of my critique partners wrote, "If he's not worried, I [as a reader] am not worried," but I may ignore that advice in the future.

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