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My 24-Point Writing Process

May 19, 2015

by David Chill

Many years ago, my older brother was killed in a car accident when he was just 24 years old. Obviously, that left an indelible mark on my life. It also had a profound effect on my writing.

I did not intentionally set out to write about my brother in my first novel, Post Pattern. It wasn’t until I was finished with the first draft did I fully comprehend the personal implications of the story. In many ways, the exploration of sibling relationships in my novels is an opportunity for me to better come to grips with my brother’s accident. And as Joan Didion described it in The Year of Magical Thinking, a goal of understanding a loved one’s death is sometimes our way of trying to bring them back to life.

The topics I choose to explore in my writing are deeply personal. I have written four additional novels since Post Pattern, and a number of them so focus on sibling relationships. Fortunately, I have been able to move past this subject to tackle other issues I care about. While one can’t ignore the old adage to write about what you know, there are limits to that approach. We only know so much. I write about those subjects with which I feel a certain level of passion. It’s important to recognize that when writing a book, the author will be living with the story in a very intimate way for many months — or possibly years. Having strong feelings about the subject matter will provide the path to move through those dark days when the inevitable self-doubt and writer’s block emerge and can feel overwhelming..

There are some writers who tell their stories by simply creating characters and following them around. I am not one of those writers. Prior to beginning any novel, I create a 24 point outline before I start doing any actual writing. This 24 point plan details the 24 most important events that happen during the story. When I was first trying to understand plot structure, I discovered that many stories, often dating back to Shakespeare, could be summarized using this 24 point outline. And within this outline are a number of key juncture points, usually coming at points 6, 12 and 18. These are the critical events, which should take the reader by surprise, and propel the story forward.

I am an author who needs a certain amount of structure. My 24 point outline is done on a Word document and normally runs about 5 or 6 pages before I start writing the first chapter. Over the course of the novel writing, this may balloon to 30 pages or more, as I add depth and texture to the story — and fill the inevitable holes that occur as the plot advances.

For better or worse, I am afflicted with a certain amount of Attention Deficit Disorder. Obviously, this means I am easily distracted and have trouble concentrating. So I follow the guideline Oscar Wilde once employed, which is to say that the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. I realize I may need to spend six hours procrastinating, just so I can get in one or two solid hours of writing. But those one or two hours produce some extremely good work. And whether it takes combing through the internet for bits of trivia or simply daydreaming before I can ease into the actual writing, I know this is simply part of my process. Forcing myself to sit and stare at the screen does not yield good work.

My writing process is such that it takes me five months to write a novel. I spend the first month thinking deeply about the topic and the characters, and the second month developing the 24 point outline. This is my favorite part of the process because it allows me to dream and explore, and build scenes in my mind. Once that is in place, the writing itself becomes relatively easy, and it only takes about two months to write the first draft, which is typically 50,000 words. The last month is spent re-writing, working with beta readers, and then using a few editors to help me proofread and polish the final draft. I often go through as many as ten drafts, because I want the story to be as good as possible; the final draft often extends to 60,000 words or more. And yet, no matter how many times I review and edit the final draft, there will always be a couple of minor typos that slip through. I know this because a few of my readers take delight in emailing me when they catch something.

I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has helped me become a successful writer, and this includes family, friends, promotional partners and Amazon. But I most indebted to my readers who have sent countless emails, letting me know how much they appreciate my writing, and asking when I will be publishing my next book. As much as my brother inadvertently started off as my inspiration for writing, it is my readers who motivate me to keep moving forward. Without them there would be no reason to sit down in front of keyboard each morning.

About the author:
David Chill writes classic hard-boiled mysteries with a contemporary edge. Post Pattern was a finalist in the St. Martin’s Press contest for new private eye mystery writers, and is David Chill’s first work of fiction. The novel has been highly praised for the intriguing plot, memorable characters and crackling dialogue. In addition to Post Pattern, the other novels in the Burnside Mystery series includes: Fade Route, Bubble Screen, Safety Valve and Corner Blitz. All have received critical acclaim and are available in both e-book and paperback through Amazon.com.

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2 Comments
  1. Paul permalink

    David, this is such a wonderful window into your writing. I so remember your brother Jeffrey and the impact he had on all of the family while he was alive. He was such a bright and caring individual. All of us cousins looked up to him (both literally and figuratively….he was very tall). I know what a loss it was to the whole family….Everyone is so proud of the books you have written. Please keep up the great work!! Love ya, Paul

    • Thank you so much Paul. Interestingly, I recently heard from Jeffrey’s best friend in HS, he looked me up and we re-connected. He reminded me of Jeffrey’s desire to live life on his own terms. It’s hard to believe he’s been gone for almost 40 years now. Hope all is well by you… David

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