What techniques did you use to write the book?

December 19, 2015

There have been truckloads of books written about the proper way to structure your novel. Some novelists are seat-of-your-pants writers. Ideas just flow and they throw it all on the pages and sort it out like some huge jigsaw puzzle. I have two other novels I'm readying for market and that's exactly what I did with those. The ideas came and I just started writing. On one of them, I hit a wall and set it aside for six months before going back to it.

 

With The God Players, it was different. The reason it was different was because there was so much technical data that I had to get right. Not just medically, but legally. I grew up with lawyers so I had picked up a lot of the jargon, but you can never go on what you think you know. You have to know. That's why I did lots of research on the legal process in a civil case, how it plays out in a federal court, who the players are, what kinds of motions they file, and things like that. I then ran the legal parts by real lawyers and asked for their advice.

 

I also had to make the extremely complex medical end of it easy to read. That took months and months of research and planning and note-taking. I read countless articles, made copies of them, then jotted notes in the margins. I asked various doctors questions, read medical journals, and immersed myself in the issue of gene therapy. I, by no means, come close to being an expert on the subject. Like an actor studying for his lines, I used the information where I needed it in the book, then promptly forgot most of it. I'm sure doctors will find certain aspects of the book an oversimplification of the issue, but we writers have to put the cookies on the low shelf or we lose the reader. I have a doctor friend who cringed at Casino Royale when Bond's heart stopped in his car as he was trying to defibrillate. He said it was ridiculously unrealistic. I was just enthralled by the whole defibrillator-slides-out-of-the-dash-in-the-Aston-Martin thing. If it makes you doctors feel any better, as a radio guy, it used to drive me crazy when the DJs on WKRP in Cincinnati didn't use headphones. You probably never gave it a second thought.

 

The trick in The God Players was getting the big picture right and worrying about as much of the small stuff as I could without bogging down the story. You Harvard geneticists may be able to nitpick the minutiae but you'll miss the main point, which is the conflict in changing someone's sexual attraction.

 

But back to the question at hand. Ultimately, my technique for writing this book was arranging scenes on notecards. I found that the easiest way to do it. I tried the outline method, but it was too much of a hassle to change, and the notecards gave me something to physically hold in my hands and arrange on a table, stare at for several minutes, then move around and place in the proper order. It made the process three-dimensional, and that helped me arrange my thoughts and plot out the storyline. That's not to say that I'm ready to write a book on the definitive way to write a novel. I'm just saying what worked for me on this particular project. Your results may vary.

Phil Valentine is an award-winning talk show host, screenwriter, and documentary producer. His radio show is syndicated with Westwood One.

 

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