I blogged this a few years ago on my now defunct blog (one outstanding thing I’ve got is to try and reclaim that stuff and publish it here at the correct point in time), but this is a truly inspirational interview between two of my favourite authors and biggest inspirations, James Ellroy (LA Quartet and American Underground trilogy) being interviewed by David Peace (Red Riding Quartet):
This following section has been the biggest inspiration to me as a writer:
DP You alternate narratives from chapter to chapter. When you are writing the book, do you go from chapter to chapter; chapter one, two, three? Or do you follow one narrator all the way through and then go back?
JE No, I have a 400-page outline of the book: chapter one, two, three; viewpoint, viewpoint, viewpoint; Holly, Crutchfield, Tedrow. Holly, Crutchfield, Tedrow.
DP So even the outline is broken down into the separate chapters?
JE I start out where I have the research notes. I have pages of notes on character. Historical events. Soon things start coming together. And then I do a shorthand version of the entire story and then I flesh it out into a big outline. And the outline is just, Chapter one: Pete Bondurant / Beverley Hills Hotel / Watching Howard Hughes shoot dope / Following leads / Following information / Boom, boom, boom.
If you’ve never read Ellroy – and you should, start with the LA Quartet – you’ll see that his work is so densely written. The section above is from the start of the COLD SIX THOUSAND, the first in the American Underworld trilogy. That iterative approach that he mentions is how I work now – start with the big stuff, which you treat as islands, and then put bridges between the islands, then start looking at the maps of those islands and bridges, and then you start driving across the bridges and walking around the islands. I’ve made huge mistakes with plotting in the past but that one paragraph, seeing how the master does it, has seriously helped me.