I had a great conversation on Author2Author the other day with the suspense writer Lisa Gardner. Lisa doesn’t outline; in fact she usually doesn’t know “whodunit” until somewhere around the last quarter of the book. She is discovering what is going to happen next at more or less the same clip as the reader. Lisa is hardly the first suspense or mystery writer I’ve talked to for whom this is true – I can think of at least three or four off the top of my head who begin their novels with a dead body and then write to find the killer. Yet I continue to be a little amazed every time a suspense writer describes this method. It’s a bias of sorts, I suppose. I am never surprised when I learn a literary writer, or science fiction writer, or fantasy writer, or romance writer doesn’t outline. I don’t outline. Yet as often as I am surprised by my own stories, as often as I write to discover why I’m writing, I still think, “But surely you mystery writers have to know where you’re going.” Apparently they don’t.

The problem with biases is that they assume people are different in some meaningful way. It’s an easy mistake. Look at all the different types of stories there are. Look at the different covers and protagonists; look at the happy endings and tragic endings; look at the dragons and the pirates the housewives and FBI agents. And look at the writers themselves quarreling about genre and reviews and advances.

But then talk to an author, talk about making something that wasn’t there before, talk beginnings and middles and endings, and we start sounding awfully similar. It doesn’t seem to matter whether an author is discovering why he wants to write about a podcast he just did or how her detective will find the killer – both are equally in love with and compelled by the mystery of the blank page. In this way, every story’s journey begins in exactly the same place. The endings may look different, but every author is left just a little unsatisfied, already itching for a new blank page.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group coaching.


Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence. You can find William at: williamkenower.com

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