02 September 2022

Novel Writing

Just watched the movie LAST CALL (Showtime Networks, 2002), a story of the last few weeks in the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. It featured the always brilliant Jeremy Irons as F. Scott and a surprisingly excellent performance by Neve Campbell as Francis Kroll, the young secretary he hired, to assist him as he struggled to write. It is based on the memoir of Francis Kroll.

A scene in the movie struck me. Fitzgerald dictates THE LAST TYCOON to Kroll who takes it down in shorthand. When Fitzgerald finishes a scene, Kroll eagerly asks, “Then what?” Fitzgerald answers, “I haven’t a clue.”

It struck me because I’ve been writing my novels like that. I haven't a clue what comes next but it comes to me.

When I wrote my first novels, I always had the plot laid out in detail. I don’t do that anymore. I start with a character in a scene and follow the character though the scene and keep following from scene to scene.

My latest novel HARDSCRABBLE PRIVATE EYE starts with a double-crossed private eye left handcuffed in a cavern in the Amazon by a femme fatale. After more double-crosses, the femme fatale rescues him, leaves him again and I follow him to New Orleans where he works a series of cases before the femme fatale returns.

The PI is hardscrabbled, the story hardscrabbled and I wrote it hardscrabbled and it came out a lot better than anticipated.

We all know there are many ways to write a story. I find creating real characters, putting them in motion and following along is an arduous way to write and so rewarding when it all comes together.

A writer I respect, Roger Bull (formerly of New Orleans and now of Fairhope, Alabama) likes the many twists and turns, making the reader feel as though he was a hamster on a wheel, so many spins and twists until the satisfying conclusion.

Twists? Because I didn’t know where I was going. I just followed and wrote what happened.

That's all folks.


  1. Sounds good to me. Keep doing what you're doing!

  2. Sounds good to me, too. In fact it sounds like the way I wish I could do it. I have to have the plot firmly in mind before I start writing. If I were doing it your way, the poor guy might still be sitting there handcuffed in the cavern.

    Keep up the good work, O'Neil! (And I need to check out LAST CALL.)

  3. That's pretty close to the way I do it. It's like I need to move along with the characters in real (story) time.


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