How Famous Writers — From J.K. Rowling to William Faulkner — Visually Outlined Their Novels


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Every great novel—or at least every fin­ished novel—needs a plan. I remem­ber well a James Joyce course I took in col­lege, taught by a bel­liger­ent Irish­man who began the first class meet­ing by slam­ming his decades-old copy of Ulysses on the table, send­ing clouds of dust and Post-It notes around his ears and shout­ing, “This is my Bible!” He pro­ceed­ed over the next few months to unrav­el the dark mys­ter­ies of Joyce’s design, with chart after chart of flo­ral sym­bol­o­gy, musi­cal motifs, Dante allu­sions, myth­ic and Catholic rewrit­ings, and Dublin city maps. Need­less to say I was intim­i­dat­ed.


But not every author requires the god-like fore­sight of Joyce. Wit­ness, for instance, J.K. Rowling’s spread­sheet for Har­ry Pot­ter and the Order of the Phoenix (top), hand-drawn on lined note­book paper. Fine, Rowling’s no Joyce, but no one can say her method didn’t yield impres­sive results. For a more canon­i­cal­ly lit­er­ary exam­ple, see William Faulkner’s plan for A Fable (above). Faulkn­er famous­ly out­lined his fic­tion on the walls of his Rowan Oaks study, in-between bot­tles of bour­bon.

Fla­vor­wire has com­piled a num­ber of author out­lines, from Joseph Heller’s dense, intri­cate grid design for Catch-22 to Jen­nifer Egan’s sto­ry­boards for “Black Box” and Nor­man Mail­er’s medieval man­u­script of a plan for Har­lot’s Ghost. Each out­line betrays a lit­tle of the author’s mind at work.

via Fla­vor­wire

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Six Post­cards From Famous Writ­ers: Hem­ing­way, Kaf­ka, Ker­ouac & More

Writ­ers’ Hous­es Gives You a Vir­tu­al Tour of Famous Authors’ Homes

Pho­tos of Famous Writ­ers (and Rock­ers) with their Dogs

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

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Comments (6)
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  • Bob Mrotek says:

    These are fan­tas­tic exam­ples of what I con­sid­er to be “mind maps”.

  • Margaret Rose STRINGER says:

    STRUTH!!! — no won­der I’m nev­er going to be able to write fic­tion!
    Rowl­ing’s cross­plot is as impres­sive a writ­ing aid as I’ve seen …

  • Clyde L Harris says:

    I have read most writ­ers do use a form of note tak­ing when writ­ing. I am one of the few who visu­al­izes a con­cept from mem­o­ry. This includes towns, cit­i­zens, road­ways where the main char­ac­ters live, friends and co work­ers.

  • Vashti Quiroz-Vega says:

    I draw pic­tures of my char­ac­ters, I draw maps and write lots of notes.

  • Eden Mabee says:

    Most every­thing we cre­ate gives a bit of insight into our minds, not just our plan­ning pieces.… our final pieces too. And not just writ­ing, but arts, crafts… even the dread­ed busi­ness let­ter.

    We’re human, we touch every­thing.

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