Had the opportunity to hear Jerry Jenkins, author of the Left Behind series, twice today. The first time was in a seminar about writing, and the second was a general session where he talked some about Left Behind and other matters.
The seminar was interesting. In terms of writing fiction, he likes to play with ideas. He looks for an idea that might serve as a hook, and then he likes to combine that with other ideas.
For example, what if a judge tried a man for a crime that the judge committed? Then combine that with the idea that the judge's daughter was the only one who knew the judge committed the crime, and it was eating her up inside to the point of suicide. Interesting.
Jenkins said that about half of writers develop a detailed outline ahead of time and then write to flesh out their outline. The other half, like himself, have an idea and develop the story as it goes. There are many times when he is surprised at what his characters do and what they say as the story develops.
At the end of the first Left Behind book a major character dies. He was surprised by that. He didn't think that would happen. Interesting.
He reads a lot. A writer, he said, needs to be a reader. His current favorite author is a non-fiction writer by the name of Rick Bragg. He cited in particular All Over but the Shoutin'.
He says in some writers he reads a paragraph twice in order to understand what he's reading. In a few writers, like Bragg, he rereads a paragraph just because it's beautifully written.
I know the feeling. One thing that makes great literature great, in my opinion, is the beauty of the writing. For example, I love Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey series not only for the story, but for how well it's written. And I just recently read the first page of The Baron in the Trees, by Italo Calvino. Wow! Great writing! I can't wait to read the rest of the book.
A couple closing comments by Jenkins. He was asked about J. K. Rowling and about The Shack. Jenkins reads the competition, so he read both. He thinks Rowling is a very good author and writes a good story. Jenkins didn't really want to comment on The Shack, but he did. He said it obviously struck a chord with readers, but he worries about the theology of the book and the lack of theological understanding in the church today.