“I knew what I wanted to achieve. I wanted to give readers the kind of excitement thatI had felt when I read James Bond Thrillers. I wanted to give readers that kind of excitement which was so vivid to me.” Ken Follett
For years now, Ken Follett has done just that, penning one best seller after another, sharing his excitement and enthusiasms, and selling more than 150 million books worldwide. He’s penned stories about everyone from a Russian spy to a medieval cathedral builder — stories that readers love and eagerly await.
But all this success and reader love didn’t come easily. Our boy Ken started out as a journalist. Frustrated with his job, he began writing on the side. He penned 10 — that’s right 10 — novels that tanked. But instead of putting down his pen, Ken came up with a plan. His next book, Eye of the Needle, was a World War II thriller that hit the best seller list and he was off and running.
In a Writer Magazine interview, Ken described his break-through approach for this story:
He knew what he wanted to achieve and that this was the “best story” he’d after had — the tale of a German spy, The Needle, who tries to get back home from England with vital information that could change the course of the war.
He planned the book carefully and wrote a detailed outline of his story — a strategy that he’s used consistently. His outlines can be more than 50 pages and take a year to work out.
He researched the World War II era thoroughly and “put a lot of detail into the story. It gave the book the feel for the grain of everyday life.” This richness of detail was very new for him.
He slowed his story down. Adding details slowed down the way his writing down, “but that was what my work needed,” he recalled. “My early books were too brisk and things happened too quickly. With the Eye of the Needle, I got the pace right for the first time. The reader doesn’t want you to be too brisk, especially in a tense, dramatic situation.”
I love the way Ken learned as he went and kept pushing to improve. For Ken, this proved to be a winning strategy. While not every element of his approach may work for us, having a consistent writing process can make a difference. For more on his approach, check out his “Master Class” advice on his author’s Web site, https://ken-follett.com/. Write on!