T. Jefferson Parker on Outlining - Jo-Ann Carson

T. Jefferson Parker on Outlining

Off on the Right Foot:

When to Outline and When to Write

T. Jefferson Parker

(Thrillerfest Lecture, July 10, 2013)

  • Written 20 books
  • Writes one a year and focuses on it – like a 365 day road trip with a destination and journey

Things to See

  • He starts by writing himself a long letter (talks about things that interest him – he puts them all down and then prioritizes. It’s like planning a dream vacation at no cost)
  • Collects interesting “stuff” all the time  (i.e., articles clipped from newspapers or printed from the computer etc.) in plastic bins
  • This initial stage is the time to “fill up the van” with ideas (be inclusive) and trust your instincts

People to Go With

  • you need strong willed characters
  • They will all be talking in your head for the next year – keep that in mind


  • This is the heavy lifting
  • Need a destination
  • A 24 word story
  • He’s been able to get it down to 10 (e.g., “A lawman wants to save a baby from the devil.”)


  • writing is 90% improvisation – that’s the music and beauty of being a writer
  • His process (3 months outlining, 6 months 1st draft, 3 months clean up)
  • Gets a “sinking feeling” when it’s 99% right
  • Be fast to get to the next plot point
  • When you run out of points – that’s when things really get interesting
  • The care and feeding of your voice comes from what you read

If any of this doesn’t make sense, it’s my fault. Parker delivered an exceptionally clear and fascinating talk.

Next Wednesday: Michael Connolly on the Series Character