The World of Word Craft: Jaclyn Moriarty

jaclyn moriartyMoriarty was raised in the north-west suburbs of Sydney. She has four sisters and one brother. Two of her sisters, Liane Moriarty and Nicola, are also novelists. Moriarty studied English and Law at the University of Sydney upon graduating from high school. She then completed a Masters in Law at Yale University and a PhD at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (source). She is also one of my favourite authors and has most recently written the absolutely wonder The Colours of Madeleine trilogy of which the third and concluding volume was released on March 29th.


1. Do you find yourself writing chronologically (in terms of your story) or bits and pieces as they come to you? Any advice in this regard?

Mostly I write chronologically, but sometimes I jump ahead and write a scene that is going to take place later.  Then it feels like I’ve paved some of the path up ahead so I can look forward to reaching it.  Sometimes if a scene feels too big and overwhelming, I will write fragments of the scenes, lines and phrases, and then I will start again, drawing on the fragments as I go.  That feels like I’ve brought in some heavy equipment and done some blasting of a giant boulder that was blocking the path. 

2. When worldbuilding, how do you decide how much detail is enough?

I think you can never get enough detail in your own notes but then, in the actual book, there should just be a sprinkling.

3. At which point in your writing process do you start giving attention to the overall structure of your novel? A lot of your novels are in epistolary style—did the style fit the story or does the story fit the style?

I think about the overall structure very early – usually after I’ve written a few pages and sometimes before I’ve written the first word.  I’m very interested in structure so I try out a lot of different ideas.  

My first book became epistolary because I realized that would work best for the story.  After that, I liked the epistolary style so much I tried to come up with stories that would work in an epistolary structure.  My Colours of Madeleine trilogy has a third person narrator but letters kept finding their way into the text.

4. Do you plot ahead or do you let your characters guide you where they want to go? Do you plan your romantic relationships beforehand or do you see which characters have more chemistry together and go from there?

I do a lot of plotting and planning but if the characters want to take an unexpected path I usually let them.  Sometimes I have to reign them in if their path is going nowhere or taking ridiculous directions.  I never plan romantic relationships: they take me by surprise.

5. Is there a specific way you individuate your characters?

I try to get to know them by spending a lot of time talking to them inside my mind.  Also, I choose a favourite song for each character and listen to the song before I write a scene starring that character.

6. Do you have tricks for increasing or slowing down the narrative pace? Is there a way to make the story flow faster or conversely slower?

If I need to pick up the pace I give myself a short deadline – like, say, five minutes – to finish a long scene.  If I’m rushing myself, the text seems to rush to keep up with me.  If I need to slow things down, I usually go for a walk and then listen to some dreamy music. 

7. Do you hold off on writing until your characters emerge, fully (or almost fully) formed? or do they develop over successive drafts as you discover who they really are and what is going on?

I think a lot about characters before I try writing them, but then I let them become themselves on the page.

8. Most useful writing habit or practice?

Walking over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and back again each day before I start writing.  Sometimes I listen to music while I walk, but often I keep the ear plugs in, switch off the music, and drift into the story.

9. How do you get past the midpoint – when the story suddenly seems to lose direction/you lose interest in the story/you don’t know what other characters need to be introduced?

That doesn’t seem to happen any more, now that I plan the whole book and its structure before I start.  (That’s really why I spend so much time planning these days.)  But I used to reach that point and then introduce a brand new, crazy character or a brand new, crazy mystery.

10. How do you silence the censor/critic in your head?

It’s tricky.  Sometimes there’s nothing I can do except walk away from the writing for a while.  I never google myself or search for reviews any more as negative lines become the back-up singers to the critic in my head.   Getting letters from readers helps a lot.  If a reader tells me that my books mean something to him or her, I feel immediately calmer and like there’s a point to what I’m doing.  The critical voices in my head become completely irrelevant then.  I also try to drown out the voices by focusing on my characters, and the fact that they have a story to tell.  And finally, I find that I become very fond of my own writing after I’ve eaten a reasonable amount of chocolate.   

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