How I write: Daniel Silva
Published: July 30, 2004
|The character of Gabriel Allon, protagonist of bestseller Daniel Silva's last four novels, came in a flash. When reminded he was to dine with famous art restorer David Bull, Silva exclaimed, "Oh, that's it!" In creating a character who is both an art restorer and a freelance hit man for Israeli intelligence, Silva found metaphors of healing and investigation as well as destruction. Using Allon in his "accidental" series dealing with "the unfinished business of the Holocaust," Silva has crafted compelling, morally serious novels of international intrigue. Silva, 43, is a former journalist and CNN producer.|
Credits: Eight novels, including A Death in Vienna, The Confessor and The English Assassin.
I think there are larger truths you can dramatize in a story that might be difficult to get at in a nonfiction book. For me, the imagination can often produce much more powerful imagery than the real thing. I like to think that I write serious fiction in the thriller mode; [my] stories just happen to be played out by a man working in the intelligence service. I never thought that thrillers just had to be vapid, disposable books.
I've been on this book-a-year schedule. I work seven days a week when I'm writing. Just missing a day, it takes me so much longer to get back into it. [I work] probably eight hours a day, but it's broken up. The morning session is the critical one. I wake up and I go straight down, have a cup of coffee and start writing. I work until about noon. And I always work again in the late afternoon into the early evening, whether it's doing a spot of research, reworking the copy I've done that morning, or sometimes doing some new writing. But I always like to leave that first sentence of the morning ready to be written.
I do tremendous amounts of rewriting late in a book. Because my schedule is so compressed, I'll do a lot of rewriting in galleys and make them reset it. In early drafts, I'll write scenes that'll disappear in the final version. In The English Assassin and A Death in Vienna, I made a tremendous amount of mistakes. I just throw out hundreds of pages and make wrong turns.
With A Death in Vienna, I had about three-quarters of it written and I knew it was there, but I didn't like the way the story unfolded or was told. And so I took a couple of days off and just re-blocked-out the story. And between June 8 and Aug. 8 , I wrote the whole book.
I just find that I have to write and explore; I can't just fill out index cards and paste them on a wall and write to that. For me, there's a lot of just paring back, so that individual scenes stand out. I really keep my scene count in mind and do not get carried away with too many little short scenes--chop, chop, chop. I want things to stand out.
I think it's important to identify very early in the writing process: What is the spine of this novel? What is it really about? And all the major scenes should attach to this spine like ribs.
|Controlling a complex plot|
Oftentimes, too many big thrillers have way too many points of view. That's a lesson I learned early. What I did over the last three books is try a point of view somewhere between multi and single point of view. (The classic form of the spy novel is really single point of view.) And I've got it to where I'm about 75 percent [through] Gabriel, my hero, and just catching glimpses of what the other guys (villains and other supporting characters) are doing. You can't see what everyone is doing all the time.
You have to finish something. I think there are a lot of people who can write a couple good chapters. When I sold my first novel, I had a full manuscript. It didn't look a lot like what I ended up publishing, but I think it's important to write and finish, regardless of whether it's published. It's such a satisfying feeling.
--Posted July 30, 2004