Jillian Medoff: How I Write

"I start with a block of words that I carve and carve and carve until I find the simplest and most powerful way to move the narrative along." 
By Allison Futterman | Published: August 8, 2018


Are you passionate about books, authors and writing? Sign up for our weekly newsletter, full of tips, reviews, and more.

Jillian Medoff

Author Jillian Medoff. Photo by Nina Subin

With her novel This Could Hurt, Jillian Medoff provides a brilliant insider’s look into corporate life. But it’s not just Medoff’s experience as a successful management consultant that serves to make this story so engaging – it’s the confluence of well-developed characters, witty and believable dialogue, and engrossing interwoven storylines. She also makes creative use of several well-placed organizational charts and footnotes that successfully drive the story. Medoff astutely captures the struggles, sorrow, joy, loyalty, and betrayal that are part of the professional and private lives of a group of colleagues working in a human resources department. You can’t help but become invested in her characters as you follow all their experiences with interest.

Time management

I was working a day job and writing fiction at night right out of college, so even from a young age, having two careers never seemed unusual to me. Now I  work four days a week, so I write all day Friday and most of Saturday. I try not to deviate, but I won’t kid you; it’s hard to find time. Still, it’s a priority. In fact, most of my corporate career decisions are informed by my need to have time and space to write.

Character development

I try to make the writing process interesting so I’ll be surprised. I’ll take a conflict from my own life, tweak it into fiction, and eventually it will evolve in a way I never anticipated. My novels are character-driven, so for them to succeed, I have to understand my characters on a granular level – who they are, what they think, even their politics.

Writing dialogue

For me, characters come alive through dialogue. Once they start talking, I get to know them through the rhythm of their speech, their word choices, what they don’t say. Silence is a very powerful tool. I like to cut to the chase of a conversation. I start with a block of words that I carve and carve and carve until I find the simplest and most powerful way to move the narrative along.

Varying points of view

My goal was to create a sundial effect that would mimic the sweep of a day. My plan was to introduce character one, then character two, then three, four, and five in the first half; the second half would go in reverse: character five, four, three, two, one. In the end, I didn’t have a perfect circle but it’s close. I show each character’s life in and out of the office to give them depth and dimension, and to allow the reader to understand them in a way that their coworkers might not. This is how businesses function in real life; people make decisions based on inaccurate assumptions. Finally, the kaleidoscope-effect of different points of view helps to broaden and deepen the story itself; each character has a unique arc that dovetails with the larger story. So all the threads are braided together into one complete narrative.

Using unconventional storytelling devices

The use of organizational charts came from the idea of a family tree, to give a sense of how everyone was connected. It’s shorthand to move the story along, and with a lot of characters, it can be used as a reference. The character of Lucy always has more to say – she’ll deflect or qualify things, so footnotes made sense as a way to have her add detail.

Allison Futterman is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina.