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Mario Vargas Llosa gets started on his stories by drawing up an outline of the plot.

An Outline Insight curated by WriteMapper

For Novelists Interview Resource
When I start working on the novel itself, I draw up a general outline of the plot—which I never hold to, changing it completely as I go along, but which allows me to get started.

MARIO VARGAS LLOSA is one of Latin America's most notable playwrights, novelists and essayists, and is known as one of the leading writers of his generation. Having become well known for his novels in the 1960s, he ran for Peruvian presidency in 1990, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature later on in 2010.

In this wide-ranging interview from 1990, he shares with the audience experiences from many facets of his life. From questions on his routine to personal relationships, he also delves into his thoughts on his writing habits, style and work.

His career has spanned over 50 years, during which he has published numerous notable works. Of his novels, some of Llosa's most notable ones include The Time of the Hero, The Green House and Conversation in the Cathedral.

The Main Takeaway

In this interview, Llosa's answers reveal that his approach to writing is markedly more emotional than rational, taking the task on with more of an adventurous spirit than a methodical one.

His novel writing process can be split into two phases. First, he allows his story to flow and write based on however he feels the moment requires. This can take a long time — one book of his took two years — before he feels it's ready to be edited, which is the second phase.

The editing phase is self-described by Llosa as "chaotic", involving much rewriting, cutting and correcting which helps the accumulated mass of ideas, characters and scenes set their shape.

Obstacles and Difficulties

For Llosa, the hardest part of the writing process is the stage where he has a whole bunch of written raw material, and is transitioning into the next step of massaging that material into an actual story, which he "knows that is there, buried in what I call my magma".

He also goes on to state that he believes in putting in the raw, hard work that is the answer in being able to diffuse the chaos of a story's draft, and thus threading the needle to help reveal the essence of the story.

Using an Outline

Drawing up an outline is used by Llosa as a way to help him get started on the story. Instead of a strict plot line that he sticks to as the novel develops, he allows his whims to dictate the direction of the story, sometimes even letting it pull in opposite directions that he resolves later on.

After the free-writing phase of his writing concludes, he then goes through the arduous process of editing. Aiming for perfection but stopping short of overdoing it, he knows his work as finished when he feels further editing will cause regressions in the quality of the end product.

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