WoJ about the process of writing the DF

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Info on the overall series

Crescent Blues 2006 interview:
How far ahead have you plotted the Dresden Files? Have you plotted the entire arc or are you taking it book by book?
I’ve got a good idea where I want the overall story to go. I’ve got an over-story for the entire series. A lot of it is tied into Harry’s origins — his parents and the kind of lives they led early on. I keep dropping small hints and stuff about what’s been going on in the past. Which should become more important as the series goes on.
I’ve got sort of stepping stones — where I want the character to be at any given point in the story arc. So far he’s on track. The thing I don’t have planned out is his romance. His love life is something that is more organic.
2007 ConNotations interview
Now that you’re almost halfway through, how close are you to following the original plan?
Very closely. I still got my old notebook on a shelf in my closet and the specifics have changed quite a bit, but the general outline of the story, what I want to do with the characters, is very close. At this point, there are certain events that I want to have going on with the White Council and everybody else, and I want Harry to be able to find out about this.. All that is still the same. That hasn’t changed at all.
2007 Huntington Beach B&N Q&A  @35:05
You planned out the 20 books and apocalyptic trilogy for the books and how much have you changed now that you have gotten into it?
Not a lot.  I changed around the events of Proven Guilty and Dead Beat because Proven Guilty, the part with Molly was originally going to come first and I told my editor, “This one is going to be a little quieter, a little bit more personal than the one before, it’s going to be focusing a little bit more on just a couple of people and stuff that’s important to Harry.” and my editor says, “well, you know, that might not be a good idea for this one.” And I’m like “What?”  “You might want to have a story that’s a little bit bigger”  “What?”  “You might want to have a story that’s a little bit broader and thicker.  Something that people can really get their teeth into.  Something that’s going to be a little heavier and have more weight.”  I’m like “Wait a minute are you saying I’m going into hard cover?”  She’s like “That’s not what I’m saying… I didn’t say that!”  Cause it was a surprise for me I suppose.  So then I said, “Ok we’ve gotta go with zombies and ghosts and animated T-Rex for that one then.”
2008 Dragon Page interview @5:58
So you are 10 books into the series, are you finding a lot of ideas, or are you having trouble coming up with new ones?
Oh no, that’s not really been an issue, I knew that I wanted to do about 20 books from the beginning, and I had about 20 different ideas outlined.  At this point occasionally I get a better idea for a book and I discard one of the old ones.  I’m able to stick with the best ideas rather than having to come up with something.
2010 Paperback Dolls interview:
Some of the main characters in the series aren’t introduced until the third book, Grave Peril, (i.e. Thomas, Michael, and Lea). Was that always your plan or did you wait to see how the first two books did before fully committing to the long-term vision for the series?
Being a little too dim to understand exactly how unlikely it was that my little project would actually get a chance to get twenty books published, I planned the series to be about twenty books long before I ever started writing Storm Front.
With that many pages in the offing, there was no need to place every single character in the first book. Heck, I still haven’t introduced everyone.
Kansas City release party Q&A
Jim: I originally said that Changes was about the midpoint of the series, and he asked if earlier plots had pushed the middle point later, and if so does that mean we’re getting more over the series before we got into the finale.
The midpoint of the story is not necessarily the geographical midpoint, it’s sort of where things get good. *grin* I was just so confused after Changes came out and there was a little bit of a reaction *audience laughs* and I couldn’t understand it because I was happy: “Come on he’s dead! Now I can do the good stuff,” and I guess we’ll see how that works out. I occasionally forget that not everybody knows the whole story.
Arched Doorway 2013 interview
When I first outlined the series, I outlined 20 books and I said: “Here’s the kind of plots that I want to have … here are the kind of bad guys that are going to be showing up … the kind of big events that are going to be happening…” And I’ve still got the outline at home which is something I wrote as a class project long ago, and now, as we’ve gone on the books have done very well. I see no reason to fix it if it isn’t broken, so I’m still using those outlines. Which is just stuff I came up with a while back, and basically it’s just fun, like: “I want to have Dresden in prison in this story!” or “I want him in an insane asylum with no magic”. You know, and these are things that I’m hoping to have happen as the series goes on.

Other Info on writing the DV

2005 SF Crows Nest interview:
When you’re writing each book, do you start with the mystery/crime and then work out how the supernatural element is involved or start with the magic and then try to work out what the mystery/crime could be? Or do the two develop at more or less the same time?
Oh, it varies from book to book. Some of them come from the supernatural end first. I sit down and think, “Hmmmm, werewolves. How can I do something with werewolves?” Others begin with me imagining a crime scene and then working out how and why someone from the supernatural side of the street got involved. Once I have a starting point, I do some research to come up with good source material for the story, and at times the research itself starts changing things around. Mix in several months of work, a couple of scenes I had pictured ahead of time, as many wisecracks as I can fit in, and you get a book.
Files are told in a very pulp-crime manner – the protagonist, Harry, even has an archetypal trench coat – do you think this is a necessary counterbalance to the supernatural nature of the plot or do you just enjoy writing a character with such an endearing wise guy attitude?
Yes. :)
The whole concept of the Dresden Files, for me, was about taking the archetypical, classic PI and blending him with the archetypical, classical wizard. I think the two archetypes are really much more similar than one would at first suspect. Both tend to operate alone. Both, in general, tend to face forces and powers far beyond their own. Both operate to protect and guide those weaker than themselves. Both draw their true strengths from having and seeking knowledge. Both spend their time confronting some of the darkest aspects of their worlds.
Harry is intended to be as much Sherlock Holmes as Gandalf, as much Columbo as Merlin. That attitude of defiance of greater powers is a hallmark of both archetypes, and for Harry to be what I wanted him to be, he has to be willing to confront those who clearly outclass him – whether they be towering, flame-wrapped demons or cynical agents of the F.B.I. His wiseguy attitude is a part of that.
Plus, it’s really fun to write.
2009 Lexington signing
Are there any characters that started out as minor characters but grew into something different?
Butters was originally a one-scene character, but he’s fun to write.  Same with Vince Garver.  Jim found out they could both be really useful
2009 Bitten by Books Q&A:
#14 Q:  regarding the essays about the Erlkoenig in Dead Beat that Peabody wrote. I noticed that in Turn Coat, Harry tells Peabody that he got the German wrong and that the Warden from Bremen told him about it. I’m just wondering if… I am that Warden.
A:  You are in a broad sense. :) You were one of several people who pointed out the German issues, and it seemed reasonable to me to comment on it within the books themselves. :)
#43 “The question I have is: how do you tell when you’ve put in enough info, or too much.”
A:  For me, I base it on the reaction from the beta readers. I try to nudge it up over the “Ooooooo!” threshold, but stop at a point where it makes them scream, “BUT WE WANTED MORE!”
Come to think of it, I base a whole lot of what I do on how much it tortures the beta readers. >:)
2009 Mister Radio interview @13:16
Have you killed off anyone you know in the books?
There was sort of an ex-girlfriend that sort of died in effigy near the beginning of Fool Moon.  I felt bad for it later, but it’s already in print. (note this is the only time I have heard him be this candid about this common question)
2009 Total Science Fiction online interview:
How much of the plot did you have mapped out when you started this book?
The creative process for me is really mixed up, because I’ve got a basic timeline of a very raw skeleton of events that I want to happen, so in that sense, I’ve had the events of Turn Coat planned out for a while. But when it comes to the specifics of who gets what done, that usually is something I haven’t decided until I’m actually working on the book. So while I knew in this one the overall story and what was going to happen in terms of the White Council politics, I didn’t necessarily know exactly who was going to be affected with what outcome.
2009 Pocket Express Interview:
Who did you base Harry Dresden, the urban wizard who lives in Chicago, on?
The Bruce Willis character in the Die Hard film series. I wanted a very different type of hero.  I wanted my hero to be more like a blue collar type guy like him, not a Superman. He’s the kind of character I wanted to set up and now I get to dream up bad things that can happen to him.
The 25th Hour interview track 10 @~8:30
Before MP3’s and the digital age I used to set aside a CD to listen to for a particular book
What was the CD for the first book?
Queen’s Greatest Hits!  Not the red one, the blue one.
2010 Powell’s books Q&A off of Youtube @5:40
What inspired you to write changes?
Changes was the mind point of the series where I finally got to pull the trigger on all these things I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.  Boom Boom Boom Boom.  I felt like the special effects explosives guy on Tropic Thunder.  I wanted to put Dresden in the ultimate moral bind.  You’ve got all these offers, you could have assembled all this power if you wanted it, now we are going to put you in this situation where you are going to have to help the one person you most want to help in the world.
2011 Marscon Q&A: Video made by redditor FdcT with that WoJ and clips of the relevant shows
How Jim came up with the name “Harry Dresden”
Harry Dresden, the name itself, I had just watched a videotape of one of my favorite movies at the time, which was Cast a Deadly Spell, and the tape would stop, and I would rewind it and try to play past it and it wouldn’t go past, but at this part in that movie where the main character, Fred Ward’s character, H. Philip Lovecraft shows up at the gangster bar, and the gangster’s henchman comes walking up to him and says, ‘(sneering voice) Harry wants to see you.’ And Fred Ward goes, ‘Oh. Harry wants to see me.’ ‘Harry wants to see you now.’ And what I got to hear about six times as I tried to fast forward past the stuck part of the tape was ‘Harry wants to see me. Harry wants to see me. Harry wants to see’ like that.  And then I said, ‘Okay, the heck with that, I’m going to try and find something on normal television, which I hate, because there’s commercials. And, so I’m skipping through channels, it’s like eleven thirty on a Friday night in Kansas City, and I actually find a channel that’s showing reruns of Babylon 5. So it’s like, ‘Okay, acceptable.’  And I’m watching the episode of Amazon 5 (sic), with this ‘Harry wants to see…’ stuck in my head, and then Bruce Boxleitner is on there playing his character with (deep voice) the gravelly Boxleitner voice, and he’s there talking about various military attacks that have happened throughout history, and one of the attacks that he mentions is (deep voice) ‘Dresden’. ‘Harry wants to’ Dresden, it’s just stuck in my head. ‘Harry wants’ Dresden, okay fine, Harry Dresden, character name, get out of my head.  And that’s where the name came from.
2011 Naperville Signing
You have a big supporting cast of antagonists in the Dresden Files, are there any you prefer writing over others?
Probably my top three favorites, as far as far as antagonists go are, Nicodemus who is my Archbadguy, they do not come any worse than Nicodemus in my personal way of thinking in my head.  He’s smart, he’s obsessively powerful.  He’s completely without any empathy or emotion at all.  Which makes him just a really, really dangerous guy.  Or a politician, one of the two.  Second is probably Lara Raith.  Who thinks, in principal it might be really nice to be a good guy, but who has time?  There’s a lot of things for her to do, and principals are one of those things you can stop and admire occasionally, if you’re not busy stabbing someone in the back.  And Marcone is also a favorite.  Being able to write the short story Even Hand from his viewpoint was very enlightening for me.  Because I had never really been entirely certain what his take on Dresden was until I actually got inside his head and started writing him for a while.  He’s the guy that looks at Dresden like, you know, the guy that looks at the drunken Sheriff in town who’s just like “I just want the shootouts to stop.”  It’s like, Come on, yes you keep wining them but COME ON, there’s gotta be a better way that brakes fewer windows.  But at the same time he owns the undertaker shop so… [shrugs and waves his hand in front of them like they are balancing scales].
Patrick Rothfuss interview of Jim
PR: That’s a great way of approaching that. The world-building that you do is one of the more phenomenal parts of the books, where it’s a very graceful introduction to the world. You don’t get the big, heavy, texty, info-dump in the first book that you have to slog through, we’re slowly introduced to a lot of these elements as the series progresses. And you have vampires, but not any sort of cliche vampires. You have werewolves, but it’s not the sort of werewolf were I go, “ugh, I used to play this at White Wolf back in high school.” Was that kind of a specific intention, that you were trying to branch of, or…?
JB: Originally, when I first started outlining the books in the series, I would say, “okay, well, the first book we’re going to have him going up against an evil wizard,” so it’s himself versus the kind of dark version of what he can do, and that’ll be a good introduction, and the next one I said, “I want to do one about werewolves,” and we’re going to be doing ghosts for book three, and so on, and I started building  this stuff up as I went along, and when I actually started going in, and digging in, and doing research, and I didn’t just want to do research by watching movies, although I do that a lot, (I tried to stop doing that after college), but when I would actually start digging into old folklore,  and so on, I found that things were very very different from my basic grew-up-watching-movies-TV-Scooby-Doo-playing-D&D concepts of what monsters were. The whole bitten by werewolf turns you into a werewolf, that’s so Hollywood, the actual werewolf lore, it gets back into… well, there are many different sorts of werewolves that you can kind of run into depending on where you go in world, and then what I realized after I’d done all this werewolf research, and had this big, confusing, pool of werewolf candidates, I went “okay, you know what? This is not going to be a ‘who’s the werewolf?’ book, it’s going to be a ‘which werewolf is guilty?’ book, so now we’re going to have a bunch of different werewolves available, so as I go out and find stuff out, a lot of the times that’s the fun of it, is where I go and learn things and go, “oh, okay, this is not quite the book I thought it was going to be, we’re going to switch things around.”
P.R.  Now, in terms of your plotting…
JB: Okay, basically, when I think of a book, what I’m actually writing is, like, Harry Dresden’s worst weekend of the year that year. That’s pretty much what I’ve got in mind. And then, to do that, I’ve got to figure out what are going to be awful things I’m going to have happen to him, what are going to be the cool things that I’m going to get to do within the story, and then after I put that all together, then I spend a lot of time between the books thinking, “okay, what’s going to be the fallout from what’s happened?” That’s one of the things I’ve always taken to heart very seriously, is that actions have consequences, and choices have consequences, and you’ve got to live with them. So for Dresden, that’s one of the fun things to do is to stop and think about,  “okay, now, this is what’s been going on for the past six months, or eight months, or nine months, in the the Dresden universe. How is everybody who’s actually in this book, how do they experience that?” Everyone has a slightly different experience based on who they are and what they bring to their point of view within the story. You know, Murphy experiences the world very differently from Dresden, very differently from Dresden’s brother Thomas, and so on. It’s mostly just a matter of sitting down and thinking it out, and figuring out, “how do they experience this? What kind of spin can I put on it that’s going to make it a fun part of the story?”  Murphy mostly gets crap at work as fallout from her stuff
2011 Atlanta Signing
When you were first doing this in the class, how did you decide it was going to be Harry? That is was going to be the character you were going to be with for the whole series?
Well, remember the only reason I wrote my first book was to prove to my writing teacher how wrong she was about writing stuff.  That said, the way I put it together is I scrapped all my favorite wizards and private eyes and made a Frankenstein out of their parts, and that’s where it came from.  I said, okay I’m going to Gandalf’s temper, Merlin’s meddling, Sherlock’s chassis and three-quarters of his brain.  I’ll take Travis McGee’s testicles just for the pure fortitude, and Spencer’s mouth, although I never really out-Spencer’ed Parker, or at least I haven’t so far. And that’s how I put him together.  It was a very artificial process.
Mysterious Galaxy Signing Q and A
One of the aspects of your books that I like most of all is your foreshadowing.  Is there a small aspect of foreshadowing that everybody’s kind of missed or glossed over?
I seem to like foreshadowing?  I don’t know what you’re talking about. Is there a small piece of foreshadowing that people seem to have missed or not clued into?  Yeah, there’s lots of it, and I’m not gonna tell you what it is, because then, if I want to use it later, it will be like, “Oh, cool!” but if I tell you now, it will be lame.
That’s what I love, too.  One of my favorite series that I watched when I was learning how to write was Babylon 5.  Whether you liked it or hated it, Babylon 5 was very good at taking small story elements from early in the series and sort of slowly building on them until you could realize things that were coming down the line.  By the time you’d seen something the second or third time, you went, “Oh, my gosh, that is what this means” and then when it would develop a little later in the season, you were like, “I’m so brilliant for having figured that out!”  It’s like, no, but that writer was brilliant for making you feel that way. And that was such an awesome thing to do, it was so rewarding for the long term watchers that I always wanted to do something like that with the Dresden Files as well, so, yeah, I think when you get into Cold Days, you’ll see the part where I get to draw some stuff out of Storm Front that is relevant to the current story, and people who’ve read it are all like, “That was…chilling” and I’m like, “Well, thank you!  I planned that a long time ago and I finally got to make it work!”
2014 AMA
Were there any scenes in your series that were particularly hard to write. Any that were really fun to write?
The first tough scene to write was the loup-garou’s attack on the police station, which I did all in one night. That was the first time I’d stage-managed that kind of carnage on the page.
Of course, since then, it’s become a great deal more gleeful for me to do that kind of thing. :) I should probably talk to someone about that at some point…
2015 Salt Lake Comic Con interview
Has there been a part of The Dresden Files that you didn’t plan out, but you just let play out on paper?
Well the fun part is when we got up to Changes Harry Dresden basically came to a big crossroads in his life and he got himself into a position where he was gonna have to make a deal with somebody if he was going to save his daughter’s life. So he was gonna have to get faustian with someone and the question was- he had about three different options that he could take and which one was he going to take and I wasn’t sure until I wrote the book which way he was going to go. So the Dresden Files could have looked like a very different series had he decided to take up one of the Fallen coins, one of the 30 silver coins with fallen angels in them. It would have turned out very differently if he’d taken up the old necromancer’s- the book of Kemmler, and caused an ecological disaster to gather enough power to save his daughter. And there would have been very different views on that, the series would have come out in very different colours, very different palette depending on which way he went. But he went with- made a deal with Mab, the queen of air and darkness and off they went to save the universe Mab style.
Editors note:  In the 2015 AMA Jim said that if Harry had become a Denarian, Molly probably would have too.
Evil Writers Interview 2016
Which character of yours speaks to you the loudest? This can be either the most insistent character or the one that just wants things their own way all the time. Answer can be the same for both!
Hard to say. They’re all pretty noisy in my head. Charity Carpenter is someone who is absolutely inflexible, so it’s sometimes been a challenge to fit her into the story in the way that I wanted. Murphy is terribly obstinate, of course. Bob is always smarting off about everything and I have to reel in his snark much of the time, lest he upstage everyone else in the scene with him.
Which of your books do you recommend for a JB virgin?
Dead Beat, in the Dresden Files. I wrote it to be a second entry point to the series (Editor’s note: he’s said this because he knew it would be the first hardcover), and I was starting to hit my stride as a writer at that point. Plus that book had a couple of my favorite moments in the series so far. :)

Quote from: Word of Priscellie

Welcome to the Jungle was actually inspired by a throw-away line from the TV show: Murphy alluding to “that mess at the zoo.”


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