Thursday, September 29, 2011

Another Friendly Conversation: Chantele Sedgwick

So, I had a whopping TWO entries for my contest. I guess that's better than nothing. So I've decided that both Angela and Tanya can pick one of the books I offered. They'll also both get the full 5K word critique. Thank you both!

Now, today I'm proud to host my friend Chantele Sedgwick. Hers was one of the first blogs I started following and it's well worth checking out. So, on to our little chat.

How did you get started as a writer?

I've always had stories in my head, ever since I was little. After I had my second baby, I finally started writing them down. I loved it so much that I'll never give it up! :)

I was the same way. I've been writing ever since I was little, but I got started on my first real project during my freshman year of college.

What was your first complete story?

My first complete book was The Last Heir. I actually talked about it on my blog this week. It's a classic fantasy with a princess and a crazy villain, a prince, castles and lots of sword fighting. :)

Ooh, that actually sounds really fun! Any chance of seeing it?

What made you decide to write it?

I had The Last Heir in my head for a very long time. I finally decided to write it down. I actually finished it and didn't know what to do with it. My hubby told me to try to get it published and that started my journey toward publication. Though that book was put away a long time ago, I would LOVE to go back and visit that world someday.

Ah, my last question answered! I hope you do revisit it someday...and the sooner the better.

Do you free-write or outline?

Pantser all the way! Woot!

You have to tell me how you do it. I don't like outlining, but I can never get anywhere pantsing.

If you free-write, how do you keep things organized?

I rarely outline. I do tend to write certain ideas down, and sometimes I'll write characters names and descriptions if there are a lot in my story, but I always sit down and just write whatever comes to me. I never write scenes that are in the middle or end of the book when I'm working on the beginning. I go in order. I'd freak out if I had a ton of scenes written with no clue where to put them. I should probably learn to outline a little, but I'm almost finished with my 5th book now, so my method works for me. ;)

Now that's admirable work!

What do you do to counteract writers block?

Honestly, I don't get it very often. But there are times when I'm not quite sure how to write a scene, or something just isn't working. I usually distract myself from it by writing or editing something else. Then I'll mull it over for a few days and usually I have it figured out by then. When in doubt, write something new. 

You continue to astound me! This is generally how I write, but for me it's slow, slow going and I'm constantly distracted by new ideas.

How do you keep your characters original? (i.e. what do you do to make sure your characters don't turn out the same in every story?)

Every character speaks to me differently, since they are all in different stories. Some are loud and obnoxious, some are quiet. Some know exactly what they want, some have no idea. I make sure to give them their own quirks and talents. Likes and dislikes. And I have to remember even if my characters are very different, my voice stays the same. And that's a good thing. If someone likes my voice, then hopefully they'll like whatever I write. Does that make sense? lol

Of course! The author's voice can make or break a book. I can't stand Terry Brooks or Earnest Hemmingway for that very reason.
What exercises do you use to develop your characters?

Uh ... none? I just write whatever character is in my head at the moment. If I am having a hard time with a character's personality, I'll write a bunch of questions down and answer them as if I were the character. But most of the time, I don't have any problem's getting into my characters heads.

Lucky! I have to know at least the basic back story for each of my characters, just so I know how they would talk or behave. I generally start out with an idea, but I have to delve into the character to understand why, and that helps me keep the character consistent.

How do you build a believable world within your stories?

Honestly, I have no idea. I just write whatever comes to me. I don't do a ton of world building when I'm drafting. I like to get the story out and then go back and do all the details. It takes me a while to get everything believeable and perfect during revisions and editing. I have to make people want to care about my characters and make the world they live in "real". It's hard for me to get my worlds just right. Probably the hardest thing about my writing, since I can see the world in my mind, but I have to make sure my readers see it too.

Again, I envy you. I tend to be a bit of a slave to world-building. It's a sickness really: I have to know everything about the world, or else it drives me to distraction while I'm trying to write.
What do you do to make your whole story interesting? How do you avoid "slow stretches"?

I always, always end my chapters with something that makes the reader want to turn the page and read more. There has to be some kind of conflict in each chapter. Whether it's a tense scene between the MC and her love interest, or a fight scene. An argument or a mystery that must be solved. I always have something going on. I don't like just writing whatever and then wondering what the heck it had to do with the story. I think it through. From conversations, to actions. And if it doesn't move the story forward at all, I cut it.

I totally agree! For me at least, it's easier said than done. This is why I am forced to make an outline.

How does your own life inform your writing?

My own life is a big part of my writing. I put a little part of myself into every character I write. Whether it's a trait or something stupid that happened to me when I was a teenager. ;) Some are subtle, some are more obvious. Also, the world is so depressing that I am a huge believer in happy endings in books. I have to have at least a little bit of hope. And my books always end on a happy note. I do like issue books, don't get me wrong, I just like hope. Love. Brighter things in life that make the world less gloomy. I want people to feel good after reading one of my books. You know?

I totally know what you mean. That's actually why I'm not a big fan of contemporary fiction—I get enough of real life everyday, especially on the news.

Have you ever attended a writing convention or conference?


If so, which one(s)?

LDStorymakers in Salt Lake City this year. I loved it.

I wanted to go to that, but I found about it too late.

What did you learn from it?

I learned so much about the craft that I can't begin to even explain it all here. What I loved most about the conference though, is that I'm not alone in this crazy dream of mine to get published. There are so many amazing writers. It's nice to know we're all in this together. Everyone was SO nice. Can't wait for next year!

I'm excited to go to my first one!

Who is your favorite author?

Ugh... I hate this question. There are SO many I love. I'll go with one of the obvious ones, since I'm a HUGE fantasy fan. J.K. Rowling. Her characters were all complex and amazing. I'll love those books forever.

Hahaha! I know it's a terrible question, but I have to ask.

Favorite book?

Another question I hate! lol The Harry Potter series, Twilight, (yes, I know) The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, etc. So many!

See above.
Favorite genre to read?

YA fantasy. Hands down.

I love YA fantasy too, but I am also a huge fan of YA Sci-fi.
Favorite genre to write?

Ya fantasy. Obviously. ;)

It is fun.

When you're not writing, what do you do in your spare time?

Take care of my three little kids and my cute hubby! :) I also sing a lot. And read!

Sing and reading? You should meet my wife ;)

What are three interesting facts about you?

I've played the harp for 21 years; eyes freak me out; I'd rather give birth than go to the dentist; I hate lawn gnomes. They're creepy little eyes are always watching... :)

Isn't child birth more painful than the dentist? Granted, definitely more worthwhile...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Another Friendly Conversation: Shallee McArthur

Hi everyone!

Before I introduce you to Shallee, I want to remind everyone that the deadline for my contest is this Sunday night. Don't forget! I only have one entry so far, so if no one else enters, Angela wins by default.

Anyway, on to our interview. Shallee is actually an old friend of mine. We met during our freshman year at BYU and ended up taking a creative writing class together (which she apparently took to heart better than I did, but more about that later). So, here it goes:

How did you get started as a writer?

The first stories I really remember writing were carbon copies of the ones from the Story Club in Anne of Green Gables. I wrote my first original story at about age eight: The Secret of the Crystal. It involved aliens, mountain caves, and of course, a secret crystal. I was sure it would make me rich and famous.

Who knows! It might someday evolve into something that WILL make you rich and famous.

Do you free-write or outline?

I started as a complete pantser, but have gradually gotten to the point where I outline fairly extensively before I can start writing. But once I dive into the story, it doesn’t always follow those outlines. My character arcs end up changing, my plot might take a few detours, and I might add new things to my world. I love the direction I get from plotting, but I love the creative explosions that come with pantsing.

Where did the term "pantser" come from? Does it have anything to do with the old "seat of your pants" saying?

What do you do to counteract writer’s block?

Depends. Sometimes I take a break to play with my son or read a book. Sometimes I plow on through, knowing I might have to toss some of the words I’m writing. Usually if something is wrong but I don’t know what, if I keep writing for a few more pages, I discover what the problem is.

You must have a lot more writerly endurance than I do. When I get writer's block, I have to set the computer aside and just mull things over for a while. Sometimes, that "while" can be two or three months, so I work on something else in the mean time.

How do you keep your characters original? (i.e. what do you do to make sure your characters don’t turn out the same in every story?)

Usually my stories are so different that the characters HAVE to be different in order for the new story to work. I like to use the Color Code and Meyers-Briggs personality tests to help me figure out characters at their most basic, and I think that helps me keep my characters different.

I really liked your post about this, by the way. Very useful!

How do you build a believable world within your stories?

With reasons. J To me, if I want something to be believable, there has to be a reason behind it. I also try to make it natural to the character. I have a character relate to certain things that the reader would relate to (for example, having fun at a dance club), and then toss in an “accepting” attitude toward another aspect of it (the dance club has low gravity). The reader can accept it easier because the character, who they relate to already, is accepting it.

Sneaky! Instead of explaining or illustrating, you just pass it off as every-day humdrum!

What do you do to make your whole story interesting? How do you avoid “slow stretches”?

Plotting. I know, it makes a lot of people cringe. But it really helps keep the pacing up. Scene/sequel outlining is a fabulous tool—each scene either has a goal/conflict/disaster setup or a reaction/dilemma/decision setup. They flow in a cycle and it keeps the story moving without (hopefully) slow stretches.

Another great post. This is one of those things you took to heart in Newell's class and I forgot.

How does your own life inform your writing?

I use quirks from people I know, bits and pieces of places I’ve been, lessons I’ve learned, and all kinds of things from my life in my writing. I think that’s why one idea can generate so many different stories, because people’s lives always inform their writing.

This is a great way to make characters more real. I love it!

Have you ever attended a writing convention or conference?

I’ve been to BYU’s Life, the Universe, and Everything conference and twice to LDStorymakers. A-MA-ZING. I made great friends and learned more than I could put in this question. If you have a chance to go to a conference, do it.

I'm hoping to attend LTUE next year.

Who is your favorite author?

I have lots. I really love Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells. And Jane Austen, of course. J

No wonder we got along so well from the start! I love your taste in authors (yes, I do, in fact, like Jane Austen).

Favorite book?

The Giver by Lois Lowry will always be my favorite. It’s the first book that made me realize books are more than just words on a page—they can change you.

My wife and I still argue about whether or not Jonas (did I recall his name correctly?) dies at the end or not.

Favorite genre to read?

I’ll give anything a try if it piques my interest.

You're more literately tolerant than I am then. I get enough of real life everyday, so I generally don't want to read the more "literary" fiction. I need something that strays out of the realms of real life.

Favorite genre to write?

Science fiction! I love all the possibilities.

Here here!

When you’re not writing, what do you do in your spare time?

I love playing the piano and guitar, hiking, and reading.

I love hiking, especially at this time of year!

What are three interesting facts about you?

I once hitchhiked in Africa—not my smartest moment. I have double-jointed ankles, so I can flip my feet completely backwards. In college, I got hit by a car while on rollerblades and got to ride in an ambulance (not a comfy experience).

The ankle thing sent a shiver of horror down my spine. No joke!

So, that's my friend Shallee. She's also an amazing novelist. Check out her blog here. Also, if you have a friend you'd like me to interview, I'm open to suggestions.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Contest Clarifications

Hi everyone,

Just some clarifications about my contest:
  1. Violence is not completely banned. I actually enjoy a good fight/battle scene! What I don't want is gruesome a gory detail.
  2. Anyone who would like to participate needs to follow my blog, just because it makes things about eight million times easier for me, logistically.
Okay, I'm done! Get your pieces polished and sent in! And have a good weekend!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Another Friendly Conversation: Tanya Reimer

Hi everyone! I hope you're all busily writing or editing your entries for my contest. (I'm really excited to see what you all come up with!) Today, however, I want to introduce you to my friend Tanya Reimer. She's possibly the funnest person I've met since I started blogging...seriously! we go!

Thank you so much Reece for inviting me over, I’m thrilled to be a part of your awesome blog. You always have great tips for writers, and now I get to be a part of that magic!

How did you get started as a writer?

 I feel like I was born a storyteller, but it will take me my entire life to perfect my abilities as a writer, so in a wayI’m just getting started.

What was your first complete published story? 
I was snooping the archives at the community center where I work when I came across what was probably some of the first articles the local paper ever published of mine. Yeah, my first stories are in the local archives! Somebody recognized them as having historical value to the local Francophone community and added them to the archives, which I found pretty touching. Anyway, I’d forgotten all about them until they were staring me in the face. I would have been fifteen (1991), and the columns were called… drum roll… a Fly on The Wall/Horizon Fran├žais

You had your own column in the local paper when you were 15? *Hangs head in embarrassed shame* And I thought I was a serious writer at that age (...okay, as serious as any male adolescent can be. Sheesh!). What about your first fiction? Or novel?

How do you keep things organized? 
I use Microsoft Office OneNote to keep myself organized. Everything goes in my OneNote from research to character charts. It has it all! 

Plus, I use a Workbook I created from knowledge I stole from agents, writing tools, and the best storytellers I could find. And! When I meet new talent like you *blush*, it’s very easy to update. It takes me through the entire writing process in logical steps starting with building the story, revising it, editing the novel, and then preparing it for sale. Every MS has its own interactive Workbook the moment it is born, and when the MS has made its way through the entire Workbook, I know it is ready. It's just up to me to put it out there. Which takes courage! Please pass me some... Yikes!  

I've actually been thinking about putting together a notebook/workbook like that! Warped Great minds, and all that ;)
If you outline, do you plot the entire story first, or bits at a time as you write?
I would never outline a story on a first draft that would kill the rush of it. I write with passion and for thrill. But! I do have a beginning, a climax, and an end in mind, always! I see my story, I feel it, I can taste the dang thing before I begin. It’s just burning my keyboard, itching my fingertips... write.

I outline my story on my second draft, and decide then if it will survive or hit the trash. One story, which hit the trash ten years ago, recently got new life, so you never know. Sometimes they just need time to grow. Passion is a lifelong commitment after all. 

As Diane Setterfield's eccentric character Vida Winter put it, everything in life—every experience, every story—is compost: you let it sit, mingle with other things, and eventually it becomes the fertilizer for something new and better.

What do you do to counteract writer’s block? 

I cheat.

For me it’s not so much that I can’t find the words, but that I can’t steal the time. So when I tell you that I write full time every single day, that I do not ever ever miss a day (this is the Writer’s truth too I never do!)-- not even when attacked by a dog, down with a sinus infection, and enduring flu-like symptoms (yeah on the same day), know that I... might......... be cheating a bit and my writing time might actually have involved letting a steamy fantasy sweep me away (which I later reviewed on my blog).   

Oh??? The secret is what to count as writing. You should count everything that furthers your writing career. Think about it.... all that reading you do, critiquing, blogging, agent hunting, editing, rewriting, reviewing, the workshops, the research, the public speaking, the radio, newspaper, or Internet interviews, oh yeah, and the actual writing. It all counts. I bet you write cheat as much as I do! Why not count it?

So when faced with a block; put down your pen and do some other form of writing that you’re great at, and kick butt! You’re a writer, cheat write dang it.

Of course, don’t make cheating a habit. Only do it when you must. But it is nice to know that you can shove aside your keyboard and still do something “writerly”, no?

This is a dangerous tactic for me. On more than one occasion I've caught myself (or someone pointed out) writing a scene or a piece of dialogue that I thought was wonderful...only to discover it was almost exactly like something I'd read elsewhere. I don't do it on purpose, of course, and then I have to go back and either get rid of it or rework it. It's rather frustrating.

How do you keep your characters original? (i.e. what do you do to make sure your characters don’t turn out the same in every story?) 

I dream about them. I fall in love with them. I really really hate them. And then... I rewrite them over and over again.

I do have a very good tip that I’ll share from my Workbook: highlight one character’s dialogue through the entire MS. Read it out loud in one sitting, tape it. Listen to it. Is their voice consistent? Now go over it, adding in spunk, traits, originality, quirks... Just make this voice jump off the page! Does this character ever lie? Scream? Cry? Oh??? Maybe they should. Spending time with this one character’s dialogue will really give you some insight into this character.

Need another tip? Have a character that you can’t get in touch with? Write the scene from their point of view. No one needs to see it but you. Now go back and rewrite the scene with your new eyes. Now that is magic.

Ooh! I like your highlighting tip! I'm going to try it!

How do you build a believable world within your stories?

A few steps from my Workbook:
  1. Research. See Life's like that: Research Part 1- Use All the Tools for details.
  2. Bring these elements to life for the characters by using ALL their senses.
  3. Check for accuracy. There is nothing more embarrassing than opening a fridge in 1917 Saskatchewan, or calling that cool machine you built a Hemcraft on page 4 and a Humcraft on page 123. Oops.
  4. Give it to Reece, one of my crit partners. He tells me if I pulled it off. I trust him with my entire world. No pressure, buddy, really, none at all. Hee hee.
I may (or may not) have edited out some flagrant flattery here, just for decorum's sake. ;)

What do you do to make your whole story interesting? How do you avoid “slow stretches”? 

To me, my entire story is interesting! Why else would I write it, right? So it’s not so much a question of how to make it interesting, it’s to find a reader that sees the problem and is kind of enough to tell me my heroes shouldn’t be standing around. (thanks guys!)
But I’ll share the words of wisdom my daughter gave me while she beta read for me, The scenes where things happen are far better than the ones where things don’t.” Enough said eh? ----MAKE THINGS HAPPEN. PERIOD. (Even an eleven-year-old knows this. sigh.)

Children have a talent for stating the obvious in ways you don't expect...and making you feel like an idiot.

How does your own life inform your writing? 

I’ve been suffering from headaches for a while, so I bet ya, in my last nine books, one character always has a headache related problem. Even in my mid-grade! Weird eh? Does this ever happen to you? I considered fixing them, but ya know what? It gives them interesting conflicts to resolve, so I left it. I’ll be known as the headache writer. Lol.

Well, seasoning for your stories aside, I hope your headaches go away. Headaches suck! 

Favorite genre to write? 

I can’t seem to pull myself from urban fantasies these days. To me, this genre is perfect. I can add all the elements I love in any combination; from history to sex and I can do it while creating new monsters and worlds, while using magic and raising the dead. Now that is cool. 

It is cool...though truth be told, I'm glad I don't live in your stories (or rather the one I'm currently reading): I don't think I'd last a whole day!
When you’re not writing, what do you do in your spare time? 

Mostly, I just laugh and smooch with my hubby, but I do make time to play video games and read with my kids. My couch-potato St Bernard likes to take me cat chasing too that’s always an adventure.  

Somehow, I figured you were probably someone who laughs a lot. It comes across in your writing (i.e. our correspondence, not your fiction). I like to laugh, but usually my laughing mood coincides with my I'm-being-a-dork-and-making-dumb-jokes mood.

What are three interesting facts about you?
1-    I have little time for TV, but my son makes me watch The Big Bang Theory once a week because he says it’s our kind of funny, and I have to agree, it always gets us giggling. Those boys.
I have to admit, I love that show! It probably says a lot about me that I find their nerd/science jokes so funny.

2-    I write non-fiction reports in French at work, yet write fiction in English in the evenings at home.  
3-    I can’t draw, sing, or bake, but I love comic books, Nickelback, and chocolate chip cookies.
I'm a Collective Soul fan myself (much the same way Einstein was pretty smart, Mozart liked music, or Lance Armstrong rides fast, if you get my drift), but I do like other stuff too.

Wow Reece, it was nice chatting with you today! Thanks again for having me over for a visit, and I sure can’t wait to peek into your life! So stop by my place sometime, bring your stories, and a few friends.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My First Contest!

A couple of weeks ago, my blog jumped, as if by magic, from forty-eight followers to sixty! (and since to sixty-four) I suspect the sudden increase was due to a combination of the interviews I've started posting and the commencement of the platform-building campaign many of us are participating in. But the reason isn't important. What is important is that I've decided to celebrate!

So, I've decided to hold a contest. I hope all of you participate, because it will furnish me with lots of new reading material :). Anyway, here's how to enter: email me your entry (following the guidelines below) to me by no later than September 25, then post a link to this page on your blog, facebook or twitter page, etc.

Submission guidelines:
  1. 500 words minimum, no more than 3,000
  2. Double-spaced
  3. 12pt Times, Garamond, or Georgia font
  4. No profanity
  5. No graphic sex or violence
  6. Bonus points for complete action/reaction format. For more information, visit Shallee McArthur's blog.
  7. Short stories or chapters from your WIP (or finished books) are welcome.
  8. Please no poetry, music, or artwork
  9. Only one submission per participant.
All submissions will be evaluated on plot development, character development, and clarity and style. I'm not going to be worrying too much about grammar and spelling unless it's so bad it distracts me from or throws me out of the story.

Now, I want to be clear that all genres are welcome! I'm going to get my wife to help me judge, and her taste in books is drastically different from mine (so she can help me be more objective).

Please send all submissions to reece(dot)hanzon(at)gmail(dot)com and include the words "contest submission" in the subject line.

I will award prizes to the top three submissions. The first place winner gets a free book and a complimentary critique of up to 5,000 words. The books available are: Sabriel, by Garth Nix; I Am Not A Serial Killer, by Dan Wells; Trading in Danger, by Elizabeth Moon; and Skulduggery Pleasant, by Derek Landy. (Sorry no cool pictures.)

The second place winner gets a critique of up to 3,000 words, and the third place winner gets a critique of up to 1,000 words. Ask my crit partner, Tanya Reimer, for an evaluation of my critiquing skills, if you like.

That's it! Go get your submissions ready and send them in as soon as possible! And spread the word!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Campaigner Challenge #1: Flash Fiction

I made myself a commitment that I was going to participate in the Campaign. So, though belated, here's my contribution to the first challenge. The task was to write a flash fiction scene in 200 words or fewer, beginning with the phrase "The door swung open". Mine is exactly two hundred words ;)

The door swung open. My breath caught in my chest. There, stacked in orderly rows, was enough ammunition and ordnance to arm a mobile platoon, or even a full company.
“Looks like we hit the mark this time,” I said over my shoulder. Greer stepped to my shoulder and peered in at the cache of weapons.

“Or pretty close to it,” he said. “We’re going to have to remove all of this before anyone else stumbles onto it.”

“I agree. Why don’t you call dispatch and get an ordnance removal squad out here. I’ll call the boss and let her know what we’ve found. She’ll be interested to know how much these thugs have managed to smuggle all this into the city—not to mention how they got into a dump like this without being noticed.”

I turned to go. The two guards at the door didn’t move out of the way. I’d barely noticed their grim expressions before I felt something hard and cool pressed into the small of my back.

“They didn’t,” Greer said quietly. “They were just noticed by the right people. Now, hand over your sidearm, and you’ll get through this alive."

The door swung closed.
Disclaimer: I wrote this on the fly, with no planning or editing, so you'll have to forgive me if it's a little rough or cliche.

Anyway, check back tomorrow for the launch of my first ever contest!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Another Friendly Conversation

Hi everyone! As promised, I'm about to post my second interview and introduce you to a prolific and fascinating writer. But first, a shout out to all my Campaign friends: my post for the first challenge will be up in the next couple of days (I'm trying to overcome the double-edged sword of perfectionism). Also, I noticed that, since I posted David Powers King's interview last week, I've not only passed the 50-follower mark, but rocketed all the way to 60! Woohoo! So, to celebrate, I'm going to run my first critique give-away. Look for it on Tuesday!

Now, without further ado, it is my great pleasure to introduce Brooke JohnsonI met Brooke within a few weeks of starting my blogging endeavor. I don't remember exactly how we met, but I do remember that we had an excellent conversation about steampunk and indie publishing. For the record: I think Brooke has the right idea about steampunk: it should couched in a world of Victorian-era steam technology, not Victorian-era urban fantasy. Anyway, here it goes.

How did you get started as a writer?

Oh gosh, it was a conglomeration of things, but I made the final decision when I was twelve. I knew that I loved to tell stories, and I committed to that. I took whatever creative writing classes I could while in high school. My dad even paid for me to take the course with the Institute for Children’s Literature. At this time, I was working on a novel, an epic fantasy. Sadly, I never finished. When I got to college, my Intro to Creative Writing professor told me that it was garbage. He said I would never make it as a writer writing sword-and-sorcery. Undaunted, I continued writing, short stories mostly, and my last semester of college, I began writing another novel. 

I want to punch your professor in the face right now. How can any self-respecting teacher say that to a student?!?!?!

What was your first complete story?

The first complete novel I ever finished was a fantasy inspired by ancient India. I loved that story (I still do), but after months and months of revision and rewriting, the process exhausted me. I put it away, but I intend to return to it someday.

I came to a similar conclusion about my first novel. Unfortunately, the more I learn about writing, the more I realize how much work it actually needs.

What made you decide to write it?

In part, it was to show that I could do it, that I could write a fantasy novel and succeed as a writer. I wanted to prove myself to everyone that had doubted me over the course of my infantile writing years. But more than that, it was the story that I wanted to read. I have always had a fascination with the eastern cultures, from Persia to Japan, and especially India. I wanted to write a story that took place there, something magical and adventurous, something I could be proud of. So I wrote it.

I remember your post about snobby readers. I'd want to stick it to them too!

Do you free-write or outline?

I used to free-write, just letting the story take me where it wanted to go, no real regard for characterization, pacing, or structure. I loved writing that way, but after the fact, when I needed to go back and revise, I realized that I had created more work for myself than if I had outlined in the first place. I had always been averse to outlining, and I realize now that was only because I was lazy. I’m still lazy, but it’s proactive. By outlining, I have less work on the back end of writing.

Proactive laziness! I love it! Though, it does sound like a bit of an oxymoron.

Do you plot the entire story first, or bits at a time as you write?

I don’t know how other authors outline, but I’m both an extensive and lenient plotter. I start with character worksheets, developing backstory, personality, relationships, and goals for the major characters. From that alone, several scenes begin to take shape. I then start writing little snippets of those scenes, usually no more than a sentence or two, and in no particular order. That usually gives me a dozen scenes. After that, I really start to explore the story. I build a brainstorming document, asking questions about the story and answering as the ideas come to me. This produces more scenes, which I write down. I do this until I have about forty to fifty scenes, depending on how long I intend the story to be. I organize them into several different arrangements, finally picking the one that seems to be the right one. And then I start writing. If I start to realize that my original plot isn’t working, I tweak it until it’s right.

I like your process! It's like mine, but about a thousand times more efficient.

What do you do to counteract writer’s block?

Deny it exists. When that doesn’t work, I examine why I’m blocked. Maybe the scene I just wrote isn’t working, or maybe the scene I’m about to write isn’t quite right. Maybe my scene order is wrong. Maybe I haven’t plugged enough emotion into that bit of dialogue. Usually, I get writer’s block when something’s wrong with the story. Once I figure out what the problem is and fix it, I can continue writing as if nothing happened.

That seems to be a fairly common cause of writer's block: something you've already written doesn't work.

How do you keep your characters original? (i.e. what do you do to make sure your characters don’t turn out the same in every story?)

That’s a tough one. I haven’t written enough novel-length stories to know if I tend to make my characters similar or not. I think in some sense, the characters that I write will have similarities. They’ll have similar morals or similar dreams. I have noticed that most of my characters want to achieve more than what life has handed them; they aren’t content with the life that they have. But, I’m sure that could be said about a lot of people.

This is a problem I encountered ALL THE TIME when I was younger. Eventually I learned, gained some experience, and grew out of it. Now I know that creating new and different characters takes a lot of work, but it's worth it.

What exercises to you use to develop your characters?

Like I said before, I use character worksheets, figuring out their past, present, and their vision of the future. I don’t rely on physical appearance, and in most of my stories, it’s likely that the main character will have very little descriptors. The most important thing about a character is what they want, why they want it, and what stands in their way. You can learn a lot about a character based on their dreams and how they react to obstacles. A lot of that is plot-building, but plot and character are inseparable in my opinion. You can’t have one without the other. 

Ah! The elements of conflict! Shallee McArthur wrote a really good post on this topic a few weeks ago. It was great!

How do you build a believable world within your stories?

I imagine that the world is real, whether it’s steampunk or fantasy or science fiction. In a sense, those places are real, if only in my head. The important thing is to get that reality across to the reader. We all rely heavily on sight, but I think that places really come alive when you fill them with sounds, smells, touchable objects, even tastes. The world should be more than a backdrop for the characters to traverse. It should be as alive as they are. It should have that sense of permanence. Characters are temporary. They come and go, but the world (as long as no Dark Lord destroys it) is eternal.

Cheers! Couldn't have put it better myself!

What do you do to make your whole story interesting? How do you avoid “slow stretches”?

I’ve always had a talent with pacing. Every chapter, every scene, every page, paragraph, sentence, or snippet of dialogue MUST advance the story forward in some way. The story must always be in motion; the status quo must always be changing. As soon as the story or the characters become static, the story slows. And that doesn’t mean you have to have death-defying action on every page, where the hero is always in mortal peril. The change, the advancement of the story can be subtle: new information about another character, an internal realization for the main character, an emotional change, a physical change, a decision, etc. But there must always be change.

I agree. I wrote a post about every chapter having a complete plot (like a mini story), and Shallee wrote a post about writing in action-reaction sequence. Check them out.

How does your own life inform your writing?

I’m a people watcher. I observe how people converse, how they interact with one another: strangers, friends, family, coworkers. I absorb everything, and I put that into my writing. I believe that no matter how fictional the setting, the people should be as real as possible. I’m also a very emotional person (understatement). I draw from my own emotion when writing emotion into my characters, remembering past episodes of anger, sadness, happiness, love, and anxiety.

I think this is why it's so hard to write believable alien cultures in science fiction. To be convincing, they have to be so different from us; however, that difference also isolates them from the reader. It's a catch-22 kind of situation, I think.

Who is your favorite author?

Easy question! Diana Wynne Jones. She is a goddess.

Wow, I'll have to check her out!

Favorite book?

Howl’s Moving Castle by said favorite author. It’s a perfect mixture of adventure, romance, and magic.

Well why didn't you say so in the first place! I absolutely LOVED the movie and have been wanting to read the book for a while now. I just didn't know who the author was.

Favorite genre to read?

I read an awful lot of fantasy, but I also love steampunk and other historical fiction.

I like steampunk ala Steamboy. I'm not such a fan of the urban-fantasy kind of "steampunk"

Favorite genre to write?

Fantasy, easily. While I do love writing steampunk too, there’s something about magic that’s just so darn magical.

Here here!

When you’re not writing, what do you do in your spare time?

I get together with friends every week and run a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, tossing pirates, goblins, and cultists in the party’s path. I play video games (though not as often as I used to). Right now, I’m playing through the Kingdom Hearts series for the umpteenth time. I also like to bake, which is making me fat. 

My wife loves to bake, but she knows if she keeps baked goods in the house, she'll eat them. Her solution? She bakes, we eat a little, and give the rest to friends and neighbors.

What are three interesting facts about you?

I am deathly afraid of dinosaurs. Laugh if you like. I still have nightmares about them.
I hate summer weather. Give me snow any day.
I can (somewhat) speak Japanese.

I'm guessing you're not a fan of Jurassic Park? Also, kudos on the Japanese; it's a really tough language.

And there you have it, friends! That's Brooke Johnson. Incidentally, she's just finished a steampunk novel called Chroniker City which I want to read more than anything right now (I've been dying for some real steampunk for about eight months now). So, send her messages, emails, snail mail, smoke signals, or whatever else you can think of, and tell her you want to read it too!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Few Questions for a Friend

Hi everyone!

I've decided to give interviewing a shot. I've met a lot of great people through my blog and many of them have helped me hone my writing and story-telling skills. It's only fair that I spread the word; maybe they'll help someone else too! I'm thinking of posting an interview/introduction every Thursday (at least for the foreseeable future).  So, without further ado...

One of my favorite bloggers is David Powers King. Apart from being one of the nicest people I've met in the blogosphere, he runs one of the most helpful blogs on writing that I've found (visit him here). So, I decided to pick his brain about writing, and this is what he told me:

"Thanks for having me, Reece (if you guys don't already know, Reece is the man!)."

How did you get started as a writer?

I had this idea about aliens, so I took out some paper and a pen during lunch in the early days of my sophomore year and wrote a scene based on it. Ideas kept coming and I kept writing ever since.

I kind of want to know what your idea was...

What was your first complete story?

A short story about a couple kids digging a hole in their backyard, so deep they discover an underground society.

I admire anyone who can write short stories. I've tried and it's hard. Kudos!

What made you decide to write it?

I thought finding a bunch of mole-people would be awesome (and actually tried digging said hole).

My brothers and I dug a giant whole in our grandparents' back yard when we were little...I don't remember why, but we didn't find any mole-people either.

Do you free-write or outline?

Both. Before I start any story, I have to know how it ends. I HAVE to, no matter the outcome. Kind of like the final destination on a road trip. You make a few preplanned stops along the way as well. The time in between? Well, that's where the free-writing comes in. I also draft a character bible to establish their psychological make-up and write copious notes to make sense of the world that I'm about to enter.

I'm glad you've found something that works for you. I'm still in the trial-and-error phase of developing a writing methodology.

What do you do to counteract writer’s block?

I stop and think, think, think. Blocks kick in when the story is not working for me. Maybe I missed a turn and have to retrace my steps to find the right path again. If it's a lack of motivation, I do the dangling carrot method of persuasion with Jelly Bellies. Pretty effective, since that's the only time I'm allowed to eat them.

Very nice! I find I get writer's block in similar situations: either there's a problem with the character(s)—I'm working through this in my current WIP right now—or there's a problem with the plot and I'm trying to make it do things it's not supposed to do.

How do you keep your characters original? (i.e. what do you do to make sure your characters
don’t turn out the same in every story?)

A character bible. I create mini stories about my characters, taking place years before the story actually starts. What happened to them? How did they react? What kind of person have they become because of it? Why is Spider-Man Spider-Man? He used his powers inappropriately and his uncle died as a result. The neat thing about psychology (like snowflakes) is no two people are alike, including their minds. Give each character a different history, likes, dislikes, friends/enemies/crushes, and they will speak for themselves.

You know, I often find myself imagining short little one- or two-scene stories about my characters, but I never thought to use them as background material. I always just figured I was getting too into the character. Thanks for the tip!

What exercises to you use to develop your characters?

I prop a character sheet in front of me and have a conversation with it. I'll ask about their past, what they like, etc. Sounds crazy, but then, isn't a face-to-face talk the best way to learn about a person?

What sort of character sheet do you use?

How do you build a believable world within your stories?

A tangible setting is a good start. Something I can touch, grounded, where the problems of society (if any) are made clear from the beginning. Geography, geology, weather patterns, and botany should be taken into account, too (or astronomy, for us Sci-fi enthusiasts). Get me to believe a setting and its characters and I'll have no problem believing the magic/science. Most of the time, anyway.

I agree. Probably sixty percent of developing a good magic system or a good piece of amazing technology is couching it in a world where it already fits.

What do you do to make your whole story interesting? How do you avoid “slow stretches”?

Keep that tangibility consistent and make the story about the characters rather than the prose. I give just enough detail to paint a scene that you can see in your mind and get back to the characters. I like reading conversation. Well-timed humor and conflict (and crushes) does it for me. That's what I enjoy writing.

This is getting scary; you're giving almost the exact answers I would! I love dialogue! I think you get more out of a good bit of dialogue than any other form of least as far as fiction is concerned ;)

How does your own life inform your writing?

Life experiences. They find a way into my stories all the time. Often exaggerated (who wants to wrestle with a wild bear, right). Everything I do and look at finds its way into my writing, one way or another.

Have you ever attended a writing convention or conference?

Yep! Just local events like LTUE, LDStorymakers, CONduit, MountainCON, and The Book Academy, as well as a workshop with Orson Scott Card. I really need to check out the bigger gigs like FantasyCON, WorldCON, and so forth.

I wanted to attend a few of these this year, but by the time I found out about them, they were over. Epic. FAIL!!! If you go to any of these next year, maybe we'll actually meet each other.

Who is your favorite author?

Such a hard question, but I pick Orson Scott Card.

Oh, he is a good one! I really need to read more of him though.

Favorite book?

Also a hard question, so I'll go with Ender's Game.

Excellent book, though I thought Ender's Shadow was better.

Favorite genre to read? Favorite genre to write?

Science Fiction and Fantasy x 2.

Me too. I can't make up my mind, so I trade off between the two.

When you’re not writing, what do you do in your spare time?

Be a father. Work. Watch or read something. Or think about what I'm going to write.

What do you do for a living?

What are three interesting facts about you?

I almost had my leg amputated as a toddler, I've had an encounter with a wild bear (a cub--mama bear was close, so I played dead), and I administer psychological assessments (IQ and stuff).

Okay, you and I seriously need to get together. My wife and I are always arguing about my sanity and you could help us settle the dispute once and for all! ;)

So, a big thank you to Dave for being brave enough to be my first interviewee! I hope you all check out his blog because he does a really good job with it.

Is there a writer/blogger that you've learned a lot from? Tell us who!