Thursday, October 13, 2011

Another Friendly Conversation: Michelle Merrill

Today I have Michelle Merrill here. Her blog is called Perfecting the Craft and it's really good (one of the highlights of my Google Reader queue). And I'm just as excited about this interview as the rest of you because I really don't know that much about Michelle. So, let's jump right in!

How did you get started as a writer?

I got into reading first. Then I suddenly had some character's talking to me in my head. Literally, I had a hard time listening to real conversations when theirs were taking over my brain. So I finally wrote their story, which was an accidental time travel turned into revenge for future events. Even in its full awesomeness, it's stuck in a deep folder in the depths of the hard drive on my computer. It may never see the light of day, but some of the characters and events might :)

I think most writers' first books end up tucked neatly away. It's all part of the process of becoming a good writer. My first was a Sci-fi space opera about a guy and a girl who are both on the run from the same crime lord.

Do you free-write or outline?

I mostly free write, but after reading Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, well...let's just say things are more organized before I sit down to write a story. I usually get a general chapter by chapter outline and a realistic conflict. Then as the character's develop more, I have an 'extra's' folder for that and any additional info that comes for a certain chapter goes under that chapter in my outline. So, I plot a little but more comes as the story is told. I love when my character's surprise me.

I know! It's so exciting to see what happens when things don't go they way you planned.

What do you do to counteract writer’s block?

Write. Really, it usually helps. That and some sugar. And reading. For some reason, when I read, more ideas come. And no, I don't mean stealing from the author I'm reading, but it just gets my brain juices flowing.

Some of my best ideas (in my opinion) come while reading something else. And usually they are sparked by a small event or detail, or and idea inspired by such, that I just kind of run with and build into something completely different than what I read.

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 give them each a limp and an eyepatch. Confused? Read Save the Cat  by Blake Snyder. You won't regret it. A lot of times in first drafts, my character will sound the same as in the first draft of another book I've written. But they all have different stories and those different stories shape the deeper character and help define them by the choices they make and the way they react to others. If you want some great exercises and advice on characters, read Save the Cat and Story Engineering!

I had to start sitting down and basically outlining each character's backstory. That way I know, at least a little, what the character's world view and attitude are at the beginning of the story. Then I have to figure out how to make him or her evolve into the person I know he or she will be by the end of the story. It's kind of fun!

How do you build a believable world within your stories?

It's hard to do without an info dump. But it's about knowing the world yourself and adding details as they are presented in the story. Explaining enough to make it real but not too much to be an info dump. It's a fine line that I'm still playing with right now! Keep it believable. Have your crit partners read it! They'll tell ya if you've gone too far :)

Couldn't have said it better myself! It's all in the small details.

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

My crit partners are awesome in this area! It's hard for me to see this all the time, but they are good at pointing it out. Basically if something's not happening to further your story along, then it's not needed. Every sentence, every word, every scene needs to have a purpose. Oh, and Story Engineering has an awesome outline to get the right plot points and pinch points to make sure everything runs smoothly!

You cite that book a lot, and every time you do I become a bit more curiously about it. I'm definitely going to have to check it out.

How does your own life inform your writing?

Experience. I've traveled a lot. Not far away in different countries, but I went to 48 states in a van before I ever set foot on an airplane. I've met some interesting people. I've seen and heard a lot. Get out and observe. Don't let your muse keep you home all the time. Your writing can only get better by taking a break and observing. Read a lot and don't put limitations on your imagination until it's needed to stay realistic.

Road trip! I love it.

Have you ever attended a writing convention or conference?

I've only attended WriteOnCon two years in a row. But just because it's free and online doesn't mean it's not worth it. I've never learned so much in such a short time. I learned everything from craft to platform to submitting. The writing world is more than just words and it can become overwhelming if you let it. Make goals, stick to them, perfect your craft, write, get crit partners, be open to constructive criticism and stay true to yourself. There's so much to learn!


Who is your favorite author?

Oh, that's so hard. Uh...between Jane Austen, Brandon Mull, Tamora Pierce, Gail Carson Levine, Maria V. Snyder, Shannon Hale, Brandon Sanderson...I'll have to go with Shannon Hale right now. I love her books!

Pardon my boorishness; I've only heard of two of these: Brandon Mull and Brandon Sanderson.

Favorite book?

Again with the choices. I'll go with Poison Study on this one even though Pride and Prejudice is always good.

Favorite genre to read?

YA Fiction. And in that I love fantasy, light paranormal, contemporary thrillers, and dystopian.

I like your taste!

Favorite genre to write?

Fantasy. Historical or urban.

Is historical fantasy a real thing? That's so cool!

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

Take care of four small kids, read, watch movies, and play Magic the Gathering card game with my hubby :)

You're the second writer/blogger I've met that plays Magic. Small world!

What are three interesting facts about you?

I'm picky about how to load the dishwasher, I'm already listening to Christmas music, and I didn't like reading until four years ago.

I love it when someone discovers they love reading. It validates me for some reason.

Well, that's Michelle in a nut shell. She's pretty awesome. I really hope you all check out her blog. And thanks to Michelle for being such a great guest!


  1. Thanks for the interview Reece! And about that historical fantasy thing...It was just my way of saying I like to write historical fiction with magic. Magic makes it fantasy right? Haha, there are so many sub-genre's out there! I get so confused.

  2. Great interview. Nice to *meet* you Michelle. And I love Historical Fantasy. That's what I like to write as far as fantasy goes. :)

  3. I totally tucked my first novel away too. It was really bad... anyway I also take care of kids and read watch movies and play games. We must be twinners! Only, I don't dare listen to Christmas music yet. I've been tempted, but I know I'll get sick of it before it the decorations, on the other hand, I could keep up all year :)

  4. Great interview! I'm going to have to pick up Story Engineering!

  5. Great interview! Your first book sounds cool. At least the idea, I love time travel. I love Christmas music, but it has listened to only after Thanksgiving for me. I like my holidays seperate.

  6. Michelle rocks! She's among my first followers. Her blog and writing gumption continue to impress me. Great interview, Reece. Thanks for having her.

    I've launched a giveaway today! :)

  7. I LOVE Michelle!!! :D Great interview, guys! :)

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  9. Argh! I really have to get that SAVE THE CAT book! I keep hearing so much about it. Thanks, Reece and Michelle, for the nice/fun interview. And rah for WriteOnCon! Free is always great. I participated the first year, and it was really helpful and beneficial.

  10. Cool interview. Very entertaining. First-time reader here, came via Michelle's blog. :-)

  11. Hooray, I seriously love Michelle a bunch!

  12. Awesome interview! :)

    I've heard of Save the Cat before, but haven't read it. I really should get around to that sometime . . .

    48 states--wow. That is a lot of traveling!