Hey all you readers and writers! Emma Michaels here to introduce our guest author of the day:
Hello Lish and welcome to The Writers Voice!
What part of your first novel did you find hardest to write?
The middle bits always seem to give me a hard time. My pacing gets a bit dodgy around then and we have to do some extensive tightening.
What scares you most?
I’m not overly fond of clowns. I’ve been known to cross the street to avoid them. Other than that I think most of my fears are the general ones most adults have: career failure, family members falling ill, etc. Now that I think about it, kids have similar fears, except replace career with school.
Do you start writing when you have a plot mapped out or start plotting when you have started writing based off a spark of inspiration?
I don’t really plot in the traditional sense (at least not with my books. In life, yes. One must plot world domination occasionally.). I generally know some scenes I want to get to, part that I see very clearly, like a snap shot. The rest sort of happens on the way. I had a class on Canadian literature once where we got to interview the authors, and one of them was Michael Winter. When asked this question he likened it to driving at night—occasionally the headlights hit something and you see it clear and frozen in minute detail. But it’s only that one piece. Everything around it is darkness. I think that description is pretty apt. Generally I aim toward the scenes I see clearly and my characters tell me how they would react on the way. Sometimes that approach can lead to the plot going somewhere else, but I’ve learned to trust it. I tried to do a plot storyboard for book one once. I spent hours on it, and then completely ignored it once it was done. For that book it was a waste of time. However, every novel is different. Like with children, some tactics seem to work beautifully for some and fail when applied elsewhere. I might hit a book at some point where I’ll need to plot everything out.
Was there ever a moment when you wouldn’t trade what you do as an author for the world? What was that moment for you?
I feel like this most of the time (except when I need to pay bills—ha!). Frequently it’s during the times when I get notes back from my editor and all the notes are about lawn gnomes and chupacabras and silly things and I think, “This is my job. I get to be silly for a living. How awesome is that?” However, I think any job where you create something—especially something where people feel like they must tell you exactly how they feel about every little thing—can be stressful. People can be incredibly thorough when telling you what you did wrong, what they would have done differently, and how much you suck for not writing faster. It’s a kind of behavior that we don’t think to apply to other jobs. I don’t walk up to the bakery in my market and say, “Sure, your bread was okay, but I think you need to use a higher temperature and different flour and lower the price, and also can you bake me three more loaves by tomorrow?” I mean, I’m sure people do that on occasion, but when it comes to writing, people do it with alarming frequency. And the thing is, I don’t have control over a lot of it. Publication date, what country it’s in, availability in a bookstore, all beyond my control. As for things I could have done differently in the book, well, I can only write the book I know how to write. I try to get better with each go round, but it’s still going to be me writing it. If they want it handled differently, it’s hard not to (nicely) say, “Well, that’s great. When you write your book, I think you should do exactly that.” There can be a lot of pressure when writing a novel—you want it to be something people love as much as you. It can be rough to handle. Still, it’s an amazing and wonderful thing to do. I feel very grateful and appreciative that I get to do so.
Aspiring writers often hear, "Read what you want to write," "Hone your writing craft." and, above all else, "Be patient." What other advice would you give them?
Well, I hear differing opinions on “read what you want to write.” Some writers I know avoid their chosen area like the plague—they don’t want to be influenced. I think you should do what works best for you. I do think writers should read as much as possible and in all kinds of areas. I saw Holly Black read a few months back and she talked about how important it was to read outside your comfort zone. I think that’s very wise. You never know where your next story is going to come from or when you might need to know more about a given subject. Do your research. That’s very important, especially if you’re creating a world like in fantasy or other genre writing. Grounding your world in concrete, believable details can give it life. Listen to your characters. Pay attention to the way people talk –it helps you learn how to build dialogue. Meet other writers. Find people you trust to read your work. Find someone who will be nice about it, find someone who will be honest and brutal (but constructive) and find someone who has no interest in writing but just likes to read. Let yourself listen what they have to say—the good and the bad. Don’t take it personally. Most people want to help you become a better writer. But you should also learn when to ignore advice and go with your own feelings on things. This takes practice, unfortunately, and a lot of trial and error. Most writers don’t have the luxury to be able to do nothing but write. Some have schoolwork, jobs, or children to raise—many have all of these things. It’s really easy to let writing slip away in favor of getting everything else done. It’s hard to find balance. Sometimes you have to put it aside so you can take care of your sick kiddo or pick up an extra shift at work. It’s unavoidable. But sometimes you also have to let the dishes sit another day or get up an hour early before work to get a little writing in. Treat it like an appointment if you have to—schedule it in and don’t let it get moved, bumped or forgotten. Even if it’s just an hour a week. And when you get to that hour, attack it like a rabid thing.
Is there rhyme and reason to how you choose character traits?
Sometimes. Occasionally it’s something to help out the plot, or to balance a character out and give them more individuality. It’s often the quirks and such that set good characters apart. Nobody is perfect and your characters shouldn’t be either. There should always be something a little surprising about your characters. They will tell you all about themselves if you listen, but that being said, you have to sometimes construct things about them as well. In HMC,N, Sam has to go visit his biological dad. I decided to make his dad live in Bainbridge Island, WA. I wanted Sam’s dad to be well off (and it’s a fairly affluent area) and I wanted Sam to ride the ferry, so logically it’s a good choice, but it also sets up some aspects of character. By picking that area, I know what kind of house to give his dad. If I think about why he chose there over another place, I might be able to guess some other things about his character like lifestyle and personality. The more you think about a character, the more you understand them. Sometimes it’s good to do writing exercises with new characters because then you learn more about them. I recently wrote a short story where Frank was the main focus. He’s very much a supporting character in HMC,N so I didn’t know too much about him. But for the story I got to plug him into a certain situation and watch him react. I got to find his voice. It was a great thing for me to do, because now I understand Frank a lot more. It’s a lot of extra work sometimes to do these kinds of exercises for characters, but it’s worth it.
To all our readers out there, thank you for following The Writers Voice and happy reading!