Saturday, December 31, 2011

Interview with Shawn Keenan

Do you outline? If so how closely do you follow it?

I’ve done it both ways now and I can see the benefits of each practice. Going forward I intend to adopt a hybrid-approach. I didn’t outline The Buried Covenant at all, and I wrote it linearly. For me, the story was so much about a journey and the emotions of experiencing that journey, the path just seemed to lay itself out for me as I went along. Of course, there were plenty of opportunities to go back and add better and more meaningful scenes and moments once I realized where I was going. On the novel I’m finishing now, I did outline and that helped me incorporate various levels of plot. There was also a lot of traveling, and the outline helped me keep that straight (like, where are they now!) However, the last third of the outline got chucked when I got to that part of the story. You have to be ready to change on the fly, because a good story takes on a life of its own.

Has being a novelist changed the way you read and appreciate novels?

Very much so. I know the second I’m reading a good book because I get irrationally jealous. I want to have written what I’m reading. Or at least something as compelling, something that would make me feel the way the book I’m reading is making me feel. One of the weird things about writing your own book is that it’s difficult to feel it. And it’s impossible to be surprised or kept in suspense. You have to learn to trust your instincts and hope some of the great books your read have infused you with an innate understanding of how to build those intangible ties to the reader that you as the writer can’t feel for yourself.

How much do you draw from your own life when constructing your main character?

One of the things I love about the young adult books are their ability to take you back to that time in your life where you were still figuring out who you were going to be. I can’t help but draw on my internal journey of becoming who I am today when I’m writing about that process for my main characters. Of course, I’m not nearly interesting enough to carry an entire book, so my main characters have to be different from me in most ways. That’s a great part of writing: getting to create imaginary people and live in their heads for a little while.

How do you get to know your characters? Do you write out a bio, they just come to you or do you have certain facts you always decide on first?

I usually start with a strong characteristic that needs to be at the core of their personality and I’m careful not to betray that, even in the early drafts. Many traits manifest themselves as I put the characters into situations that they have to react to or solve. If I write about a character doing something that doesn’t fit or doesn’t ring true, then I know I’ve written them the wrong way. I added a few short bios to my website for The Buried Covenant to help me flesh out some of the characters’ motivations. The dangerous part about doing in depth bios is, then you want to write those stories as well!

Do you tend to reach the word count you want exactly, overshoot or undershoot? How does it effect your editing?

For the Buried Covenant, the first draft was about 130,000. Several stern edits brought it down to its currently svelte 98,000 words. Initially, I was disappointed to have ‘wasted’ so much time writing things that didn’t stay in the final draft. In retrospect, I can see that those excised passages left ghosts behind that still flavor the story. They had to be there before they couldn’t be there. There’s a danger in writing too succinctly in your first draft. You have to give yourself room to create, knowing there will be cutting later. I like to have a general balance to my chapters, so you aren’t reading a two-page then a thirty-page chapter. And I love a cliffhanger ending whenever I can get one. Your fingers should go straight to turn that page as soon as you finish a chapter, ready to read the first sentence of the next one.

Thank you for joining us and to everyone reading!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting interview. I had that same shock of "overwriting" that first draft vs. how much I cut out of that during edits.

    Though, I do have to disagree with where Shawn said, "One of the weird things about writing your own book is that it’s difficult to feel it. And it’s impossible to be surprised or kept in suspense. "

    A writer I respect once told me, "If you're not bleeding on the keyboard, you're not doing it right." And I think that's extremely true--if you don't feel the suffering your characters are going through, I don't think you're connecting with them enough as an author. Also, my characters surprise me All The Time because often, they'll say or do something that drastically changes the story, but feels right because it feels natural to the character and to the plot, even if I didn't know that info/saw that event prior to getting to that scene.