Endings are hard. We say that a lot, and hear it a lot, because it’s true. Most of us, when we write, choose a story to work on because we’ve had some brilliant vision of the lead character doing something, or have suddenly been overwhelmed by that character’s voice, or just have this great idea of “hey, what if . . . ?” But that initial impulse, that creative spark, doesn’t usually extend to how the story ends. We all know the famous story of J. Michael Straczynski with Babylon 5, right? He sat down with the producers to talk about the idea of doing that TV series and mentioned that he had already envisioned a five-year arc. One of the producers jokingly asked, “Okay, how does it end?” And JMS told them. Because he already had most of the major beats mapped out in his head, including the [...]
Continue reading Aaron Rosenberg: Ending Without Closing
Many years ago , I had the distinct privilege of interviewing David Drake for Starlog Magazine. Drake, the author of numerous science fiction and fantasy novels, is best known for his military SF offerings, including the Hammer’s Slammers series. He’s a hell of an interesting guy and a excellent writer. At some point I think I called him an “artist”, and Drake was quick to correct me, saying he was a craftsman, like a guy who makes cabinets, not an artist. Drake’s point was that writers craft a story, they build it, refine it and as they build more, they become better builders, better crafters.
I’ve heard the craftsman/ builder analogy used before from Stephen King as well, in his fantastic book, “On Writing”. If you haven’t read it and you are interested in writing, or want to get better at writing, I highly recommend you read it. King says [...]
Continue reading R S Belcher: Taming Fire
There’s this excellent phrase Stephen King came up with about writing: he described points in writing a story in which he wasn’t sure about what would happen, in which case he would let it sit back and let “the boys in the basement” go to work on it.
What he was referring to, I think, was his subconscious, or the wordless, instinctual thinking processes that aren’t often in the foreground of our minds. There are thoughts that take up all the front part of our brains (“Pick up the kids! How much is in the checking account?”), and then there are the secondary thoughts, something like the 90% of the iceberg hidden below the water: invisible, but definitely there.
These are the thoughts that intuit the abstractions about stories, things like theme, character, and the way the plot needs to progress in order to satisfy everyone. That’s the boys in [...]
Continue reading Robert Jackson Bennett: The Writing Life
The idea for CITY OF STAIRS was one of those rare ideas that come all at once. I’d been reading a spy novel called DARK STAR by Alan Furst, which is set in balkanized Eastern Europe before WWII, and it was fascinating to read a story from that era that wasn’t from a Western perspective. Then I was vacuuming and I had an old movie on in the background, a light, satirical story about a British tourist suddenly finding he physically resembles the king of a tiny Eastern European country, with many hijinks ensuing. And I thought, “I’d like to write a story about that – about being a diplomat in this fragmented sort of region.”
And for some reason I immediately imagined the diplomat as being a Southeast Asian woman, because that seemed like it would create the most culture clash within this patriarchal Eastern European culture. But of [...]
Continue reading Robert Jackson Bennett: City of Stairs
Years ago, I recall reading a suspense novel by Harlan Corben, I honestly can’t recall the name of the book – I think it was Gone for Good. It was well-written, enjoyable and kept my interest, it was also one of the reasons so many writers say you need to read to write. Coban’s novel was to the plot twists, what high-fructose corn syrup is to junk food. Pretty much every chapter ended with some kind of shocking revelation that shifted everything you thought you knew about the characters and the plot—this character wasn’t really dead, they were in fact someone’s mother/daughter/long-lost step-son/ St. Bernard… you get the idea. The first few twists blew me away, but by the end of the book it was, well, funny. I’d get to the end of a chapter and laugh at what new M Night Shyamalan-esque twist the author threw at me.
Continue reading R S Belcher: Building a Haunted House
Character is possibly the trickiest thing for a writer to make work. It’s one of the most insubstantial and abstract elements in writing, but it’s also one of the most vital: when people love a character, they’ll return to their books again and again, sometimes solely for the “hang-out” appeal.
More so, as writer David Liss puts it, “Character is story,” meaning the best stories have conflicts and plot developments whose origins lie in the characters. So not only is characterization vital in its own right, when properly done, it act as a catalyst for nearly all other parts of the story.
So how to make characters work? How to make them feel “real”?
The thing to remember is that characters have their own agency, their own individualized wants, needs, and assumptions about the world. A writer must imagine that what they would be doing if the story never got [...]
Continue reading Robert Jackson Bennett: Character
Thanks again to the Magical Words crew for welcoming me this month.
There is a set of standard questions that authors hear all the time. When did you start writing? How did you get published? Do you outline? How many hours a day do you write? Do you have writing rituals? Do you use writing tools? Why are you so mean to your characters? We’ve answered them so many times, we don’t even have to think about them.
- I started writing halfway through my software engineering career, as my kids were needing less of my time. – I read the opening of Transformation for an editor from Roc Books in a Friday afternoon read-and-critique session at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. She ended up buying it and my next seven books. – I do not outline. Nor do I start out with a blank page and type Chapter 1 [...]
Continue reading Carol Berg: Answers, Plain and Tall