I would like to thank Steven Craig and Parker Performing Arts School for inviting myself and the ever excellent Cheryl Carpinello in for a sequence of Q&A sessions with four classes of engaged and enthusiastic pupils today. I really enjoyed meeting the students and burbling on at length about many aspects of writing and fantasy fiction. You guys were awesome, thank you for the warm welcome, and the difficult questions!
I learned a lot today. From Steven, from Cheryl, and most of all from the students. In trying to answer some questions: on how to maintain character consistency, on voice, on how to get past creative blocks and stay committed to a work in process I found myself articulating some ideas for the first time, or thinking hard about how I approach problems, and why I build my books the way I do. It was fascinating, because in discussing my processes with an audience I found myself having to investigate what I take for granted, and in the end was explaining it both to the students and to myself. I was kind of surprised a few times, and in a very good way!
It is also always rewarding and informative to hear about how other writers approach their work: their characters, plot construction, elements of style, and process of revision and completion, which Cheryl (and Steven, when he stepped out of his role as teacher and joined in as a writer) did with great clarity, and was much appreciated. There are many ways to write a novel, even if there are apparently only six types of arc in storytelling, but there are as many stories as there are writers, and every one of them can teach you something new, if you are attentive. The origin of our stories was a frequent question today – where did we get our ideas from and how do we turn them into books? Some writers start from characters, some from plot, or situation, others with a compelling theme they want to explore and from there create both plot and characters to exemplify their ideas in action. It is fascinating to hear other writers talk about how they tackle the universal issues in writing – how to make characters relatable, how to maintain tension in a work, how to deal with needed changes in a manuscript you thought was completed, because hearing about how other people have met those challenges helps you to become a better writer.
At present for me everything starts from an idea of “what if?” and then “what next?”, even the time I daydreamed a conversation for months it eventually boiled down to what was happening around the conversation, and why two people who liked nothing more than to insult each other were stuck in a room talking in the first place when it was clear that in any other circumstance they’d kill each other or leave at the first possible opportunity. So the conversation for me was the inciting conflict, the “what if two people are stuck in a room spitting insults at each other?” spark that I then built a situation around, discovered a plot that could generate the “what then would they do?” purpose that allowed the voices to become characters, their insults part of a shared and tempestuous history. And no, it’s not a romance novel, though it could be!
The classes are all reading The Hobbit. And of course, The Hobbit is why I write fantasy. It created a world I desperately wanted to participate in, and when after ten billion rereads I realized I couldn’t get any further into the words and the world, I knew I’d have to write my own stories to get that same feeling, and hopefully help someone else have the fun of discovering a strange new world filled with interesting (sometimes horrible) people they could enjoy spending some time with (see come to a sticky end!).
So for this week folks, that is why I write fantasy. Thanks again to the pupils and staff of Parker Performing Arts School for the fun day of sharing ideas and excitement over the books I’ve loved to read, and the books I love to write.
(And no kids, I did not outline, write, rewrite, edit, and then proof this article. They kind of just fall out like this, I fuss at them a bit, and then hit publish. Frequently after that point I spot typos and other glaring errors, and sometimes I clean them up before going to bed, other times, they just stay there a while!)