It's a short work week for me; hope it is for you too. However, despite the upcoming holiday, we still have a Blog Ring of Power interview. Today I'm interviewing another Broad Universe member, Lynda Williams, about her creative process. You can find Parts 1 and 2 of this interview on Theresa's and Emily's blogs respectively; Parts 4 and 5 will appear later this week on Dean's and Terri's blogs.
Where do you get your story ideas?
They have always been with me. I never watched a movie, read a book or had a stimulating conversation that didn’t generate an itch to write about something. I gain discipline and craft as I get older, but ironically I do not generate as many wonderful ideas. So I remain grateful to my younger self for recording so much of her journey for me to mine the raw material as I mature in craft and wiles.
Do you have a specific writing style?
Most of my fiction is written in the third person with a focus on a viewpoint character. But I’m all about perspective. For example, in Part 1: The Courtesan Prince and Part 2: Righteous Anger, we see the same scene from two different points of view: Di Mon’s in the first book, and Horth’s in the second. Di Mon is the protagonist who has reached the decision he makes at great cost over many pages, and the scene is the climax of the book. Horth is a naïve observer, representing the cultural context in which the scene takes place. It’s an incident in his day, of interest but only poorly understood and takes place early in his story. This sort of thing can be confusing to some readers and is hard to pull off, so I confine overlapping observations of the same event to just a few spots in the ten-novel saga. Every book, however, contains multiple points of view. I restrict myself to four main ones, but will sometimes throw in a cameo from the POV of a minor character. In Part 5: Far Arena, I alternated chapters from Erien’s POV with chapters in which Amel was the focal character but the POV was that of a minor character he encounters as he passed through the plot. Amel lost his POV until Erien restores it to him at the end, because in this book Amel is the subject of controversy and it is other people’s opinions about him that matters most. The device also illustrates how celebrity makes Amel an object of interest instead of an agent in the story.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
By spending long, self-pitying hours at a coffee shop moping instead of getting something useful done – but only if I cannot find a sympathetic friend to talk to about life, the universe and everything to rev up my rel-batteries again. (In the Okal Rel Universe, pilots charge batteries by reality skimming and trade them to their hosts when they dock, taking exhausted batteries with them to the next place on their next trip. I use the idea of charging my rel-batteries as a metaphor for sustaining the courage to write.)
How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
My first instinct is to deny using a formula. But on reflection I realize I have a few. First, there must be conflict in every scene. And everything a character does must be in character. I’ve worked to interweave multiple sub-plots with the main plot in any given novel, and to ensure the plot of the ten-novel arch was progressing in parallel. Characters with great gifts tend to have balancing flaws or weaknesses to keep them interesting. Every book has a theme and the action illustrative of the theme plays out to a satisfying conclusion in the book concerned, even if there are echoes in later ones. For example, the theme in Part 1: The Courtesan Prince, can be summed up as “from two cultures that should never meet come four people who do”. So although I skip ahead in time to after the end of Part 3: Pretenders for the final scene between Ann and Amel, I need to bring the Ann-Amel relationship to a satisfying conclusion in the book where their relationship becomes important to relations between Rire and the empire. Another formula I’ve noticed in my work is parallel problem solving. I like to give two characters, or cultures, the same problem and explore the ethics of their solution. Like a thought experiment. For example, both Rire and the empire solve the problem of how to make sure rel-ships do not destroy habitat by imposing social control on pilots. But they do it completely differently. The empire relies on honor and sword law, a system supported by the aversion to destroying life-supporting territory inherent in original Sevolite bio-engineering. Rire relies on psych-profiling and the arbiter administration. In Part 5: Far Arena, all three of Ann, Hanson and Vic manipulate Amel to make use of his highborn talents in their own cause. Which, if any, can be forgiven? How do each of them balance their responsibility to Amel against their responsibilities to others and themselves? I do this kind of thing consistently enough to fess up to it as a formula.
Are you a “plotter” or a “pantser” (do you plan/outline the story ahead of time or write “by the seat of your pants”)?
Both. All my life, I’ve scribbled plots on paper napkins and in notebooks. Realms and realms. A lot of it involved planning the story told in the ten-novel Okal Rel Saga. So I have plotted galore. At the same time, I explore scenes for fitness by drafting them. I have boxes and boxes of draft scenes where characters talk and act out scenes I never included in the books. Since the boxes include scribbles and experimentation played out over thirty years, a lot of the stuff in the scraps there never happened, or happened differently. It took me twenty years to get the first book pulled together. I can now write a novel in about a year, working on it part-time and in parallel to my day job and other responsibilities in life. But that’s only because I know it all so well from all the scribbling.
Do you use critique partners or beta readers? Why or why not?
Yes, whenever I can lay hands on them. I prefer beta readers to critique partners since one needs very particular critique partners, IMHO, to make the exercise productive instead of destructive or just irritating. It’s a rare writer, pro or no, who can set aside his/her ideas of what would work in order to get inside what you are trying to do. On the other hand, I always keep my ears open to criticism to learn from it when able. Beta readers give good feedback by asking questions, laughing (or failing to) in the right places, and generally letting you test out your story on them. I also re-read earlier books in the series, aloud, to willing listeners, when working myself up to doing new work. I’m re-reading all 10 books to my husband, as of September 2012, as a run-up to finishing off the last 30,000 words of book 10.
How much time do you spend on research? What type of research do you do?
Lots. But in a roundabout way. I read a lot and might consume a dozen books on a topic like evolutionary psychology, without realizing it was research until much later. I purposefully sought out books on dueling in history, but most of what I learned went into sword law rather than fencing scenes. I drafted those and ran them by Craig Bowlsby. I talk to people who know more about a subject of interest than I do when possible. I goggle for specific facts. I consider the way people behave in my everyday life to be the best research. I think I’m an instinctive anthropologist, never quite able to live and interact with others on sheer instinct and needing the crutch of analysis to decode small talk, in particular, and power dynamics in general.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging to write?
Descriptions of three dimensional spaces my characters have to navigate and re-visit across multiple books. I finally wised up and, with a little help from my husband David Lott, drew a map before tackling the Orphanage Complex introduced in Part 7: Healer’s Sword. See http://okalrel.org/saga/reference/graphics/DavidLottOrphanage2009.html My own efforts are never as good. It’s nice to see other people helping to bring UnderGelion to life, now. For example, its features in the background of this beautiful piece by Michelle Milburn, for the cover of Mekan’stan. http://okalrel.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/2012_ARTBOOK_01-021.jpg
Lynda Williams is the author of the ten-novel Okal Rel Saga (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing) and the editor of the Okal Rel Legacies series (Absolute Xpress). She hosts the Writer’s Craft on the Clarion Blog with David Lott. On Reality Skimming (okalrel.org/blog), she works with David Juniper, Tegan Lott and Michelle Carraway to celebrate the Okal Rel Universe in particular and the joy of writing and reading in general. See http://okalrel.org/blog/contribute/ for how to take part on Reality Skimming to promote your work or share your love of words and ideas.
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/okalrel
Goodreads author page: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/644584.Lynda_Williams
Twitter: https://twitter.com/okalrelsrv @okalrelsrv
What format is your book(s) available in (print, e-book, audio book, etc.)?
What format is your book(s) available in (print, e-book, audio book, etc.)?
· Trade paperback (the Saga)
· Print on demand (Legacies)
· Kindle (all)