Monday, February 5, 2018

Questions I get asked a lot ...


It's Monday and tomorrow is a holiday here in NZ. It's Waitangi Day tomorrow - which is a commemoration of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

This morning I was thinking about the questions I get asked most often as a writer from new writers.

1. How do you start a novel (or short story or novella)?

Because I've been asked that one a lot I know that the answer is not 'with the first word'. Because that's not what they mean by 'how do you start?' It turns out that that question actually means where in the story do you start and how do you know what scene to start with?
- I used to always start at the beginning. (Helpful, right?) See how I said 'used to'? I did start at the very beginning for the first 8 byte novels and then I realized with number 9 that what I thought was the beginning was actually chapter 11.
What I'm saying here is there is no 'right place' to start and nothing is set in concrete, not even when your publisher includes the first chapter of the next book at the end of the current book. That happened with Psychobyte and Metabyte ... the end first chapters are not the first chapters of the next books at all. I was still in the writing process and, well, shit changes.
Writing is a fluid thing.
At the end of Metabyte is what was going to be the first chapter of crashbyte ... but crashbyte became Qubyte and the first chapter is completely different now. :)
Such is life.

Start somewhere and write, if it's not the beginning you'll figure it out and it's not difficult to add chapters.
Start with a scene that introduces your characters and sets up a reason for people to turn the page and give a shit.
Make sure someone wants something.

2. How do you know how big an idea is?

Again I know this question isn't what it seems.
How do you know if your idea is big enough to sustain a novel or if it's a novella or a short story?
I never know until I start writing because I usually don't have an idea, I have a video clip running through my head of a scene.
I don't normally sit down and say I'm going to write about blah blah blah. The blah blah blah comes to me in pieces as I write the scenes. So I'm probably no help. :)
I do know if I have enough material for a novella or a short or a novel. It's a gut thing. Also, if more than two main characters are involved there is a good chance it'll be bigger than a short story.
Keep that in mind.
A short story is a SLICE of life, not the whole thing, that is, it doesn't span a lot of time.

3. Do you ever run out of ideas?

Nope. Your imagination is limitless, allow it to be so.
But also - I never know I've had an idea until I'm in the middle of writing so, ya know, there's that.

4. How do you know when a story is finished?

Because it stops.
Not being funny here, the story will tell you. It will stop, there will be no more scenes or threads to tie up.
Sometimes it doesn't end neatly or the story will not pack away into its box. That's okay too. Not every story can be tied up in a pretty bow. But is the ending satisfying for you? Is the ending enough for the reader?

I like my stories to end, even though I write a series. There has only been one book to date in the Byte Series in which the main story did not tie up because the killers got away. (Not for long, however, as the next book dealt with them.)
No one complained about that ending, well they did, but because a favorite character died not because the bad guys got away.
There is one other of my books where people dropped a star off the review because they wrongly believed I left a cliffhanger ending. And yes, WRONGLY. There is no way there is a cliffhanger in the book in question, I triple checked with my editor/publisher/beta readers. No cliffhanger. Not sure what it is about Soundbyte that causes people to think that, but I will say, they are wrong. (That's right people, anyone who thinks I left it open as to what happened, in the end, is wrong.)

In Qubyte (at the moment) there is a partial cliffhanger. On purpose. I may add a chapter and remove the cliffhanger or not. It depends on my publisher and editor. If we can get away with it, I would like the open ending this time, if not, oh well. I gave it a shot.

I will probably extend the final scene though - regardless. I need to honor the dead.

5. Which book is your favorite?

Holy shit balls people. Do I ask you which kid is your favorite? No, I do not. So don't ask a writer which book is their favorite. Every one of my books is a favorite for some reason. Sometimes it's simply because I really loved a particular scene. Sometimes it's because it was a hard story to tell. Sometimes a character or storyline was super enjoyable to write. Sometimes it's because of the writing process or what was going on around me at the time.
Every book has a story behind it, every book is a favorite.

6. Who is your favorite character?

SSA Ellie Iverson nee Conway.
Pretty easy really. She's my main character, she is someone I'd like to hang out with. I've known her for a long time and she still surprises me.
But I have to say I love them all (except Own, that bitch can take a long walk off a short pier anytime).

There ya go, some answers to some of my most asked questions.

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