Better Storytelling Secrets
Authors discuss their writing techniques.
Hi, I’m Mark O’Bannon. Welcome to this rare look into the secrets of storytelling from published authors. Today, I’m joined by, C.J. Cherryh, the author of over 60 SF/F books.
Life as a Writer
How did you get into writing?
I ran out of stories to read, and they took Flash Gordon off the air: I was 10.
When did you first realize that you have what it takes to be a writer?
I never asked myself that. I just have always done it; it cost me a social life as a teen, but I couldn’t stop doing it. And college was a pain because I didn’t have time to do it. When I got a career and a life, I started it again. Writing isn’t a calling, it’s an addiction, closely related to reading.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Living, traveling, studying history, studying the future, and just sitting by the pond thinking.
How do you develop your ideas into a story?
Put two characters who won’t get along into the same room and lock the door.
What kind of stories do you enjoy working with?
Sf and fantasy.
Do you work from an outline?
I make an outline only because I have an actual life and get interrupted so often I have to outline so I remember what I was going to do. Methodology varies wildly from book to book—any time you ask me ‘how’, I’ll say “On which book?” but I’ve even just added dialogue into one outline and had a novel, once I changed the tenses.
How do you build your story?
Plot isn’t events. It’s tension between the characters. You can move events around quite easily. What triggers what when isn’t it…eminently replaceable, and reorganizeable. It’s all in the constellation of characters and the lines of tension and obligation between them.
For you, what makes a great hero?
I’m not sure ‘hero’ describes all my protagonists, or that they’d be happy with the title: some have a bit of a dark side. But if you want to know what makes a good lead, it’s the person whose thoughts and actions make the best story to follow. It’s the one that makes things happen.
If one of your characters were to describe you, what would he/she say?
How much time do you spend researching the setting for your stories?
I make it up. I collect things. I study history. I can make one up as I sit here. That’s easy.
What settings would you like to explore in the future?
Dunno. Jane and I have talked about using an ancient Egyptian in one of her vampire novels, which is set in Seattle: we might collaborate.
Do you like to know the purpose of your story before you sit down to write it?
Something important to remember is “What is this story ABOUT, anyway?” If you don’t know, you’re in trouble.
Do you have any favorite lines from your stories?
“Ignorance killed the cat. Curiosity was framed.”
Do you have a routine?
A certain place to write? Do you listen to music? Yes: I write fulltime, mostly in the morning and early afternoon; and I watch the science channels.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
It’s not an external problem: it’s a writer letting the external world into that area a writer needs to keep private. My advice is—back the world off. Do what you have to do, then reclaim your time, your mind, your attention, and calm down so you feel the idea flow happen.
How do you go about fixing a story?
? As if it’s broke? I slice off the part with the problem go back before the problem and write forward, avoiding that incident and creating a new one: see answer above—re incidents are replaceable.
How do you know when to stop?
At 110,000 words if you don’t remotely have an end in sight you’d better find one and call it a trilogy.
Words of Advice
What words of advice would you give to new writers?
Write. Classes are not as good as practice. Theory will do you no good. I never had a writer’s course, but ended up teaching one, and heckifI know what they needed. Experience, mostly. If they were looking for me to supply the drive, clear their time for them, keep their kids out of their writing space, or deal with their social life, I couldn’t help.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written?
Whatever I’m working on at the moment. I try to, anyway. One of the works of mine I like best is my first, Gate of Ivrel, and one that I am really proud of is Cyteen. But I’m fond of every one of my universes.
What are you working on now?
A Foreigner book, which is also very good! 🙂
I’d like to thank today’s author, C.J. Cherryh for being with us today.
I’d like to thank you as well. Please check out the other great interviews in this series with authors, and remember to keep writing! The next published book could be yours.
– Mark O’Bannon
About the Author
C.J. Cherryth is a four-time winner of the coveted Hugo Award and is one of today’s best-selling and most critically acclaimed writers of fantasy and science fiction.
C.J. Cherryh writes full-time, she travels with another writer and 2 patient cats, and agrees with the Emperor Marcus Aurelius: “Humanus sum; nihil mihi alienum est.” “I am a human being: there is nothing I call alien.”
Visit C.J. Cherryh online:
Purchase books directly from C.J. Cherryh: http://www.closed-circle.net/