Trudi Canavan Interview
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 Trudi Canavan, the bestselling author of the Black Magician Trilogy.
Life as a Writer
How did you get into writing?
Somewhere between seeing The Empire Strikes Back as a child and reading The Lord of the Rings as a teen. The first gave me a desire to make up world and characters and tell stories about them, and the second focused that into a desire to write those stories.
When did you first realize that you have what it takes to be a writer?
I guess when you’re a child or teenager you simple assume you have what it takes, reinforced by adults who say you can do anything if you work hard enough. But the first real confirmation was when my first short story was accepted for publication by Aurealis magazine.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Inspiration, for me, comes from both the real world and other peoples’ invented ones. I see how things are or were in this world and try to imagine how a fantasy element might have influenced them. I examine at what other storytellers – writers, film and tv show makers, etc. – have done to see if it could be taken further, or sideways. And perhaps more importantly, what they haven’t done or haven’t done recently.
How do you develop your ideas into a story?
First I take notes and let it evolve in my head and perhaps do some research. Then once the story arc is fully formed I’ll write an outline. After that it depends on the length of the story. If it’s a short story or novella I wait until I get the time and inclination to write it. If it’s a book, well, unless it’s the one I’m next contracted to write it has to sit and wait its turn.
What kind of stories do you enjoy working with?
Fantasy mostly. Fantasy set in other worlds to this one. But when I write short stories I’m as likely to write fantasy set in the modern world, or horror, or science fiction. I’ve even found myself writing a fantasy romance knitting lit short story.
What genres would you like to explore in the future?
I have an idea for a young adult horror novel waiting for me to find the time to write it. Horror is the genre I’d be most likely to explore, though I had so much fun writing that fantasy romance knit lit story that I might also head in that direction one day.
Do you work from an outline?
How do you build your story?
I start from the start and write on through to the end. So long as my outline has all the essential prompts, I don’t feel the need to write later scenes before I get to them. There’s room in it to deviate a little, and I once inserted a new character when I felt there was a perspective not well covered, but the main events in the main plot don’t usually change. Also, if I have several point of view characters I keep track of how their stories keep pace with each other by setting up a table.
For you, what makes a great hero?
That they’re a character you can sympathise with, despite their flaws.
If one of your characters were to describe you, what would he/she say?
They’d probably find me a bit boring. Or they’d resent me for all the nasty things I’ve done to them.
How much time do you spend researching the setting for your stories?
That’s impossible to calculate, since I am always sucking in information that could be useful or inspiring. There will always be subjects that I need to look into specifically for a particular book, but that will only be a small portion of information gathering compared to what I seek and absorb every day. One piece of advice I give new writers is to maintain a constant state of curiosity about everything. Read, watch documentaries, talk to people, try things out for yourself. Never stop learning.
What settings would you like to explore in the future?
All of them.
Do you like to know the purpose of your story before you sit down to write it?
The main purpose of a story is to entertain and stimulate the reader. You might hope to get them thinking about something they hadn’t thought about before, but that’s best done by raising questions, not preaching answers at them.
Do you have any favorite lines from your stories?
Plenty – though I suspect some mean more to me than to anyone else. I designed some badges to give away at signings last year, and picked a few quotes from my books that even people who hadn’t read them might find amusing. My favourite is: “I can’t lie around all day, I’m on a Quest.” And then there’s ‘that’ line from the end of The High Lord (which is a spoiler, so I won’t repeat it here).
Do you have a routine? A certain place to write? Do you listen to music?
I have a big studio at home, where I write as well as practice art and various hobbies (never stop learning). Mornings are generally for all the non-writing writing tasks like interviews, blog posts, email, etc. Afternoons suit me best for writing. I don’t play music much any more, as I find the mood of the music doesn’t always follow the mood of the scene I’m writing. Instead I might play certain tracks before writing, to get me into a particular frame of mind to write a specific scene.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I don’t get writers blog; I get writers procrastination. You see, I can always think of something to write, but it isn’t always the thing I’m supposed to be writing. The solution is discipline. Making myself sit down and start is usually all it takes.
How do you go about fixing a story?
I get feedback and compare it, come up with possible solutions, do more outlining to see which ones will work, then get stuck into the hard work of applying it. Often the solution is already there, in a peripheral character or plot strand or detail about the world.
How do you know when to stop?
When I’ve reached the end. I don’t start writing a story – I don’t even write an outline – until I know how it will end.
Words of Advice
What words of advice would you give to new writers?
Write. It’s said it takes ten thousand hours to be good at something, so get to work. Write what you enjoy, because readers can tell if you aren’t, and most writers don’t make enough money from it to make it worthwhile if they don’t. Seek to improve constantly. Never stop learning. Oh – and read my Writing Advice page on my website.
So, what is YOUR plan for the zombie apocalypse?
Find a little secret island paradise where my friends and I will grow and catch our own food – assuming zombies can’t swim.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written?
The last really cool scene I wrote, before I go back and start polishing.
What are you working on now?
A new fantasy trilogy called Millennium’s Rule. It’s set in a multiple-world scenario, which allows me to have diverse cultures and technology, from primitive to medieval to post-industrial. Particularly powerful sorcerers can travel between worlds, and some make a living by trading between them. But not every sorcerer’s motivations are as peaceful and beneficial as trade.
I’d like to thank today’s author, Trudi Canavan 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
Trudi Canavan lives in Melbourne, Australia. She has been making up stories about people and places that don’t exist for as long as she can remember. Her first short story, “Whispers of the Mist Children”, received an Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Story in 1999. Soon after, her bestselling Black Magician Trilogy was published, and in 2010 was named an ‘Evergreen’ by The Bookseller. The Age of the Five trilogy followed, then a prequel and sequel to Black Magician Trilogy. The prequel, The Magician’s Apprentice won the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 2009.