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 New York Times bestselling author Alexandra Ivy, best known for her paranormal series Guardians of Eternity.
Life as a Writer
How did you get into writing?
Like most writers I’ve always loved to read and at a young age I started scribbled stories just for myself. But, it wasn’t until I went to college and took a playwriting class that I realized I found my true love.
When did you first realize that you have what it takes to be a writer?
I’m not sure I really have J It took a looooong time for me to get published. Almost ten years. Most sane people would have given up after so many rejections, but I looked on those years as my apprenticeship. With every new manuscript I was honing my craft and learning more about the business.
Where do you get your ideas from?
They’re always stewing in the back of my mind. Sometimes they’re sparked by something I read in the newspaper or even by a conversation I happen to overhear. Sometimes they come from a fragment of a dream.
How do you develop your ideas into a story?
I always start with the characters. Once I understand their strengths, their weakness, and how I want them to grow during the course of the story, the plot starts to evolve.
What kind of stories do you enjoy working with?
I started with historicals, and I loved the research and recreating the atmosphere of the past. But since writing paranormals, I’ve discovered just how much I enjoy creating my world, populated with creatures from my imagination.
What genres would you like to explore in the future?
I would love to do a high fantasy!
Do you work from an outline?
A very, very flexible outline.
How do you build your story?
Since I started as a playwright I actually write my book in play format first. I write three to four chapters of pure dialogue, before I go back through and layer in stage movements or actions. After that I go through again and layer in the emotional responses for the scene.
I know it’s different from most writers, but with this method I can make sure that my characters are the main focus of the story without getting lost. All writers love, love, love words and it’s easy to forget the plot in the prose.
For you, what makes a great hero?
He has to be strong, and for a romance, sexually compelling. But more importantly he has to have an ability to be kind and vulnerable. A bad boy with a heart of gold J He also has to have flaws. A too perfect hero is a bore.
If one of your characters were to describe you, what would he/she say?
Hmm…that’s hard. I suppose they would say that I’m funny, driven, a little OCD, and devoted to my family. I’m also a perfectionist who tends to make those around me nuts.
How much time do you spend researching the setting for your stories?
My current stories are set in the Midwest where I live so I haven’t needed to do a lot of research, but when I wrote historicals I would do an intense month of research before ever starting to write the story. That’s what I loved best about writing historicals and I had to be careful that I didn’t devote so much time investigating tiny details and run out of time to actually write the book.
What settings would you like to explore in the future?
I would love to create a whole new world for a fantasy. One that’s completely original and bound by my own rules of magic. I wonder if that means I have a god-complex?
Do you like to know the purpose of your story before you sit down to write it?
Yes. I have an overall theme for the series that speaks of being outside the ‘norm’ of society, but also a theme for each book. They tend to focus on loss and or a lack of trust or the need to be accepted by others.
Do you have any favorite lines from your stories?
My favorite lines are usually from my snarky gargoyle, Levet. But I think my current fav line is from Sophia in The Real Werewives of Vampire County:
“A family is like medicine. Best in small doses.”
Do you have a routine? A certain place to write? Do you listen to music?
I usually get up early and exercise–otherwise I never get around to it. After that I answer emails, check my Facebook and Twitter, then do a little promo. Once I’m done, I start writing and usually don’t stop until late at night. When I’m in a book I have to stay in writing mode until I’m done, or I lose the ‘feel’ for the story-line. My poor family has learned that once I disappear into my office they won’t see me for a very long time.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I never let myself think of writer’s block. I write every day, and even if I throw it out later, I never give myself permission to wait for some mysterious ‘muse’. This is my job, and like any other employee, I have get my work done, no matter what else is going on.
How do you go about fixing a story?
Sometimes I’ll go back and rewrite the scene from another character’s point of view. If that doesn’t work, then I’ll pull out my outline and see where things started going wrong. I almost always have to trash a few chapters when I’m writing because they just didn’t work for the story. You can’t be afraid to admit defeat and start again.
How do you know when to stop?
Sometimes I don’t…sigh. Usually a book has a natural progression from beginning to end, and it flows to a conclusion. But sometimes I realize I’m way over my word count without any conclusion in sight. That’s when I have to start making cuts. And they’re always painful.
Words of Advice
What words of advice would you give to new writers?
Write because you love to write, not because you want to get published. A reader can always tell when you love what you do.
So, what is YOUR plan for the zombie apocalypse?
I’ve already decided that I’m like the last antelope at the waterhole. I have no survival skills. None. So I fully intend to throw myself at the first zombie I see and get it over with.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written?
I don’t know if it’s the best, but my favorite book is WHEN DARKNESS COMES. I think because I wrote it just for my own pleasure without pressure or expectations. It was fun and different from anything I’d ever tried before. Certainly, I never dreamed it would be the beginning of the Guardians of Eternity that is now on book 10.
What are you working on now?
I’m actually working on a new series. The books are tentatively titled the ‘Sentinels’ and will start off in a short story collection coming May 2013. These will be different from my Guardians, with the stories revolving around people who are ‘gifted’ with special abilities. They’re known as high-bloods and will include witches and psychics and necromancers, as well as the Sentinels. The Sentinels are men and women who are trained warriors who protect the high-bloods when they travel away from their safe-house called Valhalla, or track those high-bloods who are a danger to the mortal population.
I’d like to thank today’s author Alexandra Ivy 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
Alexandra Ivy graduated from Truman University with a degree in theatre before deciding she preferred to bring her characters to life on paper rather than stage. She currently lives in Missouri with her extraordinarily patient husband and sons.
Visit Alexandra Ivy Online:
Written by Mark O’Bannon
Mark O’Bannon is the CEO of MEOw Publishing and is the author of “The Dream War Saga.” His books include: “The Dream Crystal”, “The Dark Mirrors of Heaven”, and “Aia the Barbarian.”
You can find Mark on Google+ and Twitter. Over the past 15 years, Mark has taught Writing, Self-Publishing and Internet Marketing for authors. Visit his blog, “Better Storytelling” or his website, www.MarkOBannon.com