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 Gail Carriger, the author of the Steampunk novel Soulless.
Life as a Writer
How did you get into writing?
My Mum used to read to me in bed and if I didn’t like the end of the book I would explain to her very carefully that the author got it wrong and then inform her of the real ending. That was the start of the madness.
When did you first realize that you have what it takes to be a writer?
Only recently. I always wanted to be an archaeologist, writing was rather more like breathing, just something I did. It was only with Soulless that I realized I might actually have a career as a writer. I still haven’t recovered from the shock.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Sometimes something will spark when I’m doing research for work. I also pay very close attention to my friends when they’re drunk, but usually inspiration comes to me when I’m contemplating the absurdity of the universe and at the most inconvenient time – like in the shower.
How do you develop your ideas into a story?
I keep several notebooks (AKA story bibles) with timelines, chapter outlines, gadget listings, outfit & place sketches, battle scenes, historical research notes, and general ideas and inspiration. These also include cast lists and character profiles (once a character is written). Sometimes I’ll draw out a mind map. I think visually so anything visual can become inspiration for the story.
What kind of stories do you enjoy working with?
Character driven adventures with lots of comedy.
What genres would you like to explore in the future?
Historical YA, politically driven epic fantasy, contemporary set urban fantasy, historical sci-fi with a strong female protagonist.
Do you work from an outline?
I’m a militant outliner, to the point where sometimes I plan for events to occur on specific page numbers. A Victorian era setting can become bogged down by social convention, so I have to watch my pace. I came to writing via YA, so I like plot to be neat, tidy, and clear. Characters are one of the few things that aren’t planned in my work. Sometimes a character will surprise me by becoming more important, or introducing himself/herself unexpectedly. They usually know what’s going on better than I do, so I let them do it in defiance of my outline.
How do you build your story?
Non-linearly. Mostly I write 2000 words a day but that doesn’t have to be chapter by chapter (although mostly is it). If I see a scene clearly in my mind then I allow myself to jump forward and write that scene.
For you, what makes a great hero?
Integrity, wit, a firm ethical foundation, good friends who are loyal and to whom she is loyal, the ability to act alone well balanced by the courage to ask for assistance when needed. Oh, and a love of good food and fine tea.
If one of your characters were to describe you, what would he/she say?
I believe Alexia would say something along the lines of: Gail is a demanding bit of baggage with a world perspective clouded by her unfortunately upbringing, a niggling habit of reprimanding strangers for improper dress and leg wiggling, a healthy appetite, and very decided opinions on tea.
How much time do you spend researching the setting for your stories?
As much time as I spend writing them.
What settings would you like to explore in the future?
1890s India and Egypt, possibly Japan, Peru, and America.
Do you like to know the purpose of your story before you sit down to write it?
All my stories have the same purpose: to entertain. My favorite compliment is when I embarrass a reader by making her laugh out loud on public transport. So I guess the answer is: yes, and that purpose is shameless public humiliation.
Do you have any favorite lines from your stories?
“Lord Maccon was built like a brick outhouse, with opinions twice as unmoving and often equally full of crap.”
“She moved with such purpose it was as though she walked with exclamation marks.”
Do you have a routine? A certain place to write? Do you listen to music?
With a project due I write (for the rough) or edit (for the draft) from 2 to 7 every weekday – with breaks for tea. The rest of the household, with the exception of the cat, is quite respectful. I have a closed–door policy. Which is to say: if the door to my office is closed my policy is to throw the nearest moveable object at anyone who disturbs me. They’ve learned. Even the cat. I write at home or at a nearby coffee shop. If I am really struggling with distractions I go to the library. No music, I’m a dancer. If music is playing I want to dance, not write.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
Read something non–fiction that relates in some way to what I’m writing. Could be anything from old medical journals to cook books. Or I’ll put a TK in the text, skip the part that is giving me trouble, and go on to the next part that interests me.
How do you go about fixing a story?
Editing is my favorite part. I’ve learned to love the red pen and going through and eviscerating my own text. It’s kind of cathartic. I also have a team of excellent beta readers and fabulous editors.
How do you know when to stop?
I stop between 90,000 and 100,000 words. Under 70,000 if it’s YA. Fortunately I comfortably write at just about 80,000. So for adult, I go back through and add complexity, character development, and detailed descriptions and for YA I cut it back. As for stopping a series of books, well, I believe in leaving the party while I’m still enjoying it, and (more importantly) while others are still appreciating my company. The same goes for writing.
Words of Advice
What words of advice would you give to new writers?
Honestly and rather crudely?
1. Sit your arse in that chair and write.
2. When you’re done writing only then do you get to edit.
3. Give it to three highly critical people to attack with red pens.
4. Fix it and submit it.
5. Let it go, sit your arse back down and write something else as different from the first as possible.
6. Wash and repeat.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written?
Whatever I’m writing next.
What are you working on now?
The first book in a new adult series, the Parasol Protectorate Abroad. The first one, Prudence, follows a crack team of specialists infiltrators as they fix unfixable issues around the British Empire in a steampunk 1890s.
I’d like to thank today’s author, Gail Carriger 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
New York Times Bestselling author Gail Carriger writes to cope with being raised in obscurity by an expatriate Brit and an incurable curmudgeon. She escaped small town life and inadvertently acquired several degrees in Higher Learning. Ms. Carriger then traveled the historic cities of Europe, subsisting entirely on biscuits secreted in her handbag. She resides in the Colonies, surrounded by fantastic shoes, where she insists on tea imported from London.
Visit Gail Carriger 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