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, Marc Scott Zicree, the author of The Twilight Zone Companion and numerous television episodes. Marc has worked on Star Trek the Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Babylon 5, and Sliders. His newest project is Space Command, a Science Fiction show.
Life as a Writer
When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
When I was ten, I saw Ray Bradbury talk in a library. He was incredibly inspiring and when I saw Star Trek and Twilight Zone as a kid that kind of sealed the deal.
When did you first realize that you have what it takes to be a writer?
What time is it today? When you realize you can earn money you start to realize you can make a go of it. I sold my first short story and 19 and I was writing my first book at 22. I was selling television by the time I was 22 or 23.
George Clayton Johnson told me that he decided to use his full name because many of the great writers of the past used their full names. Is this why you use your middle name?
The reason I did that was because prior to being a writer I was a visual artist and I wanted to differentiate my writing from my art. I was having gallery shows when I was a teenager and I went by Marc Zicree. When I started writing professionally I started using Marc Scott Zicree. I asked my writer friends and they said it was a better writer’s name.
Where do you get your ideas from?
From everything. It can be a movie or TV show it could be something that someone says to me. Usually the best ideas come from a bunch of things converging together. So for instance, you might say something that starts the idea and then you’ll get a variety of things that coalesces.
All of those things come together to make that idea work.
How do you develop your ideas into a story?
Usually you start to look for a beginning middle and end. You start with a problem, escalate it and then have your characters solve it. You build it through structure and character as well. You have to have a story that ultimately satisfies yourself first and then an audience. It has to work for you or it won’t work for an audience.
Do you like to mix genres in your stories?
Sometimes, not always. I like different genres. I like Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror and Comedy. Science Fiction is really where my heart is.
What genres would you like to explore in the future?
I’m starting to write memoirs about my parents, so that’s interesting to me.
Do you work from an outline?
Yes. Particularly with scripts you have to have a plotline to know where you’re going. I always like to have a structure in mind so definitely I like to know where I’m going.
How do you build your story?
It can vary. Sometimes you have a character and you want to take a journey with that character. It depends on where your starting point is. It could be any of them.
For you, what makes a great hero?
A distinctive voice. Basically they’re not just cookie cutter. They come across as a strong individual. Usually it comes from an actor. I like to pattern then after specific people. If I can hear their voice in my head I can write them.
If one of your characters were to describe you, what would he/she say?
Depends on the character. I never ask my characters for their opinion on me. It’s a one way street. I tell them what to do. Sometimes they talk to me and I go where they want to go.
How do you go about building your story world?
I like the story to take place in a big universe. That’s why I like Science Fiction because you’re envisioning not just a world but the entire set of rules. I like world building very much.
What settings would you like to explore in the future?
In Space Command I’m exploring our solar system and the stars over a couple of centuries. So it’s very exciting.
Do you like to know the purpose of your story before you sit down to write it?
Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t but at the end of the process I should know what the point is. It’s important for a story to have a point.
Do you have any favorite lines from your stories?
Yes. In World Enough in Time, Sulu’s daughter Alana says “It’s not how long we live, it’s how we live.” I believe it’s important t o have a moral compass.
Do you have a routine? A certain place to write? Do you listen to music?
I tend to write away from home. I like to go where I don’t have any distractions. So I write in a library or in Starbucks or the Writers Guild lounge – someplace where I don’t have any distractions. I like to be away from home when I write.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I have a regular writing schedule so I don’t get stuck. I just keep going. Sometimes I shift to a different project – that helps too.
How do you go about fixing a story?
I’ll talk to people whose opinion I respect and get feedback. Sometimes a solution will come to me if I go for a walk or otherwise relax.
How do you know when to stop?
I don’t have that problem. I always know when a story is done. The story is done when the problem you set up to solve is done. A story is done when the problem you set up is the story is at the end when you’ve reached a satisfying solution. A story is about someone trying to solve a problem.
Words of Advice
What words of advice would you give to new writers?
Read a lot. Experience life. Work every day on your writing. Get better. Have professional writers give you feedback. Don’t work in isolation and whatever you do don’t stop.
So, what is YOUR plan for the zombie apocalypse?
To join them. If you can’t beat them, just kind of put on rags, shuffle and blend in.
Tell me about Space Command.
It’s a big epic story that takes place in the future. It’s about two families that are part of the migration out of the solar system into the stars It covers about 200 years.
Will each episode of Space Command be part of a grand storyline or will each episode be a completely separate story?
The stories will be self contained but will each be part of a larger story.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written?
“World enough and time,” which is an episode of Star Trek the New Voyages.
I’d like to thank today’s author, Marc Scott Zicree 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 story could be yours.
– Mark O’Bannon
About the Author
Marc Scott Zicree is a Science Fiction author, television writer, and screenwriter. He is also the author of The Twilight Zone Companion, a detailed history of Rod Serling’s series The Twilight Zone. He has contributed to the three-novel Magic Time, which is a collaborative effort between Zicree and three other science fiction authors.
Visit Marc Scott Zicree online:
Space Command: http://pledgespacecommand.com/
Space Command on Kickstarter: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/58936338/space-command
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