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 Paranormal Romance writer Pamela Palmer, the author of over a dozen novels, including the Feral Warrior Series, Hearts Untamed and A Blood Seduction.
Life as a Writer
How did you get into writing?
Unlike a lot of authors, I had no idea I wanted to be a writer when I was growing up. I dreamed about being an astronaut, which never panned out, but I did get an engineering degree and wound up working for IBM. I was always a reader and a daydreamer and one day one of my daydreams got too involved and complicated to keep in my head. I started typing it into the computer on a whim and the more I got into it, the more I found that I enjoyed it though, admittedly, I had no idea what I was doing. A brand new library had just opened less than a mile from my house and as I perused the shelves and shelves of brand new books, I discovered a whole section on writing—story structure, plotting, characters, dialogue, you name it. It was the first time that I realized that writing was a craft that could be learned, not simply a talent you were either born with or not. I had a lot to learn, but I loved every minute of it and discovered a new career in the process.
When did you first realize that you have what it takes to be a writer?
Soon after I finished my first book, I began entering contests for unpublished writers. I did surprisingly well in them and it was the enthusiasm and encouragement of those anonymous contest judges that kept me going while I waited for an editor to take a chance on me.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Honestly, from everywhere. Everything I see, watch, hear, and read goes into the black box in my head. I tend to think through my fingers, so I type to brainstorm, and when I’m looking for an idea, one invariably pops onto the page through my fingers. Bizarre, I know, but that’s what happens.
How do you develop your ideas into a story?
I brainstorm with my laptop on my lap and my fingers on the keyboard, typing notes, exploring story paths, delving into my characters, etc. until I believe I have enough material to start writing. I’ve often written the equivalent of a novel in brainstorming notes before I’ve written the first word of the actual book.
What kind of stories do you enjoy working with?
I adore all things paranormal or fantasy—vampires, shape-shifters, fairies, witches, you name it.
What genres would you like to explore in the future?
I’m very happy where I am. The great thing about the paranormal genre is that there are no bounds. If I can conjure it up, I can write it, no matter how far out there I go.
Do you work from an outline?
Yes and no. Despite all the time I spend figuring out my stories, what I end up with is only a very basic structure. The skeleton of the plot. The specifics of the story come to me as I write.
How do you build your story?
Before I can start writing, I need to know the basics—the characters inside out, the ending, the primary turning points and a number of points along the character and/or relationship arcs. One of the best templates that I’ve found for this is Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! Beat Sheet. http://amzn.to/OOvJy4 If I can complete that template, I’ve got my plot figured out.
For you, what makes a great hero?
My favorite heroes (and heroines) are characters who face incredible challenges, both internal and external, and ultimately overcome their own greatest fears to save the day (or the world).
If one of your characters were to describe you, what would he/she say?
That I’m a sadistic little… Not really. My characters love me. They’re all much happier, once they’ve managed to survive their time in my books. As they should be.
How much time do you spend researching the setting for your stories?
Most of my books take place in the Washington, D.C. area, which is where I live, so my research tends to be local. I’ll spend an afternoon driving or walking around the area where the scenes are set. The book I spent the most time researching the setting for was the first in my Vamp City series. The stories take place in a vampire otherworld created as a doppleganger of 1870 Washington, D.C. I thoroughly researched the changes D.C. has seen since then. Fascinating!
What settings would you like to explore in the future?
Ones that require research trips to fun locales. Actually, I love fantasy worlds. While the books I’ve written are all based in our world, I’ve managed to slip some fantasy settings into a number of them, such as the land of Esria in my Esri series and the Crystal Realm (a castle in the clouds) in my Feral Warriors series.
Do you like to know the purpose of your story before you sit down to write it?
I usually discover the theme as I’m figuring out the story. It’s rarely something I start out with, though that has happened. Once I know what lesson my main character has to learn, I know my theme.
Do you have any favorite lines from your stories?
Pretty much anything Jag (my Feral Warrior jaguar shifter) says. His language is almost always inappropriate and often foul (so not fit to print here), but he makes me laugh. Honestly, I hear the words in my head and just type it as I hear it. They’re Jag’s words, not mine. Pretty much all dialogue comes to me like that.
Do you have a routine? A certain place to write? Do you listen to music?
I do have a routine, though my routine tends to evolve and change on a fairly regular basis, and it depends on what phase of the writing I’m in—plotting, first drafting, revising. In full-writing mode, I like/need to start first thing in the morning, which usually means 8:00 or 8:30, and I’ll work until about 9:00 at night. Not all of that is writing. Once I’ve written 4-5000 words, my brain is pretty well mush and I have to turn to easier tasks like blog posts, web updates, answering mail, etc. I write at home, though the exact location changes throughout the day—sometimes the dining room table, sometimes the kitchen sofa, and usually an hour or two on the treadmill desk in my office. I almost always listen to music, instrumentals. My favorite writing music is Keiko Matsui’s moodier new age jazz.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I don’t believe in writer’s block per se, at least not for me. As an ex-engineer, I’m a very analytical person. Over the years I’ve learned a tremendous amount about story structure. If I get stuck, it means I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere. I can usually take the story apart, figure out what’s not working and why, and put it back together. And then I’m off and running again.
How do you go about fixing a story?
I get out my writer’s tool box and start looking at the character arcs, turning points, act movements, villain’s goals, etc. until I figure out where I went wrong. That said, I tend to write in layers, so the fixing may only be a matter of layering in the emotions, setting/sensory details, etc. that I blew by in the first draft.
How do you know when to stop?
When the book is due to my editor. I could tinker with it forever otherwise.
Words of Advice
What words of advice would you give to new writers?
Understand that genre fiction writers are storytellers, first and foremost. Learn to write as well as you can (and it can be learned), but ultimately it’s all about the story. If you have stories to tell, you can be an author, but it takes a lot of hard work and long hours. Write, write, write, and don’t ever give up!
So, what is YOUR plan for the zombie apocalypse?
I plan to lock myself, friends, and family in the nearest Target or Wal-Mart. Food, toiletries, bedding, clothing, restrooms, garden supplies to use as weapons, electronics, batteries, books, flashlights. We’ll be set for months.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written?
Oh, tough question, and I have no idea. What makes any book good is such a matter of opinion and I can never see any of my books clearly. I’m much too close to them. But, then, you didn’t ask which I think is my best book, did you?
The best thing I’ve ever written was probably a note I sent to my step-grandfather soon after college, right after he caused the automobile accident that killed my grandmother. My dad blamed him. And my step-grandfather was at fault. But he certainly hadn’t meant to do it. I sent him a note telling him how sorry I was that he’d lost his wife, that I knew how much he’d loved her, and how much he was going to miss her, and that I was just so thankful that we hadn’t lost him in that accident, too, as we so easily could have. He told me later how much that note meant to him. The right words at the right time, I believe. He was a good man.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently writing the second book in my Vamp City series, the sequel to A Blood Seduction. And once it’s done, I’ll be diving into the eighth book in my Feral Warriors shape-shifter series.
I’d like to thank today’s author Pamela Palmer 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
Pamela Palmer is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Vamp City series and the Feral Warriors shape-shifter series. When Pamela’s initial career goal of captaining starships failed to pan out, she turned to engineering, satisfying her desire for adventure with books and daydreams until finally succumbing to the need to create worlds of her own. Pamela lives and writes in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
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