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, Raymond Feist, the author of “Magician,” which began a series of novels in the Riftwar Universe. Raymond Feist has sold over 15 million books and his novels have been translated into several languages.
Life as a Writer
How did you get into writing?
By accident. I was involved in a fantasy role playing game in college and started dabbling in silly stories set in that universe, then one day got a bug to tell a serious story, which evolved into my first book, Magician.
When did you first realize that you have what it takes to be a writer?
I was half way through Magician when I got laid off of work. My friends took me to dinner and volunteered to help me pay my rent and buy food so I could finish the novel. That’s when I realized other people thought I had what it took.
Where do you get your ideas from?
One of the most asked annoying questions out there. Everyone has ideas. Everyone daydreams a little now and again. But writers take odd ideas and thoughts, random stuff, and grab it and wrestle it into stories. That’s why we’re writings. I think it was Ted Sturgeon who told me to answer, “Tell them it’s a service in Des Moines, and they send you three ideas a month; you get to keep one but must send the other two back.”
How do you develop your ideas into a story?
Well, that’s the process isn’t it? That’s what makes a writer a storyteller and not a bank clerk. Mostly I start with “OK, who’s the point of view character(s)? How’d they get where they are? Why should I care about them? And how is this all going to turn out?”
Too many young writers think there’s a one size fits all answer, and it’s unique to every one of us. You work how you work. If you need to dress up in a hoodie, sweat pants, and play meditative new age stuff to write, it’s no help that some other writer is naked, with the air conditioning cranked up to high, drinking pots of coffee while listening to heavy metal rock. Every aspect of the writing process is personal and unique. There are no tricks or shortcuts. This is what it means to learn one’s craft.
What kind of stories do you enjoy working with?
Mine are always character driven. I don’t care what sort of nonsense the character is facing, the character has to be someone I care about, so the reader cares about him/her. I like stories that explore the human condition, what it is to make tough choices, about the price paid for sacrifice and serving the greater good.
What genres would you like to explore in the future?
I’d love to do an Elmore Leonard “Get Shorty” type farce/crime novel. I have a couple of science fiction ideas, and I would love to do an historical. I most likely will never get time to do it, and as long as I’m successful writing fantasy, that’s most likely what I’ll continue to do.
Do you work from an outline?
No. I tried it once and threw it away half way through the third chapter. I have to know how the story is going to end. Then I start with that goal in mind, but along the way I often surprise myself. I find my sub-conscious does the really heavy lifting that way.
How do you build your story?
Each story is unique. And it’s easy to confuse plot and story. A lot of young writers don’t understand the difference. “King dies, queen dies,” is a plot. “King dies, queen dies of a broken heart,” is a story. My father was in film & TV, director, producer, writer. He would say things to me that stuck. Here are two I’ll pass along: 1) you’ve got to give the reader someone to root for. 2) if it’s not action, you’re writing about talking heads; if they’re talking heads, they better be saying something important.
For you, what makes a great hero?
I’m assuming you mean hero and not protagonist? Because a protagonist can be a villain or non-entity. A hero is, as Hemingway opined, someone who shows “grace under pressure.” I’d go father and say it’s someone who does what needs to be done despite fear. A fearless character really isn’t a hero; he/she is actually sort of stupid if without fear. There is no consequence if there is no fear. A hero needs to know what the stakes are and make the choice that’s the right choice, irrespective of consequences.
If one of your characters were to describe you, what would he/she say?
Opinionated know-it-all, but a snappy dresser.
How much time do you spend researching the setting for your stories?
Little,really. At a certain age you’ve traveled enough, seen enough National Geographic travelogs, read enough books, that you have some sense of setting. You know you’re not going to find cactus at the beach, unless over the hill is sand dunes and desert. You know you’re not going to find pine trees in the tropics, or orchids in the Arctic. And if you need details, back in the day was the encyclopedia, and today the internet. It only takes a few minutes to find out just where you mine copper, but fans won’t forgive you if you claim something true they know to be wrong.
What settings would you like to explore in the future?
I’m not entirely sure what that question means? If I were doing historicals or police procedure I’d name a country or city, but for fantasy, I build the wold, not explore it.
Do you like to know the purpose of your story before you sit down to write it?
It’s to entertain. Any “theme” is a happy accident. If there’s a moral message, a life lesson, an insight to the human condition or any meme, trope, or cliché, it’s by accident. Sometimes I’ll look back and say, “Oh, I just made a comment on moral consequences!” but I never plan that. Anyone who is about messages should be writing op-ed pieces or Sunday homilies, not adventure fiction.
Do you have any favorite lines from your stories?
I’ve written 30 novels and a dozen stories. No one line stands out.
Do you have a routine? A certain place to write? Do you listen to music?
I like writing first thing in the morning. I like to get out and do stuff in the afternoon. And on nights like this one, I like to be in my favorite sports bar with a cigar and a scotch as the game starts on their giant flat screen TV–a beautiful bartender or waitress is a value added.
I think for me, mornings are when I’m sharpest. I’ve had my all day/all night marathons on deadline and the work’s OK, but I enjoy it more in the morning. I’m rested, fresh, and the ideas come. My ex-wife was also a writer and she preferred working from midnight until 4 or 5 am, then she’s sleep ’til noon (this was before kids).
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I don’t believe in it. I think it’s romanticizing personal angst or some other issue and needs to be debunked. Harlan Ellison had years of “writers block” then got his health in order, and suddenly he was writing again. I think “writers block” is your brain saying, “Hey, dummy, you’ve got some other stuff to take care of and I’m not going to let you create until you do.” So if it’s personal finances, a bad relationship, a horrible boss, clinical depression, physical health issues, whatever it is, deal with it first. Now, to be clear, I have written through all of the above, so I’m not suggesting you spend a year with Doctor Phil and join a macro biotic lunch club and get a gym membership, move to the top of a hill, and win the Lotto (thought that would be lovely). I’m suggesting that when you hit that wall you think of as block, there’s something you absolutely need to deal with NOW.
How do you go about fixing a story?
I don’t. Just don’t break it in the first place.
How do you know when to stop?
You MUST where that is before you start. Else you’re going to wander like Moses and the Israelites for forty years looking for the end.
Words of Advice
What words of advice would you give to new writers?
Just write. Writing is the only art form where most people have the vanity to think they can be effective. No one looks at a canvas and paints and thinks they can paint a masterpiece without training or study. No one picks up a violin and plays brilliantly. No one gets a part in a broadway play just walking in off the street. You need practice. If you want to play piano, practice. If you want to play Chopin well, practice a lot. If you want to play Chopin in Carnegie Hall, practice a lot for years. If you want to be a pro writer, practice a lot (the years are flexible depending on your talent level).
No short cuts. No secret pro writer tricks. No magic in the box. Just practice writing. I have what I call “30 years of writer’s muscle memory,” so I can pound out as much as 30 pages a day if I need to, and they’ll mostly be pretty good. But you notice the 30 years part?
So, what is YOUR plan for the zombie apocalypse?
Hmm. Hadn’t thought of that one. I guess lots of shotgun shells, bags of potato chips and beef jerky, many cases of scotch, and at least one seriously hot lady who doesn’t want to have her face eaten.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written?
My next book.
What are you working on now?
Magician’s End, the last book in my Riftwar Cycle, Book III of the Chaoswar Saga.
I’d like to thank today’s author, Raymond Feist 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
Raymond E. Feist is a Californian by birth, a San Diegan by choice. He was educated at the University of California, San Diego, holding a BA in Communication Arts: Mass Market and Public Opinion. Feist is the author of thirty novels, have appeared repeatedly on the New York Times Bestseller List, the Times (London) Bestseller List, Publishers Weekly Bestseller list, and numerous regional bestseller lists. He is the father of two children he adores, and enjoys football of all times in several countries, collecting wine, reading history and biography, and the company of intelligent, beautiful women.
Visit Raymond Feist 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