William F. Nolan Interview

Better Storytelling Secrets — William F. Nolan

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 William F. Nolan, the award winning author of more than 2000 works of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Western and Mystery.  He is perhaps best known as the co-author of Logan’s Run (along with George Clayton Johnson).


Life as a Writer

How did you get into writing?

I began “serious” writing in 1951, when I compiled and edited the Ray Bradbury Review (out Jan ’52) but I have been writing since age 10 – starting in lined school notebooks. I wrote all through high school (never sending out my work) and in 1954 made my first story sale. Have sold 200 short stories since. (I have no “trunk” stories; all have sold.)


When did you first realize that you have what it takes to be a writer?

When I sold a story to Playboy for $500 written in an hour one Sunday. Until then, writing was mainly a “hobby.”



Where do you get your ideas from?

Ideas are everywhere. In comments from friends, in the newspaper, on TV, and so on, but mainly they spring, unbidden, from my imagination. You either have a strong imagination or you don’t.


How do you develop your ideas into a story?

I start with an opening line and then add the last line – then fill in the middle. Once I have a plot concept, the rest flows naturally onto the paper.



What kind of stories do you enjoy working with?

I enjoy all types of stories: S-F, horror, humor, mainstream, etc. I like working with dark fantasy or with mystery fiction, or straight character studies.


What genres would you like to explore in the future?

None. I have written horror, poetry, Westerns, mystery, fantasy, sports, technical writing, science fiction, and humor. I never limit myself to any one genre.



Do you work from an outline?

For a novel, yes, a “loose” basic outline. Never for short fiction, though I make a lot of notes as to the direction each story should take.



How do you build your story?

You always (or should) build from an arc of suspense, with a “payoff” (a climax) at story’s end. Each story should have a beginning, middle, and end. I don’t write “fragments.”



For you, what makes a great hero?

A great hero is a character who overcomes a great enemy, or performs a truly heroic act.


If one of your characters were to describe you, what would he/she say?

“That Nolan guy has written a ton of stuff. He is compelled to write. It is in his blood and bones. And still gets a kick out of seeing his name in print.”



How much time do you spend researching the setting for your stories?

Depends on the story. Some require no research. Others a lot. I always double-check my facts.


What settings would you like to explore in the future?

The human mind. This is an area that offers endless variations.



Do you like to know the purpose of your story before you sit down to write it?

Yes. Otherwise you end up with empty prose. Each story has its own form and shape. I never begin to write unless I know where I’ll end up.



Do you have any favorite lines from your stories?

Every writer can come up with favorite lines. I like many lines in many of my tales, but none I care to quote here. Read my stuff and pick your own!



Do you have a routine? A certain place to write? Do you listen to music?

I have no routine. I write (always by hand in a first draft) at my desk in my apartment, or at coffee shops. I never listen to music when writing. It’s a distraction.


How do you deal with writer’s block?

I don’t have to worry about it since I jump around so much I’ve always got something to write about.


Story Development

How do you go about fixing a story?

You cut, tighten, revise – but never in a first “hot” draft. I go over each draft fixing problems as I find them. A first draft is always “rough.”


How do you know when to stop?

My gut tells me when to stop. Actually, once you reach your climax in a tale, then stop.


Words of Advice

What words of advice would you give to new writers?

Write every day. Read other good writers constantly. Read a lot in a variety of fields. Learn from the masters.


Final Thoughts

What’s the best thing you’ve ever written?

Logan’s Run


What are you working on now?

Eleven books (which will bring my book total past 100). Collections, biographies, verse, anthologies, two novels, etc. Great fun!!


I’d like to thank today’s author, William F. Nolan 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

William F. Nolan writes mostly in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres. Though best known for co-authoring the classic dystopian science fiction novel Logan’s Run with George Clayton Johnson, Nolan is the author of more than 2000 pieces (fiction, non-fiction, articles and books), and has edited 26 anthologies in his 50+ year career.

An artist, Nolan was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and worked at Hallmark Cards, Inc. and in comic books before becoming an author. In the 1950s, Nolan was an integral part of the writing ensemble known as “The Group,” which included many well-known genre writers, such as Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, John Tomerlin, Richard Matheson, Johnson and others, many of whom wrote for Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. Nolan is considered a leading expert on Dashiell Hammett, pulps such as Black Mask and Western Stories, and is the world authority on the works of prolific scribe Max Brand.

Of his numerous awards, there are a few of which he is most proud: being voted a Living Legend in Dark Fantasy by the International Horror Guild in 2002; twice winning the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America; being awarded the honorary title of Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. in 2006, and receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association in 2010.


Visit William F. Nolan online:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_F._Nolan

Website:  http://www.williamfnolan.com

Blog:  http://www.williamfnolan.com

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/williamfnolan

Twitter:  @william_f_nolan


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


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