Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Writer Interview: Shannon McDermott

Writer Interview: Shannon McDermott, from Missouri!

  Thanks so much for answering the call, Shannon! We're so glad to have you here this time, and we hope to get you back for a reader interview sometime later.

Shannon: I'm happy to be here, and I'll be happy to come back.

E: So, let's get started. What's your favorite genre/genres, and what do you think really draws you to that/them the most?

S: My favorite genre is speculative fiction. I enjoy the freedom of the genre, all the room you have to create and explore. I also enjoy how you can, in effect, get at the truth from another angle; whether in our world or an invented one, the most important questions are always the same.

E: What's your most favorite writing related advice?

S: My favorite writing advice is from the author who, when asked her advice for young writers, said that she would tell them to never listen to writers talking about themselves or writing.

On a more practical note, I also like another woman's remark on writing: "We must kill our little darlings."

Every part has to be evaluated on how it affects the whole. If it distracts, or undermines the portrayal of a character or the mood of a scene, we have to kill it - even if it is one of our little darlings.

E:  What is your favorite type of character to write? Why do you think that especially appeals to you?

S: I've enjoyed writing all sorts of characters - my favorite character in The Last Heir was probably the villain - but I've always had a soft spot for the quiet ones. They're slower and more thoughtful, and I enjoy writing them.

E: Where do you like to get your characters? Do you like to draw off of people you know, other books, or just pull them put of the blue?

S: Normally I form them in response to the story. Then, as I use them, they grow and sometimes change.

Years ago I wrote a Christian Holmes story where he was just besieged by distractions. One of these was a passel of relatives who showed up unannounced for a visit. I needed one to act as a sort of spokesman, and I gave him attributes in keeping with the role: talkative, outgoing, confident, maybe a little overbearing, well-meaning but oblivious.

I kept bringing him back, and different stories added different things. I made him an inventor, I made him rich, I made him brilliant. The overbearing aspect faded away; he became exceptionally well-meaning and almost eccentrically oblivious.

Henry Holmes, as I named him, is now the most popular character in the Christian Holmes series. The story shaped him, until he began to shape the story.

E: Some writers talk about their characters getting out of control and things happening that they didn't intend to happen; have you ever had this happen?

S: Not really. Every once in a while they surprise me, but it doesn't run away from me.

E: How do you write, is it 'start with page one, scene one' and go through it in order; or just "whatever scene pops into your head" (and that might mean that you have the entire middle of your book written before you even start on the beginning)?

S: I start at the beginning and go straight through. I couldn't do it out of order. There are writers who can work that way, but I'm not one of them. I can't write Act II before Act I because I don't know what happened.

E: How do you plan your stories' "bones", or do you?

S: Usually I start with an idea - such as an emperor who wants to be a painter - and then I work on it until I have enough to begin.

The novel I am currently writing began with my desire to write something about time dimensions. Then I started asking the obvious questions: How are they opening these time dimensions? Who is opening them? To what end?

I settled on the idea that this was the project of a group of amoral scientists. And naturally, once they began opening these corridors to other time dimensions, they would need someone to go through. They would need a test dummy - emphasis on "test" and "dummy".

Thus was the hero born.

E: Have you tried any plotting, outlining, methods; and what works best to your way of thinking?

S: What works best varies from author to author. I'm inclined to think, though, that some measure of organization is always good.

I work with broad outlines. ("First the mortal captain leads a rebellion against his Fay overlords. Then they flee the country.") At intervals I have to fill in the sizable gaps, and I do what I call "plotting". I make notes about the story, putting questions to myself and trying to map the plot in more detail.

I write few scenes without having some notes to work on - what needs to happen, or thoughts on the atmosphere or viewpoint character. Sometimes I even scribble down rough lines of dialogue in my notes.

E: What is your worst writing trouble?

S: I have to work on transitions - little transitions, when characters go from one topic to another or one place to another within a scene.

E: What is your worst writing fault? How do you identify and rectify its effects?

S: I wish I knew. It's hard to judge one's own writing.

My greatest concern with my writing is that it is boring. One way I help this is to make the characters bolder or to sharpen their goals.

E: Hey! It's been great having you here! We've so enjoyed learning more about another writer's mental workings! Thanks for participating.

S: Thank you for the invitation.


Unknown said...

Nice to meet you, ma'am! ( waves)

Nice to know someone else does the broad outline stuff. That's the only kind of outline that works for me. :)

I like the way Mr Henry Holmes got born..evolving out of the story the way he did. I love the way some characters just emerge from nowhere and try to take over! :)

Speculative fiction must be hard to write. How do you come up with all the interesting ideas? :)

Kelsey Bryant said...

Very interesting, Shannon!
The advice "We must kill our little darlings" is harsh but true! I have more trouble taking that advice than any other kind. : ) But once it's over, I always have the definite feel that it's better for being pruned.

Shannon McDermott said...

And nice to meet you, Hannah.

I write speculative fiction because I enjoy it; I read (sometimes watch) it for the same reason. When I'm feeding my imagination on such stories, it's not too hard to gain ideas for my own stories. A brief example: I decided to write a story about Time-dimensions because I always really liked stories about time-travel, time loops, etc.

Thanks, Kelsey. Yes, "pruning" is a good way to describe the cutting we do for our stories.