Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Talk with Nerine Dorman

Today, I have a Q&A with Nerine Dorman. She is a South African writer of dark fantasy, the editor of my last two novels, a really hot looker, and all-around good person. Her latest book is the young adult fantasy, The Guardian's Wyrd. I asked for some of her thoughts on the art of creating a memorable story.

1) What writers have influenced you the most? What did you learn from them? Were there any writers from whom you learned valuable lessons, but whose stories you really didn’t enjoy?

Okay, here I’m going to go on the old stand-in JRR Tolkien. I cried when I finished The Lord of the Rings then immediately went back and read it again. Just the idea of creating a world where the actual story takes place after so much history has happened, and indeed is a thin sliver of the saga. So, for world-building, I have a massive debt to pay to Tolkien.

Then there is Storm Constantine, who once again captures me with her world-building and the way she weaves in arcane concepts with her milieu. Ditto for Neil Gaiman and what he did with The Sandman series of graphic novels. Then of course there is Poppy Z Brite who taught me what colours taste like, and about the smell of spilled oil paint long after the artist has packed up and left for the day.

2) What qualities make for a memorable character? How do you make your own characters stand out from those in other fictional works?

A character should be flawed. What if the hero is secretly selfish? Or if the love interest who appears beautiful, actually has a nasty twist in her personality? Characters are frequently damaged in some way, and have flaws in the way they think and act. Yet by the same measure they also need redeeming qualities, otherwise they’ll be thoroughly unlikeable and readers won’t enjoy the story. It’s a careful balancing act for any writer.

3) Writing is an art (involving creativity, inspiration and insight), but also a craft (grammar, style, the actual task of typing). Which do you find more difficult? Do you write only when inspired to do so, or do you treat it as a daily to-do, writing whether you’re inspired or not?

It’s an art, because I do believe you need to have what I term to be that mystical X-factor. Anyone can string together words, but it’s not so much the words, but *what* you’re doing with them that matters. I’ve tried to teach the craft to some who simply don’t have the capacity for the art. They fix many of their mechanical errors but the writing lacks lustre. But the same is also true of those who just practice the art – sometimes their works have limited appeal because they’re too unrestrained.

That’s not to say either is wrong, but you also have to ask *why* you’re writing. If it’s to make money, then you need to choose to write in a genre, like romance, that you know will have broad appeal, and then you’ll need to conform. Or you can write simply for the pleasure of creating a story that makes you happy. But then don’t expect that many people to read it.

4) How much detail of the course of a story do you plan out before writing? Do you let the characters and events surprise you? Do you do more planning, or less planning, for a longer story?

It varies. At present I’ve found it best to have a framework. My short stories are outlined in point form in a few sentences. I start the same with novels, but then flesh out those sentences to paragraphs. Since I often drop a story for months on end, it’s good for me to have as much information as possible there, so that I know what the hell I meant when I leave myself sometimes cryptic messages. And trust me, I’ve left myself some pretty bizarre pointers.

There have been a few occasions where I’ve done very little plotting, and invariably the story has fizzled within a chapter or two. I’m sadly one of those individuals who must begin a story knowing exactly *where* it will end.

5) What do you most want to achieve in a story? What do you most want to avoid? Why do you write in the genres you do?

I want readers to forget to eat, or be unable to put the book down. I want them to cheer or curse my characters from one page to the next. Mostly I just want to tell a rollicking story that that will get them excited and fire up their imaginations. I want to avoid being boring, or being difficult to read. So, hence, I’m definitely not going to write the next great literary novel. I write the genres that interest me the most, so you’ll rarely see anything without some sort of supernatural element.

6) What do you most want to tell everyone about your next upcoming work?

I’ve got a [shock horror] vampire novel for adults coming out soon, but mostly I’d like to invite folks to check out my latest, which happens to be be a YA fantasy novel. It’s kinda like Narnia meets Harry Potter, with an edgy outsidery kind of main character named Jay September.

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