Beyond Redemption author Michael R. Fletcher just finished an “ask me anything” interview with reddit.com’s always vibrant fantasy community. He shared some incredible writing advice while he was there. Check out some of my favorite questions and answers below, and read the full Q&A here. You can also check out my interview with Fletcher here.
that1guythat1time: What was your AHA! moment as a writer? That one developmental lesson that seemed to stitch everything you were trying to do into successfully doing it.
Michael R. Fletcher: Get in the Point of View character’s head. Write everything filtered by their perceptions, their personality, their past. I used to write as a kinda distant narrator. Everyone’s scenes were similar as I was describing them. It wasn’t until I realize that no two people ever see the same thing that my writing began to click. I like writing in a claustrophobic third, right in the head of the POV character. Put simply, don’t be you when you’re writing. Be the character.
Graham Austin-King: Hi Michael, I would guess from what you’ve written above that you’re more of a plotter than a pantser. That said, how often has the story run away from you and drifted into a weird tangent dimension filled with sentient socks… or something like that?
Michael R. Fletcher: Actually, I fall on the pantsing (though mostly without pants) side of the equation. I usually have an idea where things will go but am not worried if they go elsewhere. I never plan more than the next three chapters and even then they rarely happen as expected. This is the fun part of schizo-writing. You have to see every scene and event from the character’s POV. You have to remember what they know and what they don’t know, and allow them to react accordingly. Forcing characters to do something because your plot outline demands it seems terribly boring to me. I’d rather scrap the outline and see what happens. At least once a book I write myself into a corner where I have no idea how the character can possibly get out alive. Sometimes the character dies, or sometimes I get a flash of mad inspiration and the character figures their way out. Virtually none of the deaths in Beyond Redemption were planned. All of that said, my books (so far) haven’t gone racing off into strange new sock-overlord-ruled worlds. I know the basic story (it’s a kidnapping!) and that usually keeps things kinda sane. But insane.
Zombie_Owlbear: I’m curious whether you can point out a specific writing exercise that was helpful in developing that craft?
Michael R. Fletcher: I did my writing exercises by mistake. When Five Rivers agreed to publish 88 (my first novel) they asked me to change the tense from present to past and rewrite it all from an awkwardly loose third to a very tight third. They wanted me right in the character’s heads. They also wanted me to better balance the number of male/female characters in the book as I’d done the typical guy thing and written about a bunch of dudes. This rewriting was an amazing experience. Seeing how changing POVs changed the story taught me how much it mattered, how important it was to write from a very specific character’s POV. Changing the tense was another fantastic lesson. While some of the action scenes were arguably better in the present tense (they were immediate, more in the reader’s face), the rest of the book was far better in past tense. My suggestion for writing exercises would be to write a story and then completely rewrite it changing the tense. Then do it again changing the POV. And then do it again and change the sexes of the major characters. See how each scene changes. See how the emotional impact changes. Learn what works for you, what you’re comfortable with.