Monday, 27 September 2010


Today I'm going to answer some questions from lovely readers. I originally intended to make a vlog about these, but I find that tends to take up a whole day, from the filming, re-filming, filming it AGAIN, cutting, adding sound effects and all the rest. Which normally I don't mind, but I'm getting close to the climactic bits of FrostFire now, and I'd rather spend a day working on that.

So, without further ado, I shall address the question sent to me by Natalie (who said some very nice things about me and my books too - cheers, Natalie!). She asked:

"How do you manage to create such life-like, relatable characters?" 

Well, I actually did a whole post about that here, but the short answer is really that you have to get to know them. You ask yourself questions about them, what they want, what they look like, who they are, and prepare yourself to get unexpected answers. And then you write about them and you let them go their own way as much as you can without it turning your fantasy novel into a comic 1930's caperchase film about bunnies on the run.

I think most writers have an eerie feeling that they don't so much invent characters as discover them, that these people all already exist fully formed somewhere and its our job to find out who they are, rather than telling them that. And I think it helps to love them all - including the complete stinkers - because that way you want to do them justice, and give them their chance to show that, in their own heads, they're all heros. Even the villains.

The next email is from Delaney (I have no idea if you're a boy or a girl, Delaney, but it's a very cool name nonetheless) who says:

I've been wanting to begin a book for a while now. I actually wrote part of a book and then gave up on it because I lost all interest and my writing style changed drastically. Now that I'm no longer writing anything, I miss writing. I miss the haunting thoughts of what I wrote and my characters not letting me sleep. Now, I have an idea, but I don't know how to start it. I keep thinking it isn't good enough. And then, I start having all of these thoughts like "oh I'm such a terrible writer, mind as well give up now" and "no, that's just stupid, don't write something like that!". Help me! Please! I don't know what to do.

Well, this is an unexpectedly easy question to answer, because what you're describing here is the EXACT SAME THING I GO THROUGH EVERY SINGLE TIME I START A NEW BOOK. You are not alone. I read about some authors who love starting new books and are full of enthusiasm and vim and vigour and just can't wait to get those first chapters down on paper. I do not understand these people. Beginnings are hard. You don't know your characters yet, or exactly what's going to happen. You haven't made important choices about the tone of your story, or the way the setting might effect things. You probably don't even know enough about the story yet to do any research. Usually by the time I've figured out all the stuff that *don't know* the idea just sort of seems to shrivel up into a tiny, withered dead thing and I can't imagine ever getting enough life out of it to make a book.

But do not despair! The answer is this: Give yourself permission to suck, and suck *epically*. Because you will. Or rather, your first few chapters will. It doesn't matter, because somewhere between chapters two and four, a switch will flip in your head and you'll suddenly realise (or remember) why you wanted to write this story in the first place. The characters will come to life, the world will seem cool and full of interesting details again, all sorts of compelling twists will start pouring into your head and you'll be desperate to get on and figure out what happens next.

Mind you, this won't be the last time you hear the voices that say 'This is a terrible story!' and 'You're a terrible writer!' and 'GIVE UP NOW!' because they'll be back everytime you hit a tough scene, or you write something that doesn't seem quite right but you don't know why. They'll definitely be back when you re-read your first completed draft and realise you need to throw out the first five chapters. But that, too, is part of being a writer. Every single writer, from the ones that love beginnings to the ones, like me, that love middles, to the ones that get gleeful over the endings, hear those voices all the time. In fact, EVERYONE does.

Yep. Your dentist. Your best friend. Your mum. That guy walking by the window right now. The annoying gym teacher. The pilot in that aeroplane passing by overhead? He or she is hearing them too. The secret to being a success at whatever you do is to accept that and do what you want anyway.

Delaney, you also asked if books these days need to have romance in them to be successful. This one's tough because I, personally, love romance in my books (the ones I read and the ones I write). But if you're not comfy writing it, don't, and then see if it works. I have many favourite books and stories that don't have any romance in them, and if those authors can manage it I'm sure you can. Finally, you wanted some advice on plotting. Well, I'm a plotting freak, and you can find my articles on that here, here and here, but if you don't like outlines and prefer to write by the seat of your pants, then that's what you should do. You're the only one that can figure out what works for you.

Okay folks - that's all for today, but if anyone else has any writing/reading/author related questions, email me or toss them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer!


Isabel said...

Hi Zoe!
Wow. Just yesterday I was going mad over a certain scene in my new book, like literally moaning and banging my head against the wall. This was so helpful, and you explained it in just a few paragraphs!
You Rock.
Isabel : )

Zoë Marriott said...

I'm really glad it was useful, Isabel - and good luck with your scene!

Isabel said...

Good luck to you too on your final chapters!!!!!

Isabel said...

Hey Zoe,
Should've written this beforehand, but the question only really hit me today while I was at school. I'm doing an essay (well, have been doing several) and have been getting some comments from teachers on my work and how I should change it that I sometimes don't quite agree with. What should I do when this happens and how do I know who to trust on giving me good tips?
Just so you know, I go to a really small school where the writing teacher is the same as the math teacher is the same as the history teacher and so on. so the people who teach me writing class don't specialize in writing.
Maybe you could help me out?

Zoë Marriott said...

Ah, Isabel, this is one of the Big Questions. Definitely worth answering. Let me pop it in my list and I'll try to get to it next week, okay?

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