I get questions about writing and working as an author. Here are some I’ve received from friends recently, along with my answers.
Q: This is a bit of a daft question, but it’s been bugging me–when your books are reviewed, don’t you get a bit hacked off at being constantly referred to as “Gardiner” rather than “Meg” or “Meg Gardiner”? Or do reviewers always keep it on last name terms to avoid appearances of preference?
A: Not a daft question at all. Most reviews mention the author’s full name at the beginning, and use only the last name after that. I suppose it sounds more adult, and professional, than using an author’s first name. And it’s less repetitive than using the author’s full name at every mention. The New York Times may refer to authors as “Mr. King” or “Ms. Austen” but pretty much everybody else goes with the last name alone. I’m sure they use it for both men and women, because if the Telegraph called a man “Billingham” while calling me “Meg” I’d think they were a bit sexist.
Q: A friend and I had the idea for a character development piece about a boring man in an extreme situation. What do you think?
A: Write it, and have fun. But beware: boring characters often make for boring stories.
Q: What if the story of the boring person in interesting circumstances were a Web comic? Then the descriptive focus becomes the illustrations. But I think the main character would still need a small redeeming quirk.
A: The story has to be paramount, no matter whether it’s told via text or drawings. And the main character mustn’t be completely dull & alienating.
Q: I’m working on a science fiction story but I keep getting hung up on the details of the environment. Is there a trick to sci fi?
A: No trick. There are no tricks to writing. There’s only work. So practice. But be careful: in a SF story, don’t let world-building overwhelm story-building.
Q: What is the key to the best character development within a story? Is it the character’s own process of discovery, or does it come via external developments?
A: It’s a mix of both. External forces, or change in the world of the story, force characters to grow and discover and develop into something new. A story only takes place when a character confronts something in his or her world that has been thrown out of balance. Changes that come solely via internal rumination aren’t stories; they’re journal entries.