interview with a Terrible Mind, Chuck Wendig by Rachel Helie
Rachel: Thanks for taking time out to answer these questions. With the success of Blackbirds and your blog and…okay, it’s a mystery to me where you find time for it all to be honest! So let’s get to it!
Question 1: Many authors say that it is important to “write as one speaks.” I’m not suggesting that you walk around muttering the things you write (leave that to your fans!) but would you say that your work is representative of your internal monologue?
Chuck: I do walk around muttering all the things I write. The first draft of every thing I do is called “the mutter draft.” I hire a small, unobtrusive person to follow me around and record it as I go.
I don’t think my writing is really all that representative of an internal monologue – my internal monologues are probably pretty incomprehensible to any who would actually witness them in some psychic way. That said, I do think the work is representative of my voice, both internal and external. Edited, sharpened, tightened, but my voice just the same.
R: In your career as the freelance “penmonkey” you have made a living providing advice and inspiring fellow writers with your ability to do prolific work, all while meeting the challenges of family life. What are some things that you have found work in your juggling of career and domesticity?
C: Technically, I don’t make a living doing the advice and inspiration thing – I sell some e-books (more now than I used to, which is good), but the actual “living” part of my work comes from all the other writing I do.
As for the juggling thing—well, first, I found it’s a terrible idea to actually try to juggle a toddler and any technological device. You’re bound to favor the toddler and that just means you break your keyboard or iPad or whatever. Turns out, “juggling” is metaphorical. Stupid metaphors.
Said-metaphorical-juggling is no easy feat and gives way to chaos very easily. The best thing I can tell people, and I hear this a lot from folks, is that you don’t just “have time.” Everybody says that phrase—“I don’t have time.” Well, everybody has the same hours in their day, it’s all about the partitioning of those hours. We devote hours to sleep and child raising and reading and eating and whatever.
You have to find a way to take time for the things you want to do. It won’t happen for you. One must be active! Reach! Grab! Steal the minutes and hours back from the mouth of the Time Beast. Even a little time reclaimed will let you do that thing you want to do. Maybe not at full-blast, but something is better than nothing.
R: Do fans and critics seem to have different expectations of your work, which is sometimes sordid, now that you are a family man and father? Do you feel that it alters your perspective and time investment in the work?
C: No, I haven’t found any altered expectations. The nice thing about having a daily blog is that I continue to urge my voice into the world daily, which not only practices my writing but also continues to assert who I am as a writer.
Having a kid has altered my perspective, though, sure. It’s given me new reason to do what I do. Both to put food in his mouth and to one day put books in his hands. And, best of all, ideas in his mind.
R: When you began your blog, Terrible Minds, did you have a very specific idea of what it was going to be or did it (and does it) undergo gradual evolution?
C: I once thought it would be a website for a community of writers—I used to run a BBS and ran a thing there called WAR, Writers Against Reality. I envisioned doing so again except… ennh, that seemed like a lot of work so I made the website for ME, ME, ME, instead. Moo hoo ha ha.
It has kind of evolved into a place for writers, though. Over the last 10+ years.
R: In Blackbirds your protagonist, Miriam, is an often callous, violent woman but still has pathos. What method do you utilize when researching your characters? What inspires you in their creation and how do you walk that tightrope, supporting characters who possess such deep personal flaws?
C: I don’t really “research” my characters, exactly. I research situations, events, settings, ideas, but not so much characters. The characters are in my head and it’s mostly a case of letting them tumble around for a while, breaking off all the jagged bits and figuring out what lurks beneath their crusty exterior.
There exists this idea that characters must be “likable,” which is, to me, a bit batty. All the people in my life that are likable make excellent friends and family but would not necessarily make excellent characters in a book. We don’t need to like a character so much as we need to like being with them and watching them for 300+ pages. The best thing I can say is, don’t make them boring. Interesting characters will – wait for it, wait for it – always be interesting.
R: You have advocated the character driven plot (particularly in film). Would you recommend that characters drive the plot and that a writer should commit themselves to character development early in the process? How do you feel about building stories around thematic elements?
C: Characters do drive the plot. They must. Consider how things happen in real life, how humanity exists and suffers and thrives—it happens under the direction and duress of human beings. Of their choices and behaviors. We’re all making our own plot. External events happen but we react to them as who we are and it is our decision that shapes our own course. Why shouldn’t it be the same way in fiction? It also helps to ensure that a story is more inventive, original, unpredictable – plots tend to follow a pattern. Characters follow no such pattern. So put them in the driver seat, let them find the road.
And I do think theme lies at the heart of those characters and actions, though. The theme is a delicious throughline that connects us (the reader and writer) to the character within the story.
R: In your projects developing scripts for television and film you worked with a writing partner, Lance Weiler. How would you recommend starting a creative collaboration with a partner, ensuring that you are both represented fairly and to maximum efficiency while preserving the relationship over the long haul?
C: I have no idea. My collaboration with Lance has been one of a few I’ve tried and the only one that’s been successful—I think collaboration is difficult with the wrong people and easy with the right ones, so the key is to find the right people. With the right partners and teammates in place, it all just kinda… works.
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