- The magic of the first draft.
- Finding time to write when we have a family and a full-time job.
- Experimenting with our prose to find our own voice.
I am of a mind that there should be an abundance of magic in the first draft. That’s where the story is born, and as with any life, inception is a work of wonder.
Welcome to the eleventh episode of Interviews from the Void, where I interview writers about their writing process and the mechanics and physicality of the craft.
In this episode, I’ve asked Benjamin Davis Shelor about his writing process and what draws him to fantasy and science fiction.
Arthur: You’ve been writing for a long time. Since childhood. Is writing now a full-time occupation for you, or do you have another full-time job and or a family? What is your writing schedule and how do you find time to write?
Ben: For me, writing has always been more a way of life than a way to make a living. If it ever became an income to support a family I’d be all for it. But I’m a pragmatist and so I have a full time job (in a field that I like even) to pay the bills and support a family. Which means my writing comes in sentences and paragraphs strewn throughout a chaotic day. It also means I have plots thickening on back burners while family time and work time are happening. That way, when the elusive minutes of real writing come, they are the pouring out of thoughtful hours.
Arthur: Some writers are those – like myself – who crank out words to get them on the page and have a longer editing process during the first draft, while there are others who write slower and seek to make the first draft near-perfect. Which writer are you?
Ben: I am of a mind that there should be an abundance of magic in the first draft. That’s where the story is born, and as with any life, inception is a work of wonder. I want to be excited as I write the first draft and I want each chapter to build up more excitement. I’m going to need all that energy to get me through the laborious drafts to come. So in the first draft I do what I want. In the rest, I do what has to be done.
I want to convey the emotion of well-rounded characters. I want the story to convey a theme, and I want the story’s journey to be fun to read.
Arthur: Is writing part of your “education,” or did you learn the craft on your own?
Ben: I took a creative poetry class at a community college. That’s about the extent of my formal writing education. I’m sure I missed out on some important mechanics. In any case, I take heart in the mantra of my great uncle who is an artist. He says, “You learn to draw by drawing” and the same seems true for writing. The more I write, the more refined the process gets.
Arthur: I like your prose. I’ve often heard this being called “a writer’s voice.” How did you create your own “voice” in your writing?
Ben: I’ve heard it said that, in the beginning, your writing feels like that of the writer’s you admire. But then confidence builds and, like a child, you step away from the safety net of what you’ve seen others do or what your teachers or mentors told you to do. From there I experimented and played with style until I found something that not only fits me but IS me. Everything from punctuation to word choice to tone to structure is the prose manifestation of me. Take ellipses. I use them a lot. They seem to correspond to my real life habit of taking deep thoughtful breaths.
In the first draft I do what I want. In the rest, I do what has to be done.
Arthur: Do you write by hand or use a computer? What programs?
Ben: Ever since I started writing, handwriting has been torture. Something about my motor skills maybe. If it wasn’t for an old typewriter in the house who knows if I’d have ever enjoyed writing. I still use handwriting when I have to, usually to make my story notes into a chronological map. Characters and plots with arrows showing the flow and development. But when I sit down to really write, it’s always in MS Word and its always backed up on the Cloud.
Arthur: You’re using Wattpad. Have you found it to be successful for you? Have you thought about sites like Patreon? I’m curious as to what writers are pursuing when it comes to publishing their work.
Ben: I haven’t found Wattpad all that successful for me, but successful enough that I keep using it along with my personal writer blog. For me they are tools to garner interest in my work and a place I can send people who want to read my work. What I want more of from them is feedback. I crave feedback to tell me when I’m connecting with an audience and when I’m not. Patreon is something I think about on occasion but have never found the time to actually set up.
I’ve experimented and played with style until I found something that not only fits me but IS me. Everything from punctuation to word choice to tone to structure is the prose manifestation of me.
Arthur: I loved your “Fractured Spheres” short story collection. You posted it to Wattpad, correct? Have you since published it also outside of Wattpad? What was this process like?
Ben: So far it’s only on Wattpad and my blog site. The next step is to format it for e-book reading and get really good cover art. My hope for the “Fractured Spheres” is to provide vignettes into the world of my upcoming novels.
Arthur: Tell me more about writing “Spheres of Darkness.” Where did the story originate from? What was your writing and editing process? How are you publishing it?
Ben: It started about twenty years ago with a simple thought. “What if the entire world was ruled by a cult?” And then, “What if in the future the world has entered a new Medieval period? From there it became a story new “light in a dark world” story that has greatly evolved and matured into an intricate future spanning three full length unpublished novels. It excites me because I was never good at novel length. Short story and poetry was more in line with my attention span. But somehow this was different and I’ve continued. I’ve gotten feedback and editing from friends, but I never feel like it’s complete. I guess that’s typical. Eventually I’m going to have to put it on Amazon. I’ve toyed with traditional publishing but the odds are overwhelming. I wish I could be like Han Solo and say, “Never tell me the odds!” but I’m too practically minded.
I crave feedback to tell me when I’m connecting with an audience and when I’m not.
Arthur: What draws you to writing fantasy and science fiction? Do you have a target audience?
Ben: I have a really hard time writing anything BUT fantasy and sci-fi. There’s an old “Get Smart” episode where the scientist spy made a gun that looked like a camera and a camera that looked like a gun and was asked, “Why didn’t you just make the gun a gun and the camera a camera?” To which the scientist replies dryly, “My brain doesn’t work that way, that’s why.” My brain is always speculating and looking beyond the natural and ordinary. Writing is my outlet.
Arthur: What kind of experience are you trying to create for your readers?
Ben: My goal is threefold. I want to convey the emotion of well-rounded characters, I want the story of those characters to convey a theme, and I want the story’s journey to be fun to read.
My brain is always speculating and looking beyond the natural and ordinary. Writing is my outlet.
Arthur: You also have a screenplay in post-production for Assana (links). Do you have any screenwriting education? How did you learn the craft to write this story?
Ben: I’ve always loved cinema. The only thing lacking in a book is the art of the visual. So when a director friend of mine asked for help to make a sci-fi short I was all about it. My friend worked me through the process, provided a template, and gave me scripts from popular movies to study. It was tough at first. In a lot of ways a script is the scaffold which the director uses to create a story. It’s not so much about flowery descriptions as putting key points and dialogue in place so that the film remains grounded. It was a great experience and I’ve already written another one for a different director.
Arthur: What are some of your future writing goals and how will you achieve them?
Ben: I have to keep my goals focused. I’m always thinking about new story ideas, but my plan is to make “Spheres of Darkness” a completed work. That means forcing all the other ideas to remain notes on napkins for the time being. That being said, I’d love to keep writing screenplays.
Arthur: How do you come up with the names in your science fiction stories? Do the names have any significance?
Ben: I like making up names, and sometimes a name just comes to me and sounds right. Most of the time I make sure they fit the world’s history. In “Spheres of Darkness,” seven alien moons are worshiped, so children’s names typically have an astronomical component. In the screenplay, one character is named after someone in C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy, partially as a tribute and partially because the name fits on a metaphorical level.
Join us next week in Episode #12 where I chat with Kristina Mahr about writing her first book, “All That We See or Seem” which comes out on May 15, 2018.