Highlights

  • How characters are the principle part of moving the story along.
  • It’s more important to tell the story you want to tell than trying to cater to a specific audience.
  • Writing with English as a second language.

I’ve always been very interested in the characters – I think they are the principle part of the story, since they’re the ones moving it along.

Welcome to the fourteenth episode of Interviews from the Void, where I interview writers about their writing process, discussing the mechanics and physicality of the craft.

In this episode, I chat with urban and cyber fantasy writer Manuel Arbanassi about characterization and the importance of writing for yourself. 

Arthur: Do you still live in Italy? What are the big genres selling well there? Is there much of a market for science fiction, horror or fantasy?

Manuel: I do indeed still live in Italy, Monfalcone to be exact. It’s in the northeast. And when it comes to horror and fantasy, we tend mostly to get books from foreigner big names (for example Rowley, King, etc). We did have some names in our country as well, mostly in the high fantasy genre.

Arthur: You have your website. Do you run it yourself?

Manuel: Well, ‘running it’ is a bit of a strong word, but I do try my best! A friend of mine convinced to start a blog. I had another site before, but honestly it was poorly planned, and the fact that it was more of a ‘site’ than a ‘blog’ kinda drove me to neglect it (my fault, I know.)

The Gatecrash Network site, instead, caught me from the beginning. And I do intend to try and grow it along with the rest of my writing, but yes, I do run it by myself…and it can be quite overwhelming sometimes.

It’s important to know where you’re going, but you need to be flexible to take the detours your story sometimes needs.

Arthur: Tell me more about your #Characterstell interview project you’re hosting?

Manuel: Gladly! I’ve always been very interested in the characters – I think they are the principal part of the story, since they’re the ones moving it along. And I’ve always been a fan of role playing, where there’s quite the focus on characters as well. So I decided to help exploring the character building and world building aspects of other writers!

First I started with the Twitter daily #game, which is still ongoing – it’s divided in weeks, each week the questions are towards a type of character (MC, Antag, Side and Background), plus some bonus questions to finish the days of the month.

After seeing the success of it, and finding myself with a blog, I thought about helping others in what little way I can, hosting each week a different character from various authors to get to know them better. I hope the exercise not only helps them with visibility, but gives some insight in world building and character motivations and growth – especially when you find yourself thinking about the common people that live in these worlds, the ones that usually act as ‘extras’ in the book scenes.

Arthur: You have a great article on your blog where you talk about motivation and writing. Did you ever have a moment where you were discouraged?

Manuel: Trust me, I wrote that article out of sheer experience. Being a budding writer can be quite the pain – mostly because you’re entering in a field where there’s a lot of other works around, and finding ways to make people notice you along with doing everything else writing implies can be daunting.

And for me there’s even a bit of a ‘stranger in my own land’ sensation. As it’s probably easily perceivable by my twitter, at this point I’m mostly dealing with the english side of things, but I still have hopes and dreams for the Italian side of the market as well.

But we all do this mostly out of a passion. So it’s either keep going or throw in the towel, and I’m not ready to do that yet.

Everything has already been written, but nothing has been written by you.

Arthur: In that same article, you mention that taking a break can be a good thing. Have you ever burned yourself on writing and how did you get back to it?

Manuel: That’s…a tad of a funny story, actually.

I was writing Elemental 2 (yes, yes, it’s coming, I promise!) and I was getting a bit burnt out. I spent most of the time that year between dealing with stuff, translating the first one from Italian to English, trying to promote it, the formatting, all that stuff, along with the ‘bad’ side of the business in which I won’t delve.

I decided to take a small break – you know, instead of fixing on that story just writing a short silly thing to take your mind off of it – because I was really starting to burn out.

…Next thing I know, for a number of other happenstances, I found myself writing Tiogair, another 400+ novel, out of it.

Arthur: How do you balance it all? Self-promotion, writing, twittering, blogging, reading, and all the other activities associated with being a writer?

Manuel: When I find that out I’ll tell you. But mostly it’s by being a vampire.

My sleep schedule is completely and totally screwed.

It’s by being a vampire. My sleep schedule is totally screwed.

Arthur: Tell me more about your self-publishing journey for “Elemental – The Calling.” What were the challenges?

Manuel: More than I admittedly was prepared for.

You have to wear many hats, and you have to consider all the various options, which is something I honestly didn’t do due to inexperience.

Editing and formatting was the first hurdle – writing the first draft is all nice and good, but having to read it over and over again becomes taxing, and you start to doubt yourself.

Translation can be tiring as well, since you’re basically rewriting the whole thing – unfortunately, google translate still doesn’t do a good job at it and a lot of things can be lost like manners of speech and so on.

Then there was the whole mess with publishing it, how to do that, who to choose for that, fine-tune the formatting, try to make everything fit without it taking too many pages.

Aaaaand then there’s marketing.

Dear oh dear. That’s the area I lack the most. But I’m slowly learning, or at least I hope.

Arthur: Is writing your full-time job? What is your writing schedule?

Manuel: I must confess I am currently unemployed. Not sure if that can make writing my ‘full-time job’. It does have a nice ring to it though.

I don’t really have a schedule, even if I really should. As it happened with Tiogair, I start a story and then I find myself so engrossed in it I need to see it done. And honestly it isn’t really the healthiest thing to do, you tend to stay up way too late, get too into it, there’s the burnout, the stress…

I should really try to get a schedule.

I start a story and then I find myself so engrossed in it I need to see it done.

Arthur: In these interviews, I’m hoping to discover how writers focus during their writing sessions. How do you maintain focus during these writing sessions? Do you put your phone on silent? Do you have a quiet space you work in? Listen to music or no music? Do you have tips for other writers to maintain their focus when writing?

Manuel: I live in a small flat, so I don’t really have much of an option when it comes to a ‘location’ to my writing, especially since for now I’m working from a desktop computer. A laptop to bring around and use on the go is being considered if I’ll ever get to the point where this is actually my full time job. Hopefully it’ll happen soon!

And music is absolutely vital to me. I just put my earphones on and I go at it for hours on end, listening to tunes that work well with the sort of scenes I’m writing. During Tiogair, for example, I’ve been on a Synthwave binge for the best part of last year. I don’t regret it one bit, I found some pretty cool music and some amazing artists.

My tip is – it’s a very personal process, so you need to find what you’re comfortable with. Don’t get ashamed. Whatever you find that might work, use it. It’s all for the greater good.

Yes, this does include making a kindergarten pillow fortress. Whatever floats your boat.

Arthur: Do you outline or plan your stories before the actual writing happens?

Manuel: I tend to have a general idea of how the book is supposed to go. Getting back to Elemental 2, which is in the works – at this moment I can tell you on a gross outline how every story beat is supposed to go and how it’s gonna be handled, from start to finish. But I do like to leave myself some wiggle room for unexpected things to happen – character development during a scene that might change the outcome of an interaction or group dynamics and so on. It’s important to know where you’re going, but you need to be flexible to take the detours  your story sometimes needs.

You need to find what you’re comfortable with. Don’t get ashamed. Whatever you find that might work, use it. It’s all for the greater good.

Arthur: What kind of experience are you hoping to create for your readers? Do you have a target audience and how did you determine it?

Manuel: I hope to bring the readers something that they didn’t see before. Which, let me tell you, it’s bloody hard to do in this day and age.

I have a thing I keep saying to people who are worried about their work being similar to that of someone else: “Everything has already been written, but nothing is being written by you”. With this, I mean that while the general concepts and archetypes might be already seen, it’s what the author does with them that’s important, the spin they put on their world, their characters and their plots that makes things fit in together.

This is what I try to do. Urban fantasy, for example, is a very crowded genre – what I did with Elemental is trying to subvert some of the common ‘elements’ of it. For example, there are no teenagers in sight, and what happens to the characters isn’t something easily concealable like just some tattoos that to a mundane might look cool: they’re all people you could see next door, and their changes completely cut them off from society, not just for their own choices, but because they literally can’t go back with how they look now.

I don’t tend to set myself a target audience if not in a very, very loose and general sense.

Bringing Tiogair back to the examples, I knew Tiogair was going to be for mature audiences because the first scene was erotic. Aside from that, I just went on with the story I want to write. I think it’s more important to tell what you want to tell than to just cater to a determinate audience. The target audience should come as a byproduct of the story, not the other way around.

Arthur: What draws you to writing the type of material you write?

Manuel: Up to now, these are all stories I wanted to tell for a very long time. I want to set up this universe in various ways (and I’m already exploring some other options, but that’s still way too much into the ‘ideal plans’ to discuss in detail) and I want to write stories in this universe. And I think I’m actually managing to do it. Especially with this last work, I’ve already got a couple more ideas for the Cerulean Springs setting, or even other books tied to Elemental.

It’s more important to tell what you want to tell than to just cater to a determinate audience. The target audience should come as a byproduct of the story, not the other way around.

Arthur: Have you ever used Wattpad or Patreon to market yourself? What are your thoughts on these platforms?

Manuel: I’ll start with Wattpad. I find it a very interesting platform, but, and I hate being the sort of person that goes to that detail (I always kinda hate discussing business, but I try to be as open as possible) I’m not entirely sure about how the monetization of the system works to know if that’s a good option or not. It’s indeed an amazing tool for authors to get known, but I’m not sure if it’s the right tool to get to a certain spot.

Patreon, on the other hand, I am seriously considering it. My only issue with it is that I don’t really know how much books and bookish things go with that sort of platform, but I do have some other projects that might be bringing me closer to it.

Thank you so much, Manuel, for sharing your wisdom on the writing craft. Be sure to check out his website for his characterization project and his books. 

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