- How our upbringing impacts our storytelling.
- Learning what level of plotting and outlining works for each of us individually.
- The desire for our readers to escape into our story worlds.
Welcome to the 50th episode of Interviews from the Void, where I Interview writers and other creatives about their writing process.
In this episode, I chat with writer and artist Ani Paoletti. She produced a great cover for my short story, HUMAN, and is working through the final drafts of her own major work. She is also looking for other writers in need of cover art.
Arthur: Tell me about your writing journey. When did you start writing? What is different about your writing now than it was in the past?
Ani: I wrote a story for the first time in the seventh grade and ended up giving it to my English teacher (unfortunately I remember that it was a creepy urban fantasy and I probably scared her). That was the first time I ever really wrote anything down, but I have so many memories of sitting with my cousin as kids just telling each other stories we made up on the spot. After that first story in the seventh grade I definitely tried to write things down more often, but nothing ever really stuck. There were so many unfinished Wattpad stories that never had a plot and even a co-written story that didn’t take off the way we had hoped. I think the biggest difference between my writing today and back then, is that I give myself the chance to let an idea grow now. I really enjoy the brainstorming and worldbuilding processes, which for me is a really long gestation period of rambling phone calls with my personal soundboard, never-ending research, and all the hypotheticals about the world that the story is set in. I never did that before. I just dove in and ended up with nothing.
Arthur: What did you learn most writing this draft of THE BOOK OF ORIGINS?
Ani: Working with my most recent draft of BoO has been super eye-opening. The story originally was NA which is nonexistent in SFF, so it turned more YA, but that’s not really being picked up at all right now. Thankfully I’ve gotten some amazing feedback about making it adult. I’ve learned recently that it’s ok if my story’s characters need to be aged up. It’s definitely not the end of the world, and so far I’m realizing that this age-up is actually going to do wonders for my characters and world. I’m stoked to dive back in.
Arthur: How long did it take you to write the first draft of THE BOOK OF ORIGINS? Where did the original idea come from?
Ani: The Book of Origins at its core is an exploration of faith and religion versus science and logic. As an Italian woman who grew up in Chicago, I have a very Catholic upbringing, which conflicted heavily with my love of astronomy. When I was living in Italy (a very Catholic country obviously) I struggled a lot with my faith for the first time as an adult. It was also the year Guardians of the Galaxy 2 came out. I just had a lot of inner monologues about my religion versus what I wanted to believe in science. And that sparked all the worldbuilding that went into BoO and the exploration of a main character who wanted to push back against a religion she was forced into, and her search for something to believe in.
The first draft of BoO was a NaNoWriMo project in November of 2017. I had maybe written a handful of scenes before NaNo, but had straight up no plot. I knew my world, who my main character was, and who the side characters were and that was it. I entered that first draft with a lot of conviction and dedication which got me to 53k words…but no ending. Ha! Shocker. That draft was a disaster and written in 3rd person omnipresent past tense…it’s now written in dual POV first person present tense.
Arthur: Do you have any specific writing techniques you employ to hone your craft?
Ani: I’m constantly learning and trying out new techniques. For instance, I just started plotting, and I’ve been a self-proclaimed panster since I started writing! But for me, revising is probably my favorite thing. I love making my story better than it was and I’m always trying to practice my revision skills. I just started a new way of revising and it is already helping me tremendously.
Arthur: Did you have the beginning and end of the book in mind before you started writing? What was your outlining process?
Ani: Oh god, no, not when I started writing BoO, I had no clue where that was going. That was a wild ride to draft over and over again because the story kept changing and my antagonist came way out of left field. However, I have recently learned how ANNOYING it is to write a book with no road map, so I’ve begun to use a lot of outlining tools to alleviate the pains of not plotting anything at all. My next project has a loose ending, so I have something to aim for at least.
Arthur: What inspires you to write?
Ani: I get my best ideas when I’m outside. I live a pretty active lifestyle, and whether I’m hiking up a mountain, snowshoeing on the weekend, or just floating on a lake, nature gives me the space to let my mind truly wander. Fresh air feels like this kick starter to get my ideas going and if it’s not nature that’s inspiring me to write, it’s my writer friends. I’ve found such amazing inspiration in the friends I’ve made through the writing community of twitter, and seeing those peeps crush it gets me so excited to get back to work.
Arthur: What kind of experience are you hoping to create for your readers?
Ani: I tend to write mainly science fiction, which is not for everyone. But I would love to write a book that gets a new SF reader to truly love the opportunities that the genre poses. Like if my book could be a gateway to more amazing sci-fi stories that would be the goal. To do this, I try to make my characters and my worlds feel real and tangible and human. Because when I first started getting into sci-fi as a teen, it was daunting to read and kinda scared me because it felt really detached from what I knew, and I think that’s how (the people I know at least) feel about reading SF.
Arthur: Character development is difficult, but also the most important skill for writing an enduring story. What was your process in developing your characters?
Ani: I like to spend a lot of time with my characters in my head, making mood boards, pondering aloud things they might be thinking, and writing scenes on the sides to try to get to know them better. There’s two main characters for the Book of Origins, and while Lena came pretty easily to me, Caidan was and is still so difficult for me to write. I feel like he’s always showing me new things about himself, whereas Lena has always been this open door. So I just try to spend a lot of time in his head, listening to music he might like and making aesthetics to explore his past and present.
Arthur: There are great lines in your writing, such as: “It makes sense why his crew members are androids – he can program loyalty.” Did these come out of the blue as you were writing? Or did you have to think a lot about to get it on paper just right?
Ani: I think a lot of those kinds of lines are unplanned and just hit me in the moment while I’m drafting or revising, which is really fun. One of my favorite lines in the book came to me as I was drafting it originally and it just stuck. I try not to plan my actual lines out, since those are the ones that come as I’m writing a scene or revising one.
Arthur: I asked Hugh Howey about his thoughts on great cover art – we both agreed that covers indeed help sell our stories. You put together a great cover for me for my short story, HUMAN, without much to go on. Where did you find the inspiration for this cover? What about other covers you do for other writers?
Ani: I’m so glad you like it! I loved doing that one. I scoured Pinterest to get ideas of what I wanted to feel when I looked at the HUMAN cover, and when I found a certain photograph it just kind of hit me and I went with it. I’m a graphic designer for my day job, so making cover art with little to go on is actually a fun challenge. I usually start by asking authors for the basics, plus any mood boards, aesthetics, and other covers that they love the art/style of. I’ll usually have to sit with these kinds of things for a bit before I understand what I want to make for the cover, brainstorming and just trying to get a tangible feel of the mood they want to convey. I tend to make the covers either in a flat graphic style, typographic, or a mix of bold 3D typography and photography.
Arthur: What is a future writing project you hope to complete one day, but perhaps aren’t ready to write yet? What is keeping you from starting? What do you need to improve to start it?
Ani: I am dreading starting my next project which is a SF adult thriller based in the motorsport industry. I don’t feel like I’m quite ready to write it yet, like my writing voice might be too YA for it, so I’m hoping that my next revision of BoO that will make it adult, will help me prepare for that next project.
Thank you, Ani, for sharing your thoughts on writing and cover art development with us.
If you need help with cover art, reach out to Ani as she’s great to work with and produces wonderful content. We’re all looking forward to reading the final draft of “The Book of Origins.”