This week we took five with Chris Andrews who will be running a Creating Compelling Novels workshop with us on Saturday 25 July. Join him to discover exactly what each part of a novel must accomplish, why so many stories suffer from ‘middle sag syndrome’, and why so many novels fail to be compelling.
What do you love about writing?
The joy of discovery. It doesn’t matter whether I’ve planned something out or I’m just writing by the seat of my pants, I never know exactly what’s around the corner. Characters lead me astray, they say and do things I don’t expect, and at some point they turn into real people capable of making their own decisions. I love that, even when it makes life difficult.
What was the first piece of writing you had published?
A short story called ‘Wyvern’s Blood’, which was published in the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild’s first anthology—Nor of Human. A documentary about parasitic wasps inspired an idea while I was struggling with an entirely different concept. Worlds collided and it all came together.
Despite its horrific nature, people reacted really well to it. It took me a long time to realise why that was, and I’ll be sharing the concept in the Creating Compelling Novels workshop.
What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work—and why?
I can think of two specifically.
Magician by Raymond E Feist—fantasy on an epic scale, yet totally engaging and easy to get into. I’m a little afraid to revisit it in case it doesn’t live up to the memories, but it inspired my love of fantasy.
The other was Battlefield Earth, and not because I loved it. It just seemed so dumbed down that I was (ignorantly) sure I could do better. So I set out to do just that. I think I was about 14 years old at the time. It’s probably a good thing I had no idea what I was getting myself in for. Regardless, it was enough to inspire me to be a writer, and that’s something I’ll always be grateful for.
You’re running a workshop here at the Centre on Saturday 25 July, Creating Compelling Novels. What can participants expect to take away from it?
Like many writers, when I started writing I thought all I needed was a really good idea and the ability to string words together. I was wrong. After that, I thought that studying professional writing at university was what I needed. Again, I was wrong. University taught me a lot of very useful things, but not the most important.
It took a lot of feedback, experience, and self-guided study before I realised that crafting stories and writing weren’t the same thing. Almost anyone can write a story, but that won’t necessarily make a good one. Lots of people have brilliant ideas too, but ideas aren’t stories either. Stories are about meeting or exceeding your audience’s expectations, and expectations vary wildly. Ultimately, you have to make your audience care if you want success as a writer. I hit on that with ‘Wyvern’s Blood’ without even realising it, and pretty much every successful story I’ve read since does that too.
I’ll be teaching participants a range of methods that consistently work to achieve this—everything from how to apply story structure and the fundamentals of compelling conflict to the essentials of creating believable characters.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?
Best: You can’t edit a blank page.
Worst: Write what you think will sell.
Over the last ten years or so Chris Andrews worked as editor with CSIRO’s Web Team and Internal Communications areas, and now runs Creative Manuscript Services full-time. He is currently negotiating a four-book deal with an Australian publisher through his literary agent.