The Subconscious Interview with Douglas Smith

The Sub­con­scious Inter­view: where lit­er­ary sub­jects talk to them­selves while a clever blog­ger goes for a soda.

Today, Cana­di­an fantasy/horror author Dou­glas Smith (Chimeras­cope, The Wolf at the End of the World) ques­tions his sto­ry­telling abil­i­ties, his chal­lenges, and his love of a cer­tain tele­vi­sion show star­ring an ass-kick­ing hero­ine.

Read the Con­scious Inter­view with Dou­glas Smith here and here.


What is your name? What is your favourite colour? What is the air speed of a swal­low? [ED: African or Euro­pean?]

Just kid­ding. Here you go.

What’s the most crit­i­cal part of telling a sto­ry for you? Or to ask it anoth­er way, what’s the glue that you feel holds your sto­ries togeth­er?

I’m a char­ac­ter-based writer.  I always start with char­ac­ter (or char­ac­ters). My sto­ry ideas, as [Roger] Zelazny once said, usu­al­ly arrive as an idea, an image, or a char­ac­ter. If it’s one of the first two that prompts a sto­ry, then I don’t (can’t?) start writ­ing the tale until the char­ac­ters that will tell it are clear in my head. I tend to think in char­ac­ter arcs. Where is this char­ac­ter (in their life) when the sto­ry starts, how do they fit into this sto­ry idea, and how will they have changed by the sto­ry end? The old “what’s their prob­lem and are they going to resolve it?” If so, how? If not, how and why will they fail?

Once I know my char­ac­ters and their arcs, the next deci­sion is who of the case will be the POV character(s). I per­son­al­ly con­sid­er this to be the most impor­tant deci­sion in decid­ing how to tell a sto­ry. Any sto­ry will change con­sid­er­ably depend­ing on whose POV you choose. For me, it ties into why I’m telling the sto­ry. I plan to write a nov­el from the POV of the Dead Man char­ac­ter in my nov­el­ette Mem­o­ries of the Dead Man, but I first want­ed to explore Bish­op as a char­ac­ter as oth­er peo­ple saw him. I want­ed to keep him a cipher to a large part, and not get into his head yet. So although the Dead Man is arguably the main char­ac­ter in the nov­el­ette, I chose anoth­er char­ac­ter, Mary, as the POV char­ac­ter. I have a longer ver­sion of that sto­ry with book­ends about anoth­er POV char­ac­ter inter­view­ing Mary in prison (as he is about to break her out) about her mem­o­ries of the Dead Man. That character’s moti­va­tion in the sto­ry is sim­ply to under­stand the Dead Man bet­ter.

What is your biggest chal­lenge when writ­ing?

With­out a doubt, it’s the first draft. I am try­ing to get bet­ter at just get­ting that first ver­sion of a sto­ry done, and then edit­ing. But my writ­ing method (or tem­pera­ment) has always been to write a bit, go back and reread it and edit it a bit. I’m slow­er in get­ting a first draft done, but it tends to be a pret­ty clean first draft. That’s fine for a short sto­ry, but for a nov­el, I’ve learned that edit­ing as I go can be a waste of time since I may end up throw­ing out that chap­ter or scene. I’m get­ting bet­ter at just writ­ing the next scene, at just push­ing on through, but it’s still a chal­lenge not to tweak as I go.

Why do you love the TV series Buffy the Vam­pire Slay­er so much?

Ever so many rea­sons, includ­ing a great ensem­ble cast and the unique blend of action/horror/romance/comedy, but it starts with the writ­ing. And, to my point of being a char­ac­ter-dri­ven writer myself, I love that it’s a char­ac­ter-dri­ven series. The sea­son and series arcs are all char­ac­ter arcs for Buffy over­all and for most of oth­er char­ac­ters. It’s a sev­en-year jour­ney where we see all of these char­ac­ters change and grow, actu­al­ly grow up as they face all of the typ­i­cal life chal­lenges in a very atyp­i­cal world. And, of course, the dia­log is won­der­ful. If you’re a writer and want to learn to write dia­log, go buy the DVD’s for the series, watch them, and take notes. And if you want to under­stand how to write char­ac­ter-dri­ven fic­tion, watch the episodes where Joss Whe­don pro­vides the com­men­tary. Each of these is an edu­ca­tion on writ­ing.