Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Advice for Writers from Author Sarah Skilton




Friends, we have a special treat today. My good buddy and amazing author, Sarah Skilton, is here to answer a few questions. Sarah is the author of HIGH AND DRY and BRUISED. If you'd like to read about my writing lessons learned from Sarah's books, click here for HIGH AND DRY and here for BRUISED.

And now, a Q and A session with Sarah Skilton:

1) What sparked the idea for HIGH AND DRY?

The idea for High and Dry came about because I love mysteries, and I love 1940s hardboiled movies such as Double Indemnity and In a Lonely Place. I also liked the show Veronica Mars (a mystery series set in high school that was recently revived by Kickstarter), and I wanted to try my hand at writing a boy narrator point of view. High and Dry is quite different from Bruised, my first novel, in that it takes place during a single week rather than over several months' time. It was great challenging myself to write a completely different style of book and I really enjoyed the process!

2) You used to be a script reader. How did that experience help you when it came to writing your own fiction?

I used to be a professional script reader for the company that puts out the casting Breakdowns. Basically that entailed reading scripts for TV shows and films that were casting, and writing up character descriptions so the talent agents and managers would know which of their actors to send out on auditions for which projects. I read hundreds of screenplays a year and it was fantastic for learning about pacing, dialogue, characterization, and tone. Another rule in screenwriting (besides "show, don't tell") is "enter the scene late and get out early," and I try to take that to heart when I'm writing my novels. 

3) Tell us a bit about your writing process. Plotter? Pantser? Somewhere in between?

As a complete cliche, I carry around a small notebook in my purse that I use to jot down ideas whenever I get them. I definitely like to have a sense for where the story's going before I begin. I know the ending very early on even if it changes in some specifics once I get there. I keep one document for notes/vague outline, and another document for the actual manuscript, and the two don't always end up matching. However, to sit down each morning and write, I have to know the direction of at least one chapter in advance or I'll panic. I call it the cushion.

4) What's the best writing advice you've ever received? Why did it resonate with you?

The best writing advice I ever received was to write the story you most wish to read. If you're writing something to please somebody else, or because you think it will be popular, but it's not something you're passionate about or excited to do, I think it will show in the writing.

5) Any additional advice you can offer writers who are seeking an agent or pursuing publication?

I would say don't beat yourself up if you have days where the writing doesn't come easily or you fear that everything you've written is junk. Give yourself a day or two off. Your brain will continue working on the story, and it'll come up with answers you didn't know you had.

As for seeking an agent or pursuing publication, follow all the directions posted on an agent's website to the letter. That'll already put you ahead of 85% of the other people who are sending queries! No joke :) Also, check out @SaraMegibow "10 queries in 10 tweets" series on Thursdays for more hints and help.


Sarah, thanks so much for the valuable information! And I love the advice about writing the book you most wish to read. Kristin Hannah, author of one of my favorite books--Firefly Lane--said something similar. She was frustrated by the lack of "friendship novels" for women. Her mom said, "Then write one."

Are you a fan of hardboiled movies? Are you a plotter or pantser? When submitting to an agent or publisher, do you study and follow their guidelines? Any tips you'd like to add?

17 comments:

  1. What an interesting job you had! Enter scene late, get out early - I will remember that.
    Always the plotter. Otherwise my stories would wander into the desert and never return...

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    1. Alex, I'm with you on plotting. I'd have hundreds of pages of backstory and exposition without it! I also like the advice to get into a scene late and leave early.

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  2. I love the advice of writing a story you'd want to read. I try and keep that in mind while I pants away. =)

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    1. Elsie, me too! It's good to remember that instead of worrying about what is hot. If we like it, there's a strong chance others will too!

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  3. "Enter the scene late and get out early." I like that!

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    1. Isn't that the coolest bit? I'll try and remember that one.

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  4. I always read and follow guidelines and also read some of the things already published by the publisher. I like some 'hard boiled' novels.

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    1. Susan, it sounds as if you're doing the perfect research. I'm sure agents and editors appreciate only receiving what they like and request!

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  5. I just wrote - "enter scene late/get out early" on a post-it and stuck it above my writing desk. I am NOT a fan of the detective genre, but I couldn't put HIGH AND DRY down. Sarah has converted me.

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    1. Leslie, we agree about High and Dry. Our buddy is a fantastic writer. Reminds me of someone else I know *wink wink* (that means YOU!)

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    1. Donna, me too! Pithy and powerful :)

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  7. Interesting interview. Nice to meet you, Sarah.

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  9. Great advice! I also think the script reader job sounds fascinating! I'm about to read through a rewrite and I think I'll keep an eye out for enter late/leave early :)

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  10. First, the cover is very different and very interesting. I like that. Second, I love cliches, especially notebooks in my bag.

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