Writing Metaphor, Memorable Characters And Horror With Chuck Wendig

I believe it’s important for us as writers to find successful authors to model, for inspiration on the journey but also to learn from.

chuck wendigChuck Wendig is one of the authors I respect and aspire to model. He is an incredibly hard-working writer with prolific creative output, and some incredible writing. I love his latest novels, Blackbirds and Mockingbird and his blog, TerribleMinds.com is a must-read (although it does have a language warning on it and the profane humor is not for everyone). Chuck is also an award-winning screen-writer and game designer, as well as having non-fiction books available on writing.

Today’s podcast is clean (despite Chuck’s reputation!), and you can watch the video interview on YouTube here.

  • How Chuck got started with writing 18 years ago (when he was 18) with his first published short story. He wrote 5-6 horrible novels including the first iteration of Blackbirds. He worked in the gaming industry and then moved into screenwriting, winning a contest and learning how to adapt Blackbirds to the screen in order to fix it and then turn it into a proper novel.
  • From there, Blackbirds got published, Chuck had an Emmy nomination, his screenwriting thing took off, so did the novels and the blog. Now the novels are the main income stream which has developed in the last year. He has 5 novels, a stack of books on writing and 7 books due in the next 2 years. It’s a busy time!

On writing horror and dark & twisty things

  • On writing horror and also being psychologically healthy. I keep coming back to this subject as my own writing is getting darker. Writers address things that everyone is scared of, and everyone is scared of something. Figure out what your characters are afraid of and then confront them with that. As readers, we associate with the protagonist, so we’re asking the audience to confront their fears.
  • On self-censoring and being afraid of what people might say, of how they might judge. Chuck has some YA books coming out and there is a discussion of using a pseudonym. Write what you want and beta readers, editors etc will help you with what might be just over the edge of acceptable.

Tips for creating memorable characters

  • The character has to be active and interesting. Don’t have passive characters and don’t use the ‘everyman’ vibe which is mostly boring.
  • The character has to have a ‘save the cat’ moment – we have to see their motivations and their ethos, wants, desires in action that drives us to know their story.
  • In Blackbirds & Mockingbird, Miriam Black can see people’s deaths, when and how, when she touches their skin. She thinks she can’t change this fate so she lives off other people’s deaths, until she meets someone who makes her question whether she can change things.
  • On gender and writing violent, dark characters. Miriam Black is a hard-core character, kick-ass and pretty nasty. Chuck gets two main complaints – his use of profanity, and the other thing is that he is a man writing a dark female character. Yes, she has a masculine side but she is just a hard woman. [Personally, I love the character and the fact she is a woman.]

Writing metaphor and description

  • I think Chuck’s writing is literary, in terms of the language being beautiful, evocative and original. As an example on his blog, check out The Battlesong of the Storyteller.
  • A metaphor is combining two unrelated things that draw the reader in visually, emotionally and psychologically. Metaphors are fingerprints that tell you more about the writer than anything. It’s a peek into the author’s weird brain. Chuck mentions Joe Lansdale as an example of a writer who does this very well. Chuck tells a story about when he was younger and didn’t realize his eyesight was so bad. He stalked what he thought was a wounded bird, but it was a rock. It’s about seeing things differently.

How to turn a terrible novel into something amazing

  • Learning how to outline transformed Chuck’s novel-writing life. It helped him change Blackbirds into a novel with a coherent plot and the book has gone on to enjoy great success.
  • Writing a screenplay helped him learn about language. The description bars need to be evocative without being pages long. The dialogue needs to crackle. It needs to include interesting visuals and hooks. Applying that back into the novel is what gives it the edge.

The hybrid author. Combining traditional with indie publishing.

  • Diversity is the best way to survive, so spreading your creative projects is advisable so you aren’t dependent on one thing. Trad and indie publishing can also support each other and opportunities arise because of the different routes. Chuck’s Kickstarter success for some indie books have led to a deal with Amazon for YA books. On the other hand, Blackbirds & Mockingbird as traditionally published books have brought some amazing opportunities in terms of reach, reviews, possible TV/film deals based on them getting copies of the book, foreign rights, graphic opportunities. The two sides work together. They don’t need to compete.

On blogging and twitter

  • Chuck talks about how he thinks the blog possibly helps his fiction but he has no proof of this. Publishers are certainly happy about the ‘platform’ or audience numbers. He can track people’s links to his buy buttons on the right hand side and people do click through. But blogging is an up and down thing, but overall an up because Chuck is still blogging.
  • On productivity. Chuck gets up around 6am and writes until he is done – 2000-3000 words per day, although sometimes significantly more than that. Then he does admin, emails, marketing stuff. But he writes fiction every day as this is his business and income model.
  • Around a year ago, a whole load of things happened at once for Chuck, as if critical mass had tipped and lots of people discovered him. He says that Twitter is underestimated by many authors. It is a phenomenal way to connect with people. See Chuck’s interview with Margaret Atwood. Writing helps you reach an audience with ripples, but twitter helps you throw out more pebbles (which make more ripples!)
  • There is no single way for the writer’s path. So take pieces of information from everyone but remember none of it is gospel.

mockingbirdI’m not usually a horror reader, but I devoured Blackbirds and Mockingbird, and I totally recommend them both, as well as Chuck’s books on writing. Warning: adult language and content.

You can buy it on Amazon here.

Here’s my review for Mockingbird (5 stars on Amazon.co.uk)

“Chuck Wendig can seriously write a great metaphor – his language is stunning and original and I’m always re-reading lines to try and fathom the layers. This is definitely horror with a suitably violent and nasty serial killer hunting young girls, mutilating and murdering them. Miriam Black, with her visions of how people die, tries to change the fates of the girls she meets by hunting down the killers. But is her gift, or curse, beginning to twist her mind into madness? It’s hard to tell as Miriam is one crazy chick, but a brilliant character. There’s kick-ass action scenes as well as psychological weirdness. Highly recommended, but don’t read last thing at night … “

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  1. says

    I would love to be a hybrid author and I love the idea of goal setting. I think my peek is midday for writing because I’m not too sleepy or too tired. Then again anytime to write is a good time.

    Love the interview and I agree that outlining a book helps a lot when writing because it helps destroy writers’ block. Hey, when you know what to write, you know what to write.

    Thanks for sharing Chuck and Joanna :)

  2. Mark T says

    Hi Joanna,

    We’ve teouched base before via ALLi but just wanted to say a quick thank you so much for the writing tips in your blog. They are really helping me a lot as I work on writing my first book. Reading about your own personal journey has also been real inspiring. Hope to connect with you soon!


  3. says

    I love Chucks writing so was looking forward to this interview, and you guys didn’t disappoint. Joanna asked Chuck all the right questions, and Chuck had great answers. What i love about Chuck is that he’s not afraid to hold back with the wit and profanity, and his personality is perfectly contrasted within his writing.

  4. says

    Hey Joanna

    Loved the interview – Chuck gave an interesting and erudite interview. For me the most resonant part was his thoughts on what you learn from writing a screenplay (as opposed to writing a novel).
    Writing a story in screenplay format is a great exercise that everyone should try – it forces you to really strip back and focus on story. And everything has to drive the story forward…you don’t have to worry about details of stained glass windows and 16th century religious architectural terms (though you’d probably geek out on that 😉 ) – instead you can write:


    Very liberating in many ways.

    Great interview….keep knocking them out!


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