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Would you like to hear the advice that Stephenie Meyer used to create Twilight, one of the bestselling books of all time? David Farland taught her and today he shares his advice on million dollar stories with you.
In the introduction, I mention Mark Coker's fantastic post about the realities for indie authors right now, how amazing the STORY conference was and my writing update: Gates of Hell is back with my editor for final edit, and will be out in the new year. Delirium, London Psychic Book 2, is now out in audiobook format. I also mention the fantastic Author Marketing Live online conference, and you can get $50 off if you use the promo code penn.
This podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna
99 Designs financial support pays for the hosting and transcription, and if you enjoy the show, you can now support my time on Patreon. Thank you!
David Farland is a multi-award winning and NY Times bestselling author of over 50 science fiction and fantasy novels, including the Runelords series, as well as screenwriting and working in the games industry. He also teaches writing workshops and has several fantastic books for authors, Writing the Million Dollar Outline, and Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch here on YouTube or read the notes and links below.
- How David started writing in the 1980s and won a number of awards early on, as well as writing for many gaming and popular sci-fi properties plus green-lighting for Hollywood screenwriting. He started teaching and his students included Stephenie Meyer, James Dashner and Brandon Sanderson. His rules are that a project has to be fun and he has to be able to make some money at whatever he's doing.
Writing the Million Dollar Outline
- If it is your goal to write a bestselling novel, then you do need to consider certain principles. Write what you love but then figure out how to write for a wider audience than you started with. For example, old and young, male and female. The Harry Potter books clearly appeal to many different age groups.
- Transport your reader to another time and/or place. Generally speaking, the top 50 books and films of all time do this. We discuss the importance of length in this aspect – despite the recent move to shorter books, the biggest books of all time are doorstop size. You can use novellas over time to create ‘mega-novel' series though, and a lot of people are using this strategy, particularly in romance.
- It must score high on the emotional Richter scale. It needs to impact people deeply and be remarkable so you get that word of mouth
- The word genre is really about emotions e.g. mystery = intrigue, thrillers = adventure, horror, comedy, fantasy & sci-fi = wonder, romance = love. Nostalgia is another powerful emotion.
Drawing on the power of resonance in writing
- Resonance arouses an expectation that you're going to like this type of book. Genre conventions are one aspect, cover design another, mentioning other books that people like is another. This is why similar tropes and characters are reused, as they have built in resonance. A good example was the recent Lego movie which was packed with resonance.
- This is not about plagiarism or re-using other material, but consciously choosing to riff off earlier ideas. David goes through the layers of resonance within Pirates of the Caribbean all the way back over centuries. You still have to be original, but add a twist on the past e.g. Meyer's sparkly vampires.
Longevity and your career as a fiction writer
- You have to be a good storyteller and be able to write well. There are a lot of skills you need to learn in order to be successful fiction author and it's equivalent to getting a doctorate degree.
- It takes about 7 years to become ‘publishable' and another 7 years to become a bestselling author. To be one of the best, you have to take that onwards to the next level. [I love this because I've been writing fiction for 4 years, so I am halfway through the apprenticeship!] There are people who have some kind of special talent, but most great authors work really hard and practice over years.
- On paying attention to dreams and writing them down. It's your sub-conscious talking to you! David talks about his process, thinking about his plot before bed so he can dream about it that night and then write in the morning. Keep a notebook or computer handy at all times!
- On fun and hard work as a writer. You have to consider your creative muse and not do the projects that don't bring you alive. Figure out how to stay out of the ruts that the industry will try to put you in.
- On author name and branding. Dave's real name, Wolverton, put him on the bottom of shelves in bookstores so when he started writing, he changed to the name David Farland. That is less important in a digital market.
- Loving the craft is critical for longevity, or why would you bother! You can always learn something new so there is a sense of a career path ahead. Understanding the markets and being aware of what people want is critical.
- It's great to be able to publish in many different ways, and Dave self-publishes his books on writing. But sometimes authors are publishing too early and are slightly delusional in terms of their ability and expectations of income. It's a great way to publish, but you need to learn the craft and get critical feedback before you can expect success.
You can find David and his books and courses at DavidFarland.com and MyStoryDoctor.com. You can also get 20% off his courses until Jan 2015 . This is a fantastic promotion, and if you want to learn more in 2015, check David's courses out here. ** Due to technical difficulties, all workshops are discounted by 25% right now, and no code is needed**
Transcription of the interview with David Farland
Joanna: Hi everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. Today, I'm here with David Farland. Hi, Dave.
Joanna: It's great to have you on the show. So just as a little introduction, David is an award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of over 50 science fiction and fantasy novels including the Runelords series as well as screenwriting and working in the games industry. He also teaches workshops and has several fantastic books for writers.
David, so you've had this amazingly varied creative career. I wondered if you could maybe give us a few highlights from your background so we know a bit more about you.
David: Sure. I started writing back in the 1980s. I was a pre-medical student in college and decided that my heart was really more into writing. So I started entering writing contests when I was in school and I won a number of short story contests and went on to win, got my first novel contract based upon that. I won the International Writers of the Future contest in 1987 and was given a three novel contract about a week later. That went well. My first novel got rave reviews and won a Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award, and set a tone for my career. It became a best seller. After that, I did all sorts of things. I worked with Star Wars, doing The Courtship of Princess Leia and some fun books for kids. I did a little bit of work with the Mummy series.
I worked on a video game that was called Starcraft Broodwar, so I was a co-leader on the design team for one of the world's largest video games. I went on and became the lead judge for the Writers of the Future contest, and I've also worked in screen writing. I worked as a green-lighting analyst in Hollywood for a small production company. I also started teaching at Brigham Young University. I was the science fiction/fantasy writing teacher. There, I taught Brandon Sanderson, who is now a number one New York Times bestselling author, as well as Stephenie Meyer, Brandon Mull, and also James Dashner, whose movie The Maze Runner just came out. So a number of successful students in this type of thing. I just keep doing different things.
I have a rule. It has to be fun, and I have to be able to make some money at whatever I'm doing.
Joanna: That is fantastic. So you just have this amazing career, and there are so many things I can ask you. But what I'm going to do is because I've read your books, I'm going to specifically talk about this. You have this amazing book called Million Dollar Outlines. Like you've mentioned, you've been a green-lighting studio.
You've taught Stephenie Meyer and James Dashner and all that. So I guess the question here is, and you said about having fun and making money. Should authors set out to write a million dollar best seller? If they should, how can they do that?
David: Well, some people want to do that, and that's a goal. Stephenie Meyer came to me and she asked “How can I write the best selling young adult novel of all time?” and I told her. I've had a little bit of help. For example, when I worked for Scholastic, I was asked to help them decide what book to push big for the coming year, and the book that I chose was Harry Potter. So the number one and number two bestselling books of all time, I've had a little bit of a hand in.
But I think that what it comes down to is I think that you should write what you love, but then figure out how to write it for a wider audience than you otherwise would have. I think that's kind of the goal that I like to set for people. Write what you love but also recognize that there is a reader behind there. Too many people just don't do that.
Joanna: Yeah, it seems that way. So when Stephenie did say that to you, can you break down a bit further what you would say to someone coming to you. Like me, for example, I write thrillers, but supernatural thrillers.
Are there things that are in common? What makes a million best seller, basically?
David: Well, there are a number of things that do it. One of them is transport. You've got to take your story and transport your reader into another time and another place. Generally speaking, all top 50 novels and all top 50 movies of all time have done that. In fact, there isn't an exception in transport. The next thing that I look for is write for a wide audience, and that means male and female, and old and young. If you can write to a wide audience, then that's going to increase your chances of being a best seller. That was one of the first things that I saw. For example with Rowling was that in Harry Potter. Also, that we have a wonderful sense of transport, but also this is a story that is written for everyone.
Then the third thing I look for, and I'm just going to name three, is I look for something that scores high on the emotional Richter scale. So that when you look at your books that you've read, you want to say, “Of all the horror novels, this is the greatest supernatural thriller I've ever read.” You want people to say that because then your story is what I call remarkable. That means that people just talk about it. They say, “That was such a great book.”
So when they're talking of Halloween, for example, about what are the greatest movies or the greatest books of all times in the horror genre, your name comes up year after year after year. If you can work towards doing that, the whole thing of emotional transport is a science that would take me hours to just go through and talk about that here. That's why I have to put it in the book and of course in my classes and that type of thing.
Joanna: Yeah. I find that when you think about it, it's obvious and you can see list of things. Obviously, Titanic was a different place and at a different time. Then a lot of these movies. Avatar, you mentioned I think. Also, Cameron, it's a different planet and things, which is amazing. My question there would be what is your feeling around time spent in creating a word? So do you have to have a long book? A lot of these are longer books or series.
Is length important in this transfer aspect?
David: It really is. If you look at the bestselling books of all time in each genre, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, of course. When it came out, it was three times, four times longer than any fantasy novel that had ever been written. Dune, when it came out, my mentor Algus Budders talked about that in his reviews. He specifically said, “This is a good buck.” But what shocked me was just how long this was. It was rejected by 40 publishers before it got picked up. Other ones that are similar, A Tale of Two Cities was a huge novel.
When the bestselling book of all time in the romance genre came out, Gone with the Wind, it was a good four times longer than anything that was being published at that time. So that element of transport usually takes a lot of time to get us into another time and another place, and you can transfer us to your time and place. If you write about London or something like that, I would absolutely love it because I love going to London and it would give me that sense of transport. So you don't have to do it all the time. It's just a thing that you can do.
Joanna: Which is really interesting, that kind of longer book idea, which I appreciate in terms of a sense of value for the customer.
What do you think about the current trend for novellas and shorter books with digital. How does that fit in?
David: Well, if you write shorter books in a digital series, then it can work just fine because what you're really doing is you're writing a long novel that's broken up into shorter pieces. So people who are writing, for example, a big fat fantasies and putting them in, it actually gives you the opportunity to write what we call a mega novel. A mega novel is a book that is so big that it couldn't be published anywhere. Examples of a mega novel are Robert Jordan's books. Brandon, when he was doing them, they said, “These have to be 400,000 words long,” which is four times as long as any other fantasy novel. Those are just huge. You could, in theory, write a book that was two million words long or something like that, and then break it down into little novellas and sell us five chapters at a time or something.
So it does work. It also works really good for romance, where generally speaking, you are just trying hard to arouse a powerful emotion. You can do that in a fairly short amount of time, so those can work really well as novellas. So it's a philosophy that can work. A lot of people are using it as their strategy right now, serializing novels and this kind of thing. I have to admit, I'm the kind of person who still likes a fat book. I love to sit down with a book and say, “Okay. I'm going to get deep inside this and be taken to another time and another place and just really enjoy it.”
Joanna: I just read Stephen King's It. I almost didn't realize how long it was because I bought it digitally. It's a very long book.
David: It is.
Joanna: I think it's the uncut version, and my goodness. But I agree with you, there was that real sense, and then that emotional side. When we talk about emotion and romance, it's kind of obvious. But what are the other? Love, obviously.
What are some of the other big emotions that these bestselling books, these million dollar sellers tap into?
David: Well, there's a number of them. If you think about, we talk about genres, and we use the word genres in describing books. The truth is we are almost always describing emotions. For example, there is mystery or intrigue, there are thrillers or adventure. Roughly the same kind of emotion that we are tapping into. You can tap into drama or comedy. Science fiction and fantasy, early on back in the 1950s, there was an editor who wanted to have them called The Wonder Literatures because there is a sense of wonder being aroused there. So those are the major ones. Wonder, romance, humor, horror, adventure. There is drama, of course, and there are some other emotions that we don't talk about. For example, nostalgia is a pretty powerful emotion.
When I was in Hollywood, we didn't study stories with the idea of how powerful it is to draw for nostalgia, and yet we probably could have. We should have because that gets closer to that resonance that we were talking about earlier. How did people feel about this? They feel like they have been there before. Is it comfortable?
So a lot of people who start reading, for example The Lord of the Rings, and they love the elves and the dwarves, want to read more books about elves and dwarves. And all around the world, there is this market of people who are reading more for nostalgia because they want to read another elf and dwarf book than they are really reading for a sense of wonder and seeing something brand new again.
Joanna: That's a good point. In fact, my husband who loves fantasy, I think he's read The Lord of the Rings like 25 times or something, presumably because the nostalgia of even reading it is the point. But yeah, that's interesting.
But just on the other thing, you mentioned resonance there and you've got another book which is drawing on the power of resonance in writing. So maybe you could explain what resonance is and why that's important.
David: Well, resonance is that feeling that you get when you've seen something before and you've loved it and it arouses an expectation that you're going to like this too. So a lot of times when we write a book, we are having a conversation with other writers. Everybody has read these kinds of stories before. So you can look at a story that has powerful resonance, that draws upon that which came before and really see where it came from and why it works. For example in music, the word resonance is used to describe if you've got musical notes that are being hit, that have been hit before so you can go, “Pam pam pam pam.” It's the same notes being hit over. Then of course, you do a variation on it.
In music, that's the way that you do it. You've got your little rift and then your variation, and you go through it three times, then you do it over and you change it up. Well, that's a pattern that's been used in music for years, and we do it in books too. So you pick up a romance novel, you're also kind of judging it based upon all of the romance novels you've seen before. So we can have stories like Lord of the Rings, which drew heavily on resonance from a number of places. It drew on Walt Disney's movies to a certain degree, but it also drew upon ancient folklore and it drew upon movies and it drew upon the Pre-Raphaelite writers and it drew upon people like William Butler Yeats for the literary allusions.
So there's a lot of things went into this both in the imagery and in the words that really made it popular. We don't often think about these kinds of things. That's subconscious. But if you look at a movie from Disney for example, you look at something like the Lego movie. How many callbacks were there in the Lego movie to other movies that have been done in the past? I mean, it had Star Wars, it had Batman, it had Superman. It had just literally probably 50 or 100 different movies that had callbacks in the Lego movie, and it became the best selling Disney movie of all time. The one before that that came out Frozen had about 60 or 70 where you could listen to the music and you can see, “Oh, that's similar to the music from this.” You could see an image and you go, “Oh, there's the Sound of Music. There's The Terminator,” and it will have 60 or 70 callbacks to it.
So very often when we are writing, we're not conscious of what we're drawing from. The goal in the book on resonance is really to teach you to draw consciously upon things that have come before so that you really know what you are resonating with and why you are doing it. Every once in a while, you'll find a writer who wants to write a novel that has no resonance with anything popular. They're like, “I read this obscure little book when I was eight-years-old that I really loved. It might resonate with that quite well but the truth is nobody else read it.”
You can look at some hits. For example, when the movie The Pirates of the Caribbean came out, it was named after the rides at Disneyland so that it would resonate with anyone who'd never been to the Disneyland ride. That's part of the reason they made it. It was to repopularize, revamp the Disneyland rides of the Caribbean. The reason that that was popular though, the rides of the Caribbean, was because of the Errol Flynn movies. Errol Flynn movies came out because back in the 1880s. We had Treasure Island that became huge and popular and everybody wanted to write movies about pirates or books about pirates, so people started making movies to capture that audience.
Of course, that was popular because Swiss Family Robinson was popular back in the 1820s and '30s was a huge hit, and that was popular because Robinson Crusoe was a huge hit. Each one of those drew upon the resonance of the previous one so that the entire thing keeps exploding over the generations. That's what we're talking about here. You can look at how Tolkien resonates. It's then you can figure out how to write Tolkien, how to change it up, improve it, do it better and create something that has powerful resonance with that but also is something new.
Joanna: Yeah, it makes sense when you are saying it. I've read the book and it makes sense as well. But I imagine there are people listening who are saying, “What about being original?”
How does being original fit into all this resonance stuff?
David: You have to be original because you take it to the next level. When Stephenie Meyer, for example, wanted to write Twilight, she said, “How do I write the best selling young adult novel of all time?” I said, “Oh, that's easy. You take a sixteen-year-old girl and you have her meet someone who is strange, who has unusual powers, and you basically create something that has a strong sense of romance to it but also a strong sense of wonder.” I said there are complex reasons why this works. But in any case, she said, “Okay.” She did little things to the vampires to make them different. Hers glittered in the sunlight, things like that. There are a lot of people who said, “Oh, I hate glittery vampires,” but there are a lot of people who loved it who said, “This really aroused a sense of wonder in me. The idea of falling in love with a vampire who's been around for 180 years.” She had to go back and recreate the genre. Which is what you're trying to do.
Joanna: Which is a total order.
David: It is. It requires you. First of all, you've got to be a good storyteller. So you have to understand how the bones of a story work, how you are going to put that together. Then you have to understand how the resonance works and you have to go in. Then you have to write it well on a line-by-line basis. So you've got a bunch of different skills literally. I have put out a little thing on how to win writing contests today. I was like, “Gosh, I've given them 85 different things you've got to do right just to win a writing contest.” That was how I started winning writing contests when I was young. I just made a list of how you could judge stories and thought about each of those items as I began writing.
Of course, the list has grown over the years. But the point here is there is still an awful lot that you have to do. It's not something that you can just blunder into. I think that to become a skilled storyteller and skilled writer, it's equivalent of going out and earning a doctor's degree. The reason to that is because the average writer takes about seven years from the time they started writing to the time that they get publishable, and another seven years from the time that they start publishing to the time that they become best sellers. So you're talking of 14 years apprenticeship in order to just gain the skills that you need to be a bestselling writer. If you want to be a monumental writer, somebody whose books are remembered as the best that there have ever been, you need to develop even more skills than that. You've got to take it to a level higher.
Joanna: I love hearing this, and it makes me feel better because I feel like I've been writing four years, I'm only halfway through a basic apprenticeship. So you know, I love learning this stuff so I really appreciate what you teach. But I know that some people feel about the pantsing and plotting thing. What you're talking about is very much breaking things down and almost reconstructing things. What do you think about the people who do the pantsing approach? Someone like Lee Charles. He says he only writes one draft and it's kind of perfect.
David: Well, there are people who are such skilled storytellers that they can do that. For most of us, it's hard work that we go and we have to practice which is what the early drafts are. There are some people who can do that and there are some who have written immortal stories that they wrote by the seat of their pants. People like Stephen King is a pantser, but those are really rare. I would say there's maybe only one in twenty people can do that.
Most people just find out that they start writing and they get themselves in blind alleys where their characters are getting their throats slit. They are like, “Wait a minute, how do I go back and fix this.” There are a lot of people who do that and who try it. It's partly because there has, for a long time, been this myth of the creative genius who they have a dream, for example, and then go write it down. There are people who genuinely do that but they are extremely rare.
Stephenie Meyer, I believe she had a dream about what to write but we talked about it a year and a half before she wrote it. Then she said, “I've never thought about writing a book like that. I'll have to think about that.” I think her subconscious thought about it, and thought about it, and basically generated the storyline. Then whenever I'm ready to write, I have a dream. It's like my subconscious starts speaking to us that way because the subconscious can't speak to you in words. It's not hooked up to the word center in your brain. It sends you images, it will send emotions, it will send you little wisps of thoughts. All of the sudden, you have to concoct your story out of those.
Joanna: How do you capture those thoughts and images? What is your process as a writer?
David: Well, I think that the easy thing for me to do is to keep a computer right next to my bed. What I like to do is I've actually trained myself to think about my plot before I go to sleep so that I will dream about it. When I wake up in the morning, I generally can sit down and write a scene first thing in the morning without even thinking about what I'm going to write. I have pondered it and wondered how I should handle it the night before. But what happens is I have trained my subconscious mind, my right brain you might say, to say, “Okay, this is important to me. I need to resolve this when I wake up in the morning.”
So I learned how to write in my sleep, basically. It's the way to do it. Having a notebook handy, keeping that with you is just really priceless. I think that most writers will have a notebook anywhere within their grasp. I always keep one in my car, suitcase, one by the side of the bed, so if I have a great idea, I can go write it down.
Joanna: Absolutely. I love the fact that you mention fun at the beginning. I learned a lot from Dean Wesley Smith as well. He talks about having fun as well. But I guess maybe because I'm still in my apprenticeship period, it's hard work as well. The fun aspect, I'm starting to get slowly. How does the fun aspect balance with the hard work, and what is hard at your level of writing?
David: For me, at my level of writing, hard is when someone wants me to do a job that I just don't like, I don't believe in. For example, I was recently asked to write a video game. I started looking at the content of the video game and I just thought, “Oh, this is terrible. I don't want to do this.” It's just really anything that just doesn't interest me. If I get excited by the idea, if it's got some fascinating characters or an interesting world, anytime that I get asked to work on a video game, it’s just like every other video game. I just say, “No, not really interested in that.”
Joanna: That's great. You're in the point where you can turn down stuff that isn't interesting, I guess.
David: Yeah. I think that that's really great that I can do that, because I know that there are people who feel like I can't turn it down. I would just say if you don't turn it down, what happens is you end up getting stucked writing the kind of thing that you don't want to write forever. When I wrote my first novel, I wrote a cyberpunk/Latin American fantasy realism crossover. My editor said, “What do you want to write next?” I said, “I want to do a big fat Tolkienesque fantasy.” She said, “But Dave, you've gotten farther with one book than most people have in 20 years. You're on the bestseller list,” etc. She said, “We don't want a big fantasy from you. We want more of this.”
So I wrote science fiction for about ten years. Every time that I'd started novel, I would feel like I still want to write that big fantasy. So I wrote one for my birthday and gave it to myself as a present, sent it to my publisher, and now they don't want any science fiction from me. I'm a bestselling fantasy author. So I think you have to pick your rut that you want to get stuck in, and of course I kind of live without ruts. Because one of the things I do is switch a lot.
I recently wrote an award-winning historical novel. My last book, Nightingale, was a young adult fantasy science fiction thriller, won half a dozen awards. So I like to do all sorts of things. That's my problem as a writer because people are like, “What are you going to do next?” “I think I'll go write a screenplay.” That's just wonky. Nobody should do that. I'd say don't take my career path. It's what I guess I'm saying because everybody needs their own career path and do what they enjoy. There are people who say, “I want to write romance novels day in and day out for the next 30 years.” If you do, great. You'll probably have a wonderful career in that.
Joanna: Yeah, but that sounds boring to me as well.
David: Exactly. I like to do different things. I don't know what I'm going to write next. I could sit down and write a comedy or something like that and have a lot of fun with it.
Joanna: That's great. That's being true to your creative soul or whatever you want to call it. But I'm interested. I mean, what about an author brand?
Do you think an author brand or an author name is important? Because you have used several names, haven't you? But was that because of your publisher? Do you think things are different in this new environment?
David: No, I did it because of the name Wolverton. My real name put me on the very bottom shelf on the bookstores. I had read a survey that said Campbell's Soup in a survey found that 92% of all people will not bend over to pick up their favorite can of soup up to the bottom shelf of the supermarket. I thought, “Wow, what am I doing to myself? Ninety-two percent of my fans don't want to lean over to pick up my books.” So David Farland fits much more nicely on the bookshelves than Dave Wolverton ever did. So I switched my name for that reason.
But then also, there's that whole branding thing. When you start writing, I think it is good to stick with one name. So if I were to do it over, I would stick with David Farland. But there is a big important thing that happens. When you put out a book in a genre like science fiction, one of the big problems that we have is that the book buyers have electronic mediums that go through and follow how well it sells, so book scan will give an important how well it does.
Well, if you write a book in another medium, let's say I write a big thriller, if I sell 100,000 copies in science fiction, I'm doing great. But in the other genre, my publisher would drop me in a minute for only having 100,000 sales. So you can actually destroy your career by having only one name if you're in the mainstream literary field. Now, if you're self-publishing, it doesn't matter. I think we're going to see an era where authors can use their names, but primarily is going to happen for online sales. Because books aren't stacked the same way, if I write a book under Wolverton now and somebody is going online to buy it, then they don't have to bend over and pick it up of the bottom shelf. It's right there on the computer with all the other ones. So that's a good thing too. So a lot of the rules are changing nowadays.
Joanna: What do you think about that? What do you think of the self-publishing revolution or digital revolution?
David: Well, I make a lot of money self-publishing. I went and put out my book Million Dollar Outline. I thought, “Oh, maybe I'll sell a few copies.” Next thing I knew, it stayed on top of the best seller list in writing books for the next nine months. I didn't go out and sell it or put up ads or anything. It just sort of took off, and every once in a while, something like that hits and I've gotten enough of a fan base that I can do that. So I think it's great. I think it empowers authors. I also think that a lot of authors are just a little bit delusional as far as where their talents are. They are young, they are new, they are eager, they are excited, and they don't know how far away they are from being publishable. So they go out and usually try it a little bit too early.
So I would recommend, hey, it's a great medium, it's a great way to go. But you really need to go out, put manuscripts in front of real readers, and you get critical feedback from somebody besides your wife or your mother, because I've seen that too many times.
Joanna: Yeah. Of course, you judge competitions so you know what good writing is. So I think that's definitely a good point. We are almost coming to the end now, but I did want to ask you about longevity. I mean, you've mentioned that people starting too early. You've had a long writing career.
What are the top things that authors need in order to have a long-term writing career?
David: I think there are a lot of things. I think that the first thing that I have to, I think that loving the craft is really important. Just loving the fact of sitting down and putting words onto piece of paper and doing it beautifully is important to longevity. If I didn't love this, I would go do something else. I've worked as a business manager in a number of fields. In the last five year, I've been asked to be the head of a video game company, a movie company. I could do anything I want and this is what I want to do. So loving what you do is important. The great thing about this is that no matter how good you are, you can always get better. So there's a sense that you've got a great career path in front of you. There's always something new or different or something that you can do better that you haven't done before. So I think that's important.
The other thing is just understanding the markets, being aware of what it is people want. It's so important. New writers are very often just blind to that. I think that one of the things that I've had going for me is I can read the future, I guess. That's not the easiest way to say it. I can look at the book and say, “Oh, this is going to have a long life, and this is why it's going to be an important book.” I can see that with an author too. So just being able to look into the future and see what's going to take off and understand why it's working and how it's working, I think that's really important.
Joanna: Well, which takes a lot of reading I guess as well, so you've got to love reading.
David: Absolutely. If you don't love reading, don't get in this business at all.
Joanna: I would agree with that. Luckily, I love reading. I mean, this is the problem with kindle of course, you can just download hundreds of books.
David: Yes, exactly.
Joanna: It's amazing.
But then, just tell us a bit about the books and the courses that you have available for writers?
David: Okay. Probably the easy way to do it is to go to www.mystorydoctor.com. Okay? I have my books there and I have my writing courses. Probably my most popular course is called The Story Puzzle where I teach you how to think about and outline a bestselling novel. So if you've got a novel idea, then we'll just talk about how do we turn this into a best seller? What's the way to do that. Then I have courses on writing, the Writing Mastery courses where you actually write the book. Then after rewriting to greatness where you learn to go through and do rewrites and say, “Okay, this is how you made a good book better.”
So there's a number of different types of courses there, and then I also have seminars. So for example, if you want to learn about how to write a little bit for young adults or something like that, they have a little one hour seminars that you can take, and you can do that. Then I also have courses that I teach live. For example, next year I'm going to do a big two-week course that is an in-depth course on writing, plotting, and characterization. Plotting and characterization is what I want to focus on, and word building too. It's going to be the longest and biggest course I have ever taught so I'm getting excited about doing something like that.
But like I said, I do a lot of courses and you could take them at your own leisure. You don't have travelling expenses if you do them online which works great if you are in London. I get a lot of people who fly over from Europe and stuff like that. You can take five courses online for the price of one of. I know you do all that traveling.
So that's great. It's a great thing to do. Of course when I do the online courses, you're turning assignments. I go through and critique them, give them back to you. It's me personally who does it. It's not some secret assistant. The other thing that we do is we have online chats like what we're doing right now. We do half a dozen times a week so that you can ask questions and get feedback live and those types of things.
Joanna: Wow, that sounds awesome. So that's mystorydoctor?
David: mystorydoctor.com. I always wanted to be a doctor when I was young, and now I'm a story doctor.
Joanna: Did you want to mention the coupon?
David: Oh, yes. For this month, it's nanowrimo, National Novel Writing Month. If you use the coupon, nanowrimo: N-A-N-O-W-R-I-M-O. I'm just going to keep that up for the next month so that will probably expire around the 1st of January. But you'll go ahead and get a 20% discount on any course you take, whether it's live, whether it's a seminar, whatever you want to do.
Joanna: Brilliant. Thank you so much for that. It's very generous of you. So where can people find your other books, because you've got another website, haven't you, as well of your fiction?
David: Yes. For my fiction go to www.davidfarland.com. That's the name that I write under so all of my book are there.
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for you time, Dave. That was great.
David: Well, thank you so much. Have a wonderful day there.
Henry Hyde says
What a lovely guy! Thanks so much to you both for a great discussion. It’s always amazing to hear how modest someone like David is after such astonishing success.
Very interesting to hear his thoughts about world-building and how you need to allow space for that – perhaps hundreds or even thousands of pages. Most reassuring, actually, as I’ve been having something of a wobble about a story I’ve been working on for ages. The option of serialising is tempting, but I, too, am someone who likes to sit down with a big, thick book (or, as I’ve recently discovered, a well-narrated and lengthy audiobook).
Great stuff, Joanna, and have a wonderful trip to NZ. At least the plague of hobbits will have died down by now! 😀
Joanna Penn says
There’s always a plague of hobbits in NZ 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the show.
Thomas du Plessis says
A really great article!
Adam Alexander Haviaras says
Great podcast, Joanna! And many thanks to David for all the great information and tips. I can’t get over all the wonderfully creative things he has worked on.
The point about using resonance, and riffing off of previous successes in a genre is something that I think a lot of writers are reluctant to do, as they see it as a negative thing. Steven Pressfield posted a couple weeks ago about how ‘stealing’ can be a good thing – http://www.stevenpressfield.com/2014/12/steal-without-shame-part-two/?mc_cid=08d94fc40d&mc_eid=d827debb1d
Some definite food for thought.
Off to check out David’s books!
Cheers to you both.
Joanna Penn says
It’s something I am trying to move more towards – trying to recognize the common elements under story that will help us resonate with existing readers and then add our own spin.
Great podcast, however, The Lego Movie was Warner Bros., not Disney.
I’m afraid the interviewee lost all credibility for me when he said Lord of the Rings was inspired by Disney and movies. Tolkien would be spinning in his grave! He strongly disliked Disney and was afraid they may gain the rights to a future Lord of the Rings film. Not only that, but its well documented that Middle-earth emerged from his deep immersion in north European mythology and languages and history. I could forgive the interviewee if it was a passing comment but he talked about Lord of the Rings at length as though he was knowleddgeable.
This guy lost all credibility when he said The Lord of the Rings drew on Walt Disney movies. Tolkien started developing his world, his mythology and stories well before Disney, and not only that, Tolkien says in his letters he pretty much despised Disney, and he was worried about Disney getting the film rights. Any intelligent reader can see that LotR is polar opposite of Disney, it is based on a completely different world view and tradition.