HOW TO WRITE PAGE TURNING SCI-FI – TUESDAY WRITING TIPS

Today, popular author Paul Collins shares his tips about writing and some of the techniques he used to create his action packed new YA novel, Mole Hunt.

Mole Hunt takes place in a galaxy of cuthroat companies and shadowy clans – in a world where everyone has an agenda.

Anneke Longshadow knows there’s a mole in RIM,  the spy agency she works for. Maximus Black is RIM’s star cadet and he has a lot to hide.

Today  Paul talks about how he created Maximus and Anneke and the amazing world of their story.

Max is not a likeable character yet he is so compelling that the reader wants to keep reading to know what happens to him. What tips do you have for writers wanting to create a character who is not a traditional ‘hero’, but still engages the reader?

Mole Hunt is pretty fast-paced, and I think this device covers a multitude of sins. Take for example … no, I won’t mention his name! — but think of a best-selling YA writer who also writes page-turner fiction. It’s acknowledged that he’s not a good writer, but heck, he outsells most of us by ten to one, and even his critics say they kept turning the pages. I don’t see his characters as standouts, rather merely cutouts. But he doesn’t care — he’s not writing literature, he’s writing books that people want to read.

Maximus of course is an anti-hero, so he can’t have too many (if any) likable traits. He has at least one vulnerability, in that he internalises his reasons to kill. There needs to be some justification in his mind as to his actions. All characters need flaws. Superman’s was Kryptonite, magic, and he couldn’t see through lead. Something less tangible was his morals/ethics, and the villains use this to great effect. Does he save Lois Lane or does he save 20 million people? As it turns out he achieves both … but for a while there he had a real dilemma, which was the villain’s main aim.

There’s a lot of technology in Mole Hunt and even though I don’t read sci fi normally, I found myself immersed in the world of the story. Do you have any tips  or techniques for writers wanting to create a  world that readers of any genre can relate to?

The “trick” if I may use the word is to make the unbelievable believable. I’m not a tech-head, but if you read my science fiction you’d swear blind I must be an engineer at the very least. I remember years ago asking my publisher a question about my computer. He said, “I find it hard to believe the author of Cyberskin (another dystopian novel I wrote fifteen years before The Hunger Games, but with a strikingly similar plot!) has just asked me that question”. You see, he believed in the world I’d set up, was totally believing that I knew what I was talking about. And I have to confess I do have friends who are engineers and quite tech-savvy. Quite often I know what I want to say, but I don’t have the background to fathom it out. That’s when it pays to have someone to brainstorm with. technology is only bounded by the imagination.

How do you set up your first book to allow for a possible sequel/sequels?

The easiest way is to write your trilogy as one long book. And then you split it into three. It’s a tough call to write one book as a stand-alone, and then its sequel, and then attempt a third book. Because whatever you have in the first book must stay the same, and you can easily get hemmed in with books two and three. But if you write a 150,000 word novel, you’re no longer restricted. You can simply change earlier text that suddenly clashes with new ideas that have materialised. And any plot does evolve over time. I had a problem with Dragonlinks, book #1 in The Jelindel Chronicles, because Penguin wouldn’t commit to a trilogy (it’s now a quartet — see, here’s that ever-evolving menace again!). The only criticism that book received was that there were a couple of loose ends. They were there because I needed them to loop on to book #2. Fortunately the series was a success and Penguin kept publishing The Jelindel Chronicles.

Do you base your characters on people you know? If not, how do you create them?

There’s a bit of me in some of them, especially the action. I have black belts in taekwondo and ju jitsu, plus I trained in karate, kung fu and kick-boxing. So I like to think I know my action scenes inside out. Clara, in The Glasshouse, was based on a friend of mine. In fact we had an argument and I was moved to write a picture book as a metaphor. But as a rule I don’t base my characters on people I know. I usually compile traits for my main characters. Maximus was mostly bad, for example, so he’s dark, brooding, despicable, ambitious and he lets nothing get in his way. His driving ambition is to rule the universe. And why not — his background was a good breeding ground: his parents were slain and he was forced into slavery. He wants revenge. Once you have these things in your mind, your character will come alive.

Mole Hunt is told from the point of view of two major characters? When using multiple points of view, how do you keep each character’s voices distinct?

I had no problems here. Maximus Black is diametrically opposed to Anneke Longshadow. He’s bad. She’s good. He commits to an action and she responds. I think authors could get into trouble if their characters share similarities. But Max and Anneke only share one — they were both made orphans at an early age.

Why have you made the emotional stakes higher for Anneke than Max?

If you mean by that Anneke’s rescue of the young girl Deena, I think every book needs some sort of emotion. Max’s only emotion is hatred. Without Anneke’s interest in Deena, I felt she lacked something that made her stand out. Her uncle also gets killed, and she shows great emotion there, but really, that’s only revenge.

These all sound like really great tips, Paul. Thanks for visiting and sharing your knowledge and experience with us.

Mole Hunt is published by Ford Street Publishing and more information is available at their website. Mole Hunt is reviewed at Kids’ Book Capers.

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