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[GUEST POST] Anton Strout on How To Be a Good Judge of Character (Plus: INCARNATE Giveaway!)

Anton Strout was born in the Berkshire Hills mere miles from writing heavyweights Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville. He currently lives in the haunted corn maze that is New Jersey (where nothing paranormal ever really happens, he assures you). He is the author of the Simon Canderous urban fantasy series and the Spellmason Chronicles for Ace Books, a division of Penguin Random House. Anton is also the author of many short tales published in anthologies by DAW Books. His latest book, Incarnate, the third Spellmason Chronicles book, is coming out September 30, 2014. In his scant spare time, his is a writer, a sometimes actor, sometimes musician, occasional RPGer, and the worlds most casual and controller smashing video gamer. He currently works in the exciting world of publishing and yes, it is as glamorous as it sounds. He is currently hard at work on his next book and be found lurking the darkened hallways of antonstrout.com or talking with your favorite SF&F authors on The Once and Future Podcast, where he is host and content curator.

Keeping It Fresh, or How To Be a Good Judge of Character

by Anton Strout

When you do something for a long time like, say, writing an ongoing series, there’s always the danger of your books going rotten like weeks old fruits or vegetables. Sure, the characters were nice and fresh in book one, but three books in they’re looking a little too squishy and unpalatable.

Never fear, dear reader! I’m here to tell you what it takes to keep an ongoing series from going rotten and boring you!

Author step one: Keep from boring myself.

Selfish, right? I KNOW! Yes, I want to entertain you, the reader, but I can’t set out to write the book for you. You are many. You are complex. You might not all get what I’m going for in a book. Therefore the only one I can truly write for is to please myself, which means I need to keep things fresh book to book, and the hint of it is in this paragraph.

You, dear readers, as I said, are complex. In your own special way, you reader people are just like story people, and it’s that exact complexity that helps keep each book its own intriguing tale to me.

When I wrote the first book of The Spellmason Chronicles, ALCHEMYSTIC, it was like meeting people at a party for me. Writing the first draft was my introduction to these partygoers. It was a long, slow process of discovery, but like a party it is thrilling to work your way among the crowd and see who you gravitate to. Fast friends are made, and the same is true of the story people you create. I’d hang out with my last and only practicing Spellmason Alexandra Belarus, Stanis the centuries old gargoyle, loyal dancer-turned-paladin Rory Torres, or nerd extraordinaire Marshall Blackmoore any day.

ALCHEMYSTIC was meeting the cast form me and then introducing them to you by the dangers I put them through so you can see their true metal.

Book 2, STONECAST, was more like sitting around a campfire. You’re with friends you know, gathered together, sharing your dark secrets lit only by firelight. Readers are comfortable, they know who all the main players, and it really is time to put the pedal on the gas and see what these babies can really do! It’s why The Empire Strikes Backis my favorite of the Star Wars movies… you jump right into the action with familiar faces you’ve already learned about. Knowing them allows you to zoom along thanks to all you know about them.

Now with that said, I’m about to do a complete 180, and go in the opposite direction. It’s not always the things you learn about your characters that keep the writing fresh, it’s the things as an author you don’t know about them. Some writers love to figure out every last detail about a character before they get to writing. They do astrological charts or craft huge character biographies and family histories, weaving intricate webs made up of those character’s pasts.

Mileage on this may vary from author to author, but for me, I don’t do that. I can’t do that.

In fact, if I write that much back story, I completely lose interest in telling the actual novel length work. It’s almost as if I’ve written a short story to tell me about those characters and I do not feel compelled to spend 100,000 words on them in the long form. To keep the novel idea interesting to me, I need to find surprises throughout my writing process that keep me intrigued, and part of that intrigue is the mystery factor on not completely knowing my characters. The more mysterious they are to me, the more compelled I am to write about them.

The less I know, the better. I’m not saying an author should be clueless to who their characters are, but I try to keep the details I know about them on a need-to-know basis. I call this my LOST Theory of Writing. You can debate elsewhere how you felt about the series finale of LOST, but I loved the show. It was always the journey, not the destination that made the show work for me. What really worked for me is how they cleverly planted a lot of story seeds along the way. Some took and grew while others died on the vine, but it left them room to grow in a variety of story directions. That’s what I try to do.

For The Spellmason Chronicles I started out only knowing only there was a gargoyle that was ever watchful over the Belarus family in modern day Manhattan. I wasn’t sure why, or who all the players were. In ALCHEMYSTIC we see the initial baby steps of Alexandra Belarus becoming aware of her family’s legacy as she uncovers the secrets of the Spellmasons. In STONECAST the camera pulls back further and we learn more about the creation of gargoyles, their origins, and by the time we get to the final book, the just released INCARNATE, we see how the world at large deals with the knowledge of gargoyles, and what other magic exists out there beside Spellmasonry.

All of that came from allowing myself to be surprised along the way as bits of story seeds grew and took hold like some sort of crazy plot-laden vine, and it’s always the story fruit picked from those seeds that tastes the freshest.


GIVEAWAY: Win a Copy of Anton Strout’s INCARNATE!

Here’s the book description

HITTING ROCK BOTTOM

When Alexandra Belarus discovered her family’s secret ability to breathe life into stone, she uncovered an entire world of magic hidden within New York City—a world she has accidentally thrown into chaos. A spell gone awry has set thousands of gargoyles loose upon Manhattan, and it’s up to Lexi and her faithful protector, Stanis, to put things right.

But the stress of saving the city is casting a pall over Lexi and Stanis’s relationship, driving them to work separately to solve the problem. As Stanis struggles to unite the gargoyle population, Lexi forges unlikely alliances with witches, alchemists and New York’s Finest to quell an unsettling uprising led by an ancient and deadly foe long thought vanquished.

To save her city, Lexi must wield more power than ever before with the added hope of recovering a mysterious artifact that could change her world—and bring her closer to Stanis than she ever thought possible…

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About John DeNardo (13014 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

2 Comments on [GUEST POST] Anton Strout on How To Be a Good Judge of Character (Plus: INCARNATE Giveaway!)

  1. Cathy/greytfriend // October 2, 2014 at 9:21 am //

    I’m a big fan of the series and of Anton’s. Thanks for the interview and for the opportunity to win the terrific prizes.

  2. Great series–fun write up. Looking forward to reading the conclusion!

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