Mark Lawrence is the first subject in our Writers of Sci-Fi and Fantasy Interview series. He is the author of Prince of Thorns (Broken Empire series) and his new book The Wheel of Osheim (Red Queen’s War, Book 3) is out now!
We chatted about his process and how he puts his books together.
1) How was the writing process? The Broken Empire series had its fair share of fast paced moments, as well as its more gradual, character building scenes; did you find yourself writing to the pace of the story?
Having glanced down the list of questions I’ll have to begin with what feels like a confession but really isn’t. It feels like a confession because there’s an expectation that writing is a more clever, well-thought out process than the one I experience. There’s a huge degree of variation in writers’ processes and I’m often amazed to hear others talk about their writing in very technical terms with a great deal of consideration given to all the mechanical details, to theme, structure, pacing, character etc.
I don’t do that. I just sit down and write. I don’t plan. I don’t rewrite.
So to answer question 1. Do I write to the pace of the story. I interpret that to mean ‘do you write faster in action scenes?’. Answer, no. When I’m writing I write at a pretty even pace, generally limited by my typing speed.
2) How do you develop your characters? Do you build a story around them, or them around the story? Or, if both, how do you balance this out?
With reference to my spiel in question 1, and at the risk of sounding like a toddler running around with finger paint in the university library … I just start writing, keep writing, and eventually … stop writing. I guess the characters (usually singular character) are my over-riding focus. It’s a constant series of ‘what then?’ questions posed to the character.
I don’t think in terms of character development – it’s not a goal. I guess my opinion of/vision of the character just changes slowly over the years that I write them. I make no attempt at balance.
3) Many of your characters, even the main characters, do some pretty horrific things – did you worry this would make it hard for people to root for them? How did you develop them into people the readers would want to follow?
I don’t try. Appealing to an audience is never in my thinking. I simply try to entertain myself. I like interesting characters, so I try to make the character interesting. That way I want to see what happens next.
4) How long have you been writing? Can you remember some of your early stories and did any of them lead into the books you are writing now?
As a slightly larger kid and into my 21st year I played Dungeons and Dragons (the first Games Workshop in the UK opened 100 yards from my school when I was 11). I was almost always the Games Master, which meant designing the scenarios – a creative enterprise involving storytelling and description.
In my 20s and 30s I helped run a Play-by-Mail game with over a thousand players. The internet killed PBM but the game I was involved with required me to keep dozens of interactive stories alive, facilitating the adventures of multiple characters in a fantasy world.
In my 30s I started writing poems and short stories. I sold my first short story 10 years ago, and my first book hit the shelves 5 years ago.
I don’t think any of the short stories I wrote lead into my books, but I certainly lifted the odd passage of description out of them.
5) What has been your favourite part about writing? What drives you to keep writing and gets you through a block?
I write to scratch an itch. If I didn’t write I’d scratch the itch with some other form of creative activity. I guess I do enjoy writing but it’s more something I feel the need to do rather than something, like eating chocolate, that is an immediate obvious pleasure.
I don’t ever have blocks, and if I want to stop … I do. So the thing that keeps me writing is the need to write, rather than me thinking I should be writing and having to goad myself into doing it somehow.
6) Have you seen any big changes in the publishing industry since you first got into it? Where do you think it’s going to go?
I know very little about the publishing industry. I just drop books into it, and I’ve only been doing that for 6 years or so. My window on it is too small for an overview.
7) What are some of the tropes and expectations within the genre that you want to challenge and see others challenge?
I don’t think in these terms. I’m not really aware of tropes or expectations and have no desire to challenge them. I … ignore them. Whether that leaves me following them or heading off at right-angles … I don’t care.
8) Tell us about The Wheel of Osheim! Can you give us any teasers about what to expect?
I’m terrible at selling my books. It’s better I don’t try.
Our thanks to Mark for talking to us! Coming up later in this series I talked to Robert Shearman and Andrew Smith about writing for Doctor Who, as well as writing for stage and prose.