Top-Rated BookRix Author Scott Kelly on Writing

Scott Kelly is the author of Frightened Boy, the highest-rated book on BookRix (5 stars out of 5 on Idea/Concept, 4.88 for Spelling, 4.74 for Expression/Language, and 4.76 for Design/Layout). We asked him to share some of his best writing tips:

How I Write, by Scott Kelly

Here’s how I write: by putting letters in consecutive order.

First, I find a concept or theme that interests me. These usually fall under the umbrella of what I consider to be “strictly human” problems, because that’s what I think literature should be about. The three tenets of the “Strictly Human” problem are as such: identity, perception, and death. Only we conscious meatbags face these philosophical and psychological problems.

Second, I try and think of the most interesting way possible to approach that issue. In my novel Frightened Boy, I wanted to deal with issues of perception. In order to address that, I decided to work the artist M.C. Escher into the story – because he was a master at twisting perception. I wanted to draw in the perceptions that were being thrust upon me in my life at the time; Bush was president and fear permeated the air, choking me. So I set the book in a world where every terror-mongering story you might find debunked on Snopes.com was true. Every bird had avian flu and every stranger was a rapist, murderer, or worse.

Third, I drew my characters. Characters that are a part of me, but also a part of the fabric of the themes I’ll be weaving them into. Clark is my narrator, so it’s important that he be an alien to the action. That handles the exposition – it’s new to the narrator, so as he learns about it, so will the reader. Keeps me from having to situate thick rocks of data into my stew and expecting my readers to gnaw through them. Likewise, Escher is a solipsist who believes that all reality stems from his own mind, and that nothing is real – and sometimes it turns out that way. Again, we can see the issue of perception at play.

Fourth, I began to think about each scene and how to make it as exciting as possible. Here, I place myself in the director’s chair and make-believe I’m Quentin Tarentino. Books have to happen a certain way – introductions, narratives, plot lines, etc. But how we present them is what makes us great, or good, or awful authors. In Frightened Boy, I worked under the belief that the most interesting way to write an action sequence is from the point of view of the person being rescued, not the one doing the rescuing. So I made my narrator Clark a real coward – that way, when the action unfolds, he’s in the center observing it.

Lastly, my secret weapon: editing. Kurt Vonnegut once said that there are two types of writers – bangers and thinkers. I’m a banger. Thinkers lay out every line very carefully, usually by hand or with a typewriter, and don’t place a sentence until they know it’s perfect. Not me. I see my first draft as a giant block of wood; I bang it out with as little filter as possible, usually set to music that helps set the mood I’m going for. Then I whittle, and whittle, and whittle. I don’t let anyone see my first or second drafts. By the third draft I’ve usually approached every single paragraph under the view of “what am I trying to say here? What’s the most entertaining way to say it?”

And that’s just the beginning of the editing process. To see more of it at work, please visit http://www.the-novelist.com

- Scott Kelly

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