Write Advice: Rupert Wallis on point of view, structure and self-publishing

Rupert Wallis
15 February 2017
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Mo Harber-Lamond

Young Adult fiction holds a huge corner of the literary market, and is only becoming more popular. In the first of two Q&A sessions, our Faber Academy Getting Started: Beginners’ Fiction students chat to author Rupert Wallis about point of view, structure and the ever-present dilemma of whether it’s a good idea to self-publish.

I always knew I wanted to write.

Rupert Wallis

Q – Hi Rupert, thank you for offering to share your thoughts with us! Do you think we need to have experienced something to write about it convincingly?

Rupert Wallis – I’m excited to be here! I think all experience is good. Dennis Potter, a famous English dramatist, said that writers plough the same field over and over through their careers – their whole lives – and sometimes they turn up a gold coin – they find something in their lives that they can write about well.

The saying ‘write what you know’ isn’t about things you’ve experienced though. It’s about if you are able to write what you need to write, and empathise with the character you are writing about – can you write about a lonely astronaut, or a lovesick man, or a unhappy child? Empathy is key, and I think you develop that through an experience of life.

Q – Did you always know you wanted to be a writer, or was it something that started to feel necessary at some point later in your life?

RW – I always knew I wanted to write – apparently my cousin said I wanted to do it from age 5. It’s vocational, I think.

If you know your characters really well then your story should evolve naturally.

Rupert Wallis

Q – What is it that gives you the confidence to believe that what you are writing is worth pursuing, or worth attempting to get published?

RW – I think this ties into my last answer – confidence translates to stubbornness for me. You have to want to write the stories inside you, and not worry what others think. I went through 20 agents before finding mine. The fact I want to write gives me a sense of self belief in my work.

Q – How did you deal with rejection throughout your search for an agent?

RW – Well, it’s tough, but you will always be rejected throughout your career – not all readers and reviewers will like what you write. The bad reviews always stick. That’s a good lesson to learn when trying to get an agent that you need a thick skin. Take any advice you’re given, but never lose your voice.

Q – Do you plan the structure of your fiction in detail beforehand, or do you just write and see where that leads you?

RW – It’s very hard to plan and be spontaneously creative at the same time. As you write you want to create, and that’s the fun. What I do is plan lightly and make sure I know who my characters are. I find that if I plan them fully, they begin to write the story for me and create plot.

If you know your characters really well then your story should evolve naturally. A planning technique that I use is to write a short story of the main idea so that I get a sense of the tone, dialogue, characters etc.

Also, have a look at this clip. The film was written by my mentor at film school and he knew what he was talking about!

Q – Do you think it’s easier today to publish, with the rise of self-publishing, or do you think it’s just as difficult?

RW – This is an interesting question. I am traditionally published, but I am beginning to realise that there is a lot that I can learn from self-pubbed authors. Publishers will still expect you to market your books and do a lot of PR. There isn’t all that much difference between traditionally published authors and self-published ones anymore. Also, I do think it can be tricky to find an agent now.

This may be controversial, but I don’t believe in writer’s block.

Rupert Wallis

Q – How you decide on which point of view to use, and which points of view (POV) do you think work best for certain genres?

RW – I write young adult fiction (YA) and usually they are written in the first person, or third person close (limited). Genre will dictate what POV you might try. For example, detective stories are best from the first person, as the reader is uncovering the details with the character. My tip to find out what POV you want to write in is to write in your chosen POV for 1000 words or so, then rewrite in another, and see how each feels. It’s very useful for helping you to decide what’s best for your story.

Q – Do you ever have several story ideas on the go at the same time?

RW – I have a lot of ideas on the go, and some I put aside because I can’t quite figure them out. I have a screenwriting background where ideas are disposable and people write fast. Because of this, I write down any idea I have, and keep mulling it over. An idea that keeps coming back to me and I can’t get rid of is usually something worth pursuing.

Q – Do you find that on some days the ideas just won’t come, and on others you could just write and write? If so, do you persevere on the slow days, or go and do something else and come back later?

RW – This may be controversial, but I don’t believe in writer’s block. You need to write every day. It can be very tough, I agree. I have a goal of a 1000 words a day, and that means I’ll have a draft done in 2-3 months. Rewriting is also tough. But, that’s why you need to make sure you are writing a story that you really want to write to get you through the low times. This is often something – usually characters – that you are fascinated by.

Q – How does your reading affect your writing? Do you tend to read genres and writers who write in a similar voice to you?

RW – Reading is absolutely vital. Creativity is like a bank account. What you take out you need to put back in. I read, watch movies, and do whatever I can to stop myself getting overdrawn. Reading, though, is key to writing. You will learn so much more from any course just by reading and learning from other people. Also, I read all sorts of books – whatever appeals to me.

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Getting Started: Beginners' Fiction

Q – At what stage of an idea do you share it with someone else? Do you have the whole story written or drafted first?

RW – I am very protective of my ideas, and I won’t show a draft to anyone until I am happy with it. Then, of course, readers find stuff that you hadn’t thought of. It’s probably good practice because the most important thing is the story. Readers do not remember nice writing, only story – it’s what they tell their friends when they have read a good book – so to give a whole draft to someone is useful, but I withhold until I’m happy with it myself.

Q – When writing down stories, I tend to get bogged down by details that just keep flooding in. Are there any tricks helping to stem such a flood and get on with writing the story as a whole?

RW – If your scenes are getting bogged down in detail then take a step back and remember this: A scene is like a mini novel – someone wants something and there is some reason why they can’t have it. By the end of the scene they get it or they don’t, and by the law of cause and effect we move on to the next bit of the story.

Q – How often do you find the direction your characters have taken the story is entirely different to what you expected, so you have to return to the start to rewrite?

RW – This can happen, but it’s all about having two heads going at the same time – inside the heads of your characters, and also being able to stand back and say ‘this is where I aiming for in my story’. I’ll give you a tip: Start with a character who wants something. The story can only go one of three ways – they get what they want, they don’t get it, or they get something else they didn’t anticipate. I hold this in mind to keep myself targeted towards finishing. Things always change along the way and that’s part of the fun, but it’s something I keep in mind.

Q – Do you have a favorite novel that has really inspired you to write more?

RW – Honestly? Not really. I like bits of lots of novels though – scenes, endings, beginnings. It all goes into the melting pot in my head!

Q – Do you ever you different writing techniques like recording your voice, or do you go straight to typing?

RW – I always just type. What I will do, though, is read out my work out loud afterwards to hear how it sounds. You find a lot of things sound different. It is a good thing to try.

Q – Thank you for coming along Rupert, you’re answers have been fascinating. Until next time!

RW – No problem. Good luck with all your writing!

Rupert Wallis

Rupert is a YA and children’s author. He has published three novels with Simon & Schuster, The Dark Inside, All Sorts of Possible and The Boy With One Name. Rupert mentors novelists and has taught writing to BA and MA students at Falmouth University. He is Teaching Associate on the Master of Studies in Creative Writing at Cambridge University.

Getting Started: Beginners' Fiction

Begins: 15 January 2018