Tim Wynne-Jones, guys, Tim Wynne-Jones! He’s the prolific author behind such works as The Uninvited, The Rex Zero series, and several Fraggle Rock songs. Fraggle Rock, guys! His newest work, Blink & Caution, is an intricately crafted thriller that alternates between 2nd person and close 3rd person narration. He was nice enough to answer some of our questions with his trademark sense of humor.
When writing suspense, how do you decide what to withhold from the reader?
Wow! That’s a huge question. Basically, you’re always walking a fine line between giving the game away and cheating your reader by not dishing the goods. Mostly, it comes down to a question of where you give information rather than what you tell the reader. If you tell a reader something early on before they know certain other information, they won’t necessarily remember it, but, hopefully, will recall it at the right moment and go, “Whoa! That’s right! I’d forgotten that. Cool!” Also you can give a piece of pertinent information, better known as a clue, buried in the middle of a paragraph where it’s there in plain sight but kind of gets lost. That works.
Do you prefer writing series or stand alone books?
Stand alone books, mostly. I love my characters like crazy, but after a year or so of working with them, I’m ready to move on. (And so are they.) Then again, it’s fun to have a bunch of characters like in the Rex Zero books because you know them so well, it’s easy to guess how they’re all going to react to whatever trouble I throw at them.
If all of your books were being held at gunpoint and you could only choose one to save, which would it be?
Yikes! What a dark question. I’d have to say the unborn one; the one that’s gestating right now. Phew! I don’t even want to think of the political ramifications of that answer. But I guess my point is that, as a writer, the joy of writing is the process not the result. I love all my books but it’s the making of them — the total engagement with the birthing — that is what I cherish.
Have you ever, in a moment of caffeine-fueled darkness perhaps, spoken out-loud to a manuscript?
I do it all the time — coffee or not. One of the things about writing is having this brand new bunch of best friends you spend every waking moment with (and a lot of time when you should be asleep, as well). Your characters are with you all the time and while I am writing the words they say, I don’t like to simply put words in their mouths. Okay, I know that sounds nuts. But the truth is, once you’ve got characters up on their feet, they tend to have their own motivations, their own desires. Even the minor characters. So you’re busily writing a scene trying to make them do what you want them to do and they’re yelling at you, “Hey, what about me? That’s not what I want to do.” Etcetera. You will see that I have neatly flipped your question around so that it’s the manuscript talking to me. But the thing is, I always respond. We talk a lot, my manuscript and I. A writer is only that far away from the loony bin.
How is the process of writing lyrics different from writing prose or poetry?
I write songs with a pen; I write prose on a computer. A song doesn’t take long to write, but I’ll spend years and years fiddling with lyrics to get them right, and that usually come from singing those lyrics in a band and not liking a line or a word and finally finding a replacement for it. You don’t get to test-drive a novel in the same way.
Do you ever get your own songs stuck in your head?
How do you originally plan your stories (on napkins, typewriters, notepads, post-its)?
I don’t do much planning. I don’t start writing a story until I have the opening scene so strongly in my head it’s driving me crazy. It tends to pour out fairly easily, at that point. Then I’m stuck with figuring out what happens next.
If Blink & Caution had a scent, what would it be?
Stale coffee and creosote, cedar and dead bullrushes, and a hard, cold October rain.
What’s your favorite word?
floccinaucinihilipilification (I hardly ever get a chance to use it, but you asked…Here, I’ll use it in a sentence. Mike quit the football team because he was sick of the coach’s endless floccinaucinihilipilification.)
Do you find your writing has a tick or habit that you can’t seem to break?
I’ve just listened to the audiobook of Blink & Caution (A great performance on Brilliant Audio by McLeod Andrews) and I use “said” too much. Which is not to say that I should use synonyms for said — Heck no! — but that I could probably drop the word a lot more.
Any advice for young writers?
Keep writing. You’ll probably get to 40-50 pages a whole lot of times before you’re finally able to push on through and write an entire manuscript. But, as I mentioned above, only ever try to write one chapter at a time. It’s like climbing: you don’t want to look ahead too far.
You can read more from Tim Wynne-Jones on his blog here.