Todays guest for the WHAT is Madeline Dyer, a fantasy and science fiction writer, who has a special love for all things dystopian, paranormal and ghostly. Her debut novel, UNTAMED, was published by Prizm Books in May 2015.
Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?
Normally, I can’t pinpoint exactly where my ideas come from—usually, they come from a mixture of things… but with UNTAMED I do have a specific origin point: the music video for ‘La La La’ by Naughty Boy featuring Sam Smith. More specifically, it was a scene in this video, where I saw what I interpreted as a human heart being sold at a market (whether it was actually a pig’s heart, I’m not sure) and I just thought what if people can buy emotions at an everyday market like that (as a human heart can represent love, passion, commitment, etc.)? And that’s where the idea came from really. Of course, it soon grew into something much, much bigger, as I combined it with research and imagination.
Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?
So, once I had this premise worked out—that people would be able to buy the emotions they wanted to feel—I started thinking about characters. For me, characters always drive the plot, so once I’d created a handful of characters that I absolutely fell in love with, the plot came pretty fast. At this point, I started on the world-building, and decided I wanted a strong dystopian regime in place that tried to eradicate all negative emotions—at the expense of humanity. And I also wanted conflict. A lot of conflict. From then on, the plot just grew and grew, thanks to my characters and their actions.
Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?
Yes! This happens quite a lot. I’m just trying to think back to when I was writing the first draft of UNTAMED… there were quite a few plot points that changed dramatically when I went from my plan to the first draft. Mainly, these changes were caused by the characters not doing what I wanted. They all had different ideas, and a couple of them reacted totally different to how I expected, throwing the story off in a whole new direction.
But most of my big changes occur when I’m going from the first draft to the second. Usually, by the time I’ve finished the first draft, I know the characters really well, and I’ve got loads of ideas about what needs changing. With UNTAMED, one of the major changes was who the love interest of my main character was going to be; another character just wasn’t happy about my plans at all—to the extent that the original love interest got written out in the second draft.
And these changes happen all the time! I’m currently working on book two in the Untamed Series, FRAGMENTED, and I’ve just finished rewriting a massive section. It still leads to the same place, but uses different means to get there that are more appropriate to the characters and the story.
Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?
I always seem to have ideas! And I can’t type fast enough!
I’m currently actively working on three different projects (the next two Untamed books, and a new dystopian novel for adults), and I’m feeling a bit overloaded by just how much motivation and inspiration I have. Sure, I have days where I can’t be bothered to write and the thought of sitting down with my laptop again fills me with dread—but at the same time, I want to write, I need to. And when I have, I feel a lot better. It’s addictive.
How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?
Ah, now this is something I still haven’t quite perfected. I always seem to be overrun with ideas, and tend to work on more than one story at a time—though, even then I always have one main one. Still, it gets a bit hectic, and I keep separate notebooks for each project so I don’t mix my ideas up. At the moment, I’m working on Untamed book two (as my main project), and then writing scenes and bits and pieces of Untamed book three, and my new work-in-progress.
I tend to just go with the story that I want to write that day. Unless I’m on a deadline!
Sometimes the perfect word eludes me. If I can’t come up with it in the moment I usually write something in ALL CAPS like A GREAT WORD HERE and move on to catch it later in revision. Do you roll with the flow, or go find that word right away?
I do the ALL CAPS THING all the time! And you know what? I’m so glad I’m not the only one! I think that if I stopped every time I couldn’t find the perfect word, I’d definitely disrupt the flow of the story—particularly if it’s the first draft. And I’ve found I work best when I get the first draft down as quickly as possible. I completed draft one of UNTAMED in around 24 days, then spent the following 18 months fixing things, rewriting and revising, and working through edits with the lovely editor my publisher assigned me.
So yeah, my first drafts tend to resemble a bit of a patchwork really. They’re filled with notes, comments, highlighted sections that need rewriting and lots of capitalized reminders.
Anyway, the later drafts are for finding the perfect words, right? I usually don’t allow myself to start editing, changing words or doing major research (unless it’s absolutely necessary) until I’ve finished a draft for fear of disrupting the rhythm I’ve created.