Writers Discussing Writing – pt II (Samuel Snoek-Brown, guest)

October 21, 2012

AS I INTRODUCED last week, I read an online story by my guest, Samuel Snoek-Brown recently.  And it touched me so much, I re-blogged it on my site here.

Here’s a link to it: Lightning My Pilot.   I really thought so highly of it that, as a ramp up to National Novel Writing Month,  I’ve invited the author to engage in a three-part talk about the how’s and why’s that went into creating this small gem. Here’s the second blog, the next one will show up in the 28th of October.

So first, take a look at his short story. Then see our talk here, and last week. I really didn’t expect us to have that much to discuss, but you know writers… especially deadly serious ones. Here we go.

Blog two of three

EJR: So we left off at the getting the pace started. and of writing small to bigger. Let’s talk now bout scene. The building them, their pacing. Stuff like that.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Shoot!

EJR: Did you slip into scene from outright narration in order to up the value of the scene? Or was it just instinctual, and well, ‘accidental?’

Samuel Snoek-Brown: I feel like, for the mother narrator, it was instinctual. For some reason — and I could offer explanations for this, but who am I to unpack my own work? And who’s to say I’d be right? — but for some reason, my strongest fiction, the work people respond to most, is the fiction told from a natural, off-the-cuff, first person narrator.

It FEELS right to people, I think. So I was absolutely beginning this story in that blog style you mention on purpose: I needed her to be telling this to herself with an awareness of audience. But once she’s into her own story — and once WE are into the story — that slip into more conventional storytelling becomes natural. Hence into scene.

EJR:  Scene’s the way to go whenever you can. I’m a firm believer in that.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Yes.

EJR:  So tell me, you had tone, found telling dialogue, built visual scenes, and slipped into tidbits of back-story. If I were deconstructing this that’s the notes I’d take.  Or did you build that in back-story right from the start?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Well, at first, when it was just the mother and her son, I felt like the whole thing came across too much as a tableau. Even with the narrative voice of the mother, it still felt like we were outside looking in on scenes. So in the later drafts, I knew I needed something to make these two people human beings. I also realized there needed to be someone else for these two to collectively reflect off of.

There needed to be a third point in the triangle — but I had recently finished reading Ethel Rohan’s Cut Through the Bone. In which absence and missing people/pieces are essential to all the stories, and so the idea that this third person — which I knew eventually would be the father — defined his presence in the story BY his absence really appealed to me.

EJR: It’s also great, and I think all novices really can learn craft by seeing how it wasn’t narration that brought in your best bits of back-story. It was a scene with a character reacting to some dialog that moved things forward.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: The line the son says, about the godships fighting, is what led me to the father being a soldier.

EJR: Right. And you didn’t bring it in via narration. You brought it in as a reaction to something the mother hears her son say.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: That was the hardest part, actually — once I knew I was adding that in, I didn’t want to oversell it. That sort of addition is WAY too easy to push too hard.

EJR: Your scene work has very little extended passages of narration. What did it take you, as a writer, to try to learn to do that?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: In this case, it was interesting, though, because I usually DO push too hard and then have to cut it out later. This story came out so close to finished already, though, that the entire addition process was all about restraint for me.

I kept holding back. I think it worked out, but it did so kind of by magic. 🙂

EJR: So next, is trying to do more of that on purpose? From the first drafts of things?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Exactly.

EJR: Speaking of Deconstruction, like we did back there: a new question.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Deconstruction, fabulous.

EJR: What could you give as advice to someone who deconstructed your style and wanted to try and write like you as far as craft elements to notice and try to use in our own work?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: And I’m SO bad about that! [deconstruction of his own work].

EJR: You must! You must reveal your secrets! Laughs. You must face this question!

Samuel Snoek-Brown: Wow. About my own work? I can do this all day with someone else’s work! Hmm….

I think the Romantics were pretty well full of themselves — and lied a lot about their process — but I think one thing they got right was insisting on doing as much of the work in the mind as possible. Especially with the ease of computers, it’s just too easy these days to self-indulge in writing — on paper, on screen, whatever.

But working in the head forces compression and works heavily with memory. I’m usually the first guy to go running for the notebook when I have an idea. But in this case I was trapped in the bathtub with a headache, so I had to work with it in my head. And that helped me rein in what was going in, it helped me keep hold of only what was most important.

EJR:  You know my theory of deconstruction of a work in order to find a way into a new work. I’m planning on creating a Scrivener doc to guide folks through a process, something they can use as ‘training-wheels’ while writing a story.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: I love Scrivner!

EJR: Give us more on process. Dig deeper for us.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: I think one of the things that I found most instructive, after the fact, as I was trying to figure out how I’d just pulled this story off, was the limited use of dialogue. I’m a dialogue junkie, usually pretty good at it, or so people tell me. But this one uses dialogue almost like lines of poetry, as punctuation marks on scenes or moments.

As I was working the story over in my head, that was conscious — not the poetry part, but the limited use. I maked each line of dialogue feel special, crucial.

EJR: Dialogue as poetry. That should be a bumper sticker for all new writers.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: That’s something I personally would like to be able to repeat.

EJR : What could you give as advice to someone who deconstructed your style and bring it into their writing in a structured way?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: How do you mean?

EJR:  I like taking short stories and breaking them down to their beginning, middle, and end. And into their various scenes. Then I analyze what the writer did there. I take notes of the craft. So I can identify what’s been going on craft-wise, and try to use the notes I’ve made for my new work. What the beginning, middle, and end here in this piece?

Samuel Snoek-Brown: As opposed to a five-part story?  I only say that because this story has five sections. So, you’re talking about the three-act structure, yeah?

EJR: Well for my novices I like them to think a little smaller, I like to explain the beginning, middle, and end because that’s something they can wrap their heads around. It’s like giving the kindergarten class the fatter crayons, the grip is easier to manipulate, until they get better at holding the writing tools. Sometimes we need to begin simpler.

Samuel Snoek-Brown: I love the “fat crayons” line.

EJR: That’s me: the visual thinker. Haha. So take you piece and make it a three piece story.  Where would you separate it? At which places?  No. Wait. Let’s move that talk into the last of these blog post.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this so far. If you haven’t already, click on Samuel’s story at the top here. It’s really good.

Catch us next week, folks. There’s more to come.

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4 Responses to “Writers Discussing Writing – pt II (Samuel Snoek-Brown, guest)”


  1. Reblogged this on Samuel Snoek-Brown and commented:
    EJ Runyon and I had a LONG and very interesting conversation about my story “Lightning My Pilot.” We get into areas of general craft, but it’ll help to read the story (if you haven’t already) to understand some of what we talk about. Otherwise, dive into part two of the interview!

    Any comments? Feel free to leave some here, but definitely leave questions or comments at EJ’s blog: join our conversation! 🙂

    Oh, and PS: I’ve added a new “Interviews” page to my blog, under the “Writing” menu, where you can find interviews I do with other writers and interviews people have done with me. I’m planning to expand the interviews I’ve done with others soon (including an exciting interview I hope to post early next month), so stay tuned. And if you want to interview me, just drop me a line — I’m fun to talk to. 🙂


  2. […] Reblogged from E.J. Runyon's Author Blog: […]


  3. […] or two of the interview, you can start the whole conversation here; then you can check out part two dive into part two of the interview here. Otherwise, dive into the third and final part of the interview, in which I break down story […]

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