Questions by Fans. Answers by Terry Brooks
Carissa Dawson writes: Terry, I am an aspiring writer. I have many works on paper and in my head but I cannot seem to finish any of them. Other than discipline and a writing schedule, is there any advice that you could give to someone who desperately wants to finish at least something and get it out there?
Terry Brooks replies: I can try, Carissa. When I was going through this — lo these many years ago &mash; I was in my teens and early twenties. Don't know quite where you are. But at the time, I was struggling to find something to write about that could hold my attention. I would start dozens of stories, but never finish any of them. Even the Star Warsian space opera only got through three hundred and some pages before I gave up on it. What changed was when I began writing the book that consumed my every waking moment — which was The Sword of Shannara. I think mostly you have to find the right subject and the right way for telling it. That takes a lot of trial and error, and I don't think there are any shortcuts to getting there. You can keep trying until you find something you love enough that you HAVE to finish it. Just keep at it.
Bruce Van Dyke writes: Why are most of your books only ~350 pages when so many other writers are 400 to 600+ pages? It's frustrating. I always have purchased first editions but it is a lot of money for a short story
Terry Brooks replies: Well, Bruce, I don't think 350+ pages constitutes a short story. Maybe 30 pages or less. Then there are novelettes and novellas. More to the point, I can't be held responsible for writers who choose to write large books. I used to do that, but these days I prefer to write my stories in short series or 2 to 4 books. Just my preference. I might also add that in my opinion far too many writers of 500+ page books don't seem to be able to edit the way they need to. A lot of those books just go on and on, treading water without getting anywhere. But maybe that's just the curmudgeon in me speaking.
Charles Clark writes: Do you ever, in your spare time, read and critique budding or aspiring authors' works?
Terry Brooks replies: I don't. I just don't have the time. I used to offer classes on this from time to time, but I have cut all that out. Now I just write and do events where I speak about writing. If I open the door to doing critique work, the flood of requests will drown me. It nearly did that when I was limiting myself to teaching at conferences. So while I do read books sent to me by publishers hoping for a promotional quote, I don't critique new writer's works anymore.
Jeff Hutchison writes: I recently finished writing my first novel and I'm hard at work on the sequel. I've done some research and have been told that due to the economy, book sales are down. For this reason, publishers aren't willing to take a chance on a new author. Is there any truth to this? And if that's the case, what about self-publishing? I know that you've said that is a last resort, but what other options are there to get my work out there?
Terry Brooks replies: The publishing field is vastly different than when I broke in back in the 1970s. For one thing, much of what is appearing comes to us from the internet. A lot of self publishing is being done there, often in increments and often for free, just to build an audience before seeking more traditional forms of pubishing. Yes, the economy is down and so publishers are not being quite so free or experimental in choosing what they want to publish. But unsolicited submissions are still being picked up and turned into books, so you don't want to abandon that route entirely. For every generation, there are always obstacles to finding a publisher and always those who will tell you this is the wrong time to try. But if that stops you, this is the wrong business for you, anyway.
David Salchow writes: Dear Terry, I believe you've admitted that your political opinions and persuasions influence your characters and story lines. What do you say to a long time reader like me who would rather you didn't? Aren't you afraid of alienating a segment of readers? If I were the hotshot author, I'd sell as many books as I could, then donate to whatever cause or candidate I chose in a more private manner. What do you think?
Terry Brooks replies: This question keeps coming up, David, although you are the first to call me a "hotshot author," and frankly I am a bit confused. Right from the get-go with The Sword of Shannara I was writing about behavioral issues. Sword and Elfstones were about personal sacrifice. The Heritage of Shannara was about what might happen if the environment collapsed. So for me, infusing my stories with hot button topics doesn't seem all that new. That said, I don't see myself taking sides in these stories. What I see myself doing is calling attention to issues I think we all need to address. I want readers to be aware and to consider, but I don't tell them what to think. I leave that for the talking heads and political analysts. I also want you to know that mostly what I am trying to do is what I was taught to do by Lester del Rey all those years ago — Write A Good Story. That always comes first and foremost. Anything after that resides on another level of storytelling. Still, good writers address the topics of the days in which they live. From issues of moral responsibility to quests for redemption to standing up for what you believe in to self-destructive behavior, I try to do just that.
Ginnie Samson writes: I've noticed that it's split about half-and-half for fantasy authors who introduce religion in their books against those who don't—whether its an actual religion or completely made up. Unless I can't remember right, you never really mentioned religion in your novels (at least for Shannara. I haven't read Landover.). Some other authors base their books heavily on some sort of religion. I'm also trying to write a book, and I'm thinking about introducing religion in the plot. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think it's best that I leave religion out completely?
Terry Brooks replies: I think it depends on the book and on your author's instincts. I wouldn't put it in if it wasn't integral to the story. That, or anything else, for that matter. I would also remember that once you start, you are in it for the long haul. I learned that lesson the hard way with the way I addressed a couple of my characters awhile back. If you introduce something in the beginning of a book or series, you kind of have to stick with it. So give it some though and decide based on how important a religious aspect is to the story. Also, you might consider the nature and purpose of any element of religion. Do you need something specific or something general? Do you want something already established or will you create a new form. There are a lot of questions to be answered, so take your time before you put pen to paper.
Angela Marie Willis writes: About two years ago I started casually looking into self-publishing companies. They like to charge lots of money for different publishing package deals, and though I am a poor lowly college student, that's not my biggest concern. My biggest concern is, are they even worth it? I have heard mixed reviews concerning such companies as AuthorHouse, iUniverse, etc. What do you think is the best way to go about getting my book out there? Going through a publishing company or a self-publishing company?
Terry Brooks replies: Well, Angela, I always think that going with an established publisher is the best choice, if not the easiest. The whole idea of writing professionally is for if for someone to pay you, not the other way around. Those who have gone outside the box to find a publisher have established online websites and relied on word of mouth to alert potential readers to a new writer's work. They do this initially for no charge, then wait for the number of hits to skyrocket. But I like the idea of going to conferences and conventions, writing in hand, and speaking to agents and editors about what they have to offer. Sometimes, personal contact is the best way to open a door. Mostly, editors and agents at writing venues are looking to find new talent and will speak with you about what you have written. I think pay to print with your work is sort of a last resort.
Trudy Rushton writes: Would it be writer's suicide to try out different genres? For example, if you decided to try your hand at writing a historical novel and it failed, would that hurt your career as a fantasy writer? If you were to do that would it be safer to use a different name?
Terry Brooks replies: I wouldn't call it suicide. Lots of writers of one genre dabble in others. But mostly their fans don't follow them there in the same numbers as the original. When readers bond with a book and its writer, they do so for very strong reasons. They usually want you to write more of the same. So most writers do. My own experience teaches me that if I keep shifting around from one fantasy form to another, I can satisfy my urge to do something new. I haven't really found anything yet outside of fantasy that I feel strongly enough about to write — save my book on writing. I always seem to end up putting my ideas into fantasy form. But stick around. You never know what might be coming.
Alexander Noriega writes: I'm pretty sure that Shannara and all the characters therein are trademarked to you, but my question for you is this. May I use a name from one of your characters? Without sounding too rude, conceited or desperate, the one that I've chosen for my charcters name is Allanon.
Terry Brooks replies: I always think you are better off coming up with your own names. All of the material in the Shannara books is protected, and the publisher is pretty aggressive in enforcing this. You can use one of my names in private, but you want to be sure it doesn't ever become public. Besides, you can probably do better than me, anyway.
Tou Pheng Xiong writes: I have trouble writing dialogue that includes more than two characters. It always turns out awkward. I can write great dialogue with just two people, but I just can't seem to do it with more than two. Do you have any tips?
Terry Brooks replies: Practice, practice, practice. The best thing is to find a way to distinguish your voices so that by the words along the reader can recognize who is speaking. Read some books which are dialogue driven — Elmore Leonard is the master — and see how they manage it. Choose some writers from your own field of writing and really study how they differentiate between characters. Most of what I know about dialogue I learned by reading other writers.
Joshua Stewart writes: You have been an established writer for some time so everyone knows your work. It seems harder for new authors to get a hold in the writing business. What would you recommend for those of us trying to get our foot in the door?
Terry Brooks replies: It's getting harder and harder to know what to tell anyone, Joshua. I used to have a better handle on the answer to this question than I do now. So much has changed in the "getting published" department. Many writers are finding their way through publishing first on the internet and building an audience. Some are going ebook right off the bat. Some are even blogging their way to publication. But I guess I still think the best chance you have is by personal contact with an agent or editor who reads and believes in your work. Go to a writer's conference or convention or festival where there are people who buy and publish the kind of book you are writing and talk to them face to face. Tell them what you have written and ask if you can send them your manuscript or some part of it. Of course, you need a manuscript to send them, so be sure you have one before you take this step. Editors and agents will almost always agree to take a look. Be sure when you send something you remind them who you are and where you met.
Jonathan Ryan writes: Hey Terry, big time fan from Ireland. My question is: When your writing your fight scenes, have you choreographed them beforehand or do you just let the battle play out while you write? One of my favorites has to be Angel vs Delloreen, their first encounter.
Terry Brooks replies: It's a combination of the two, Jonathan. I do a walk-through of the battle or fight scene in my head before I write it, noting the high points, emotional and physical responses of the combatants and the impact I want to convey. Oh, yeah. Knowing the outcome helps, too. Then I write it. But the writing of anything almost always changes the way it comes out. Not always in a big way, but in the smaller, important points. I always find a better way to set it down in the doing of it.
Daniel Kearns writes: I write a little bit myself. I have a nearly full notebook but I have a problem. How do you stick with a story for so long? I quickly lose intrest in a story.
Terry Brooks replies: That's fairly typical of beginning writers, Daniel. I was the same way for many years while I was experimenting with different kinds of stories. The problem is always the same—what can I write about that will keep me interested for an entire year or more? I didn't find that something for many, many stories. Not until Sword of Shannara. So you might be facing the same problem. You have to find the right story, the right voice and the right passion. It may take awhile, so be patient and try to have some fun with the experimenting.
Jason Macasso writes: My question is how does one decide if writing should be a profession or merely a past time?
Terry Brooks replies: Well, you don't always make that kind of decision yourself, Jason. Mostly, life and luck make it for you. You set out to write because you love doing it. We all have that at heart when we start. But then luck and circumstances connive or contrive or whatever to make writing for a living possible. You can't control whether or not people will like your work. Or an editor or publisher. You can't control if sales will make writing as a profession possible. All you can do is give it a try. This is why everyone says, "Don't quit the day job." It might be that writing will be an avocation rather than a vocation. But either way, it's worth doing.
Peter Rundle writes: What do you feel about authors continuing the series of another writer after he/she dies?
Terry Brooks replies: That's a very individual call, Peter. I don't have trouble with it as a concept. But it really depends on how faithful the new writer is to the work of the old and how dedicated the publisher is to seeing that the new writer toes the line. The trouble is that it is almost impossible for a new writer to capture the voice of the old exactly. So what the new writer needs to do is be faithful to the intent and thematic structure of the old writer's series. Maybe we can all decide how it's working for Robert Jordan when Tor releases his new book. I hope not to have to find out personally for quite a while yet.
Kenny Young writes: Terry, as you have grown as a writer and matured how has your approach to outlining changed? How have the outlining stage of writing novels improved, and developed, over your career?
Terry Brooks replies: I am less dogmatic about outlining than I used to be. Some of that is due to experience and practice, after 32 books. Some of it is due to changes in my thinking as a writer and the need to evolve. I still outline my books, but I don't spend as much time on the details. I am more fluid in my approach. It has to do with trusting the process and my writer's instincts. So far, so good.
Michael Carpenter writes: Hi Terry! You've said before that you draw a lot from your own experiences when you write, but several of your main characters are female. Do you find it more challenging to write stories with female main characters? How do you do it? What sources of information or experience do you pull from to create a convincing female character when (obviously!) you've had no direct experience? Thanks!
Terry Brooks replies: It helps if you live in a matriarchy, which I pretty much do. I spend a considerable amount of my life around girls and women. Writers are supposed to observe and reflect. We are supposed to be able to create any sort of character from those observations and from an ability to imagine what those characters might do in any given situation. Also, my wife is my first reader, and my editor is my guiding light, and both are female. Don't think they won't call me out if anything sounds false.
Nick writes: Hi. I am almost done with rewriting my urban fantasy novel and am wondering how much do editors and agents care about punctuation and how accurate must it be? I can't wait to read A Princess of Landover. Landover was the first book I read of yours.
Terry Brooks replies: Well, here's the thing of it, Nick. If you want to be taken seriously, you want to come across as competent and professional. You can help yourself by demonstrating that you know how to spell, punctuate and research things that require it. An editor's job is to determine how well your story holds together and what you can do to make it better. It is to help package and market the book so that it will reach as many readers as possible. All the rest is secondary. I have found in this business that you better approach it with the mindset that you are your own last, best line of defense against errors that will mark your book as flawed. So do the work. You won't regret it.
David Salchow writes: Dear Terry, as I'm eagerly anticipating your next work and hoping your tour brings you close my town, I'm readlng the Wheel of Time series by the late, great Robert Jordan. I've learned that Mr. Jordan would make slight revisions or corrections between book printings. Have you ever done anything similar? Thank you and I hope to see you in the fall!
Terry Brooks replies: I do make changes between printings, mostly in response to reader comments on errors they find in their own readings. I don't tend to go back and read my own work after it is in print unless it comes right before a new set of books I am working on. We do make changes when we find them, although I wouldn't bet that we've gotten them all, even after so much time has passed. I don't, on the other hand, ever think about going back and rewriting something already written. It is what it is.
Christopher Vaughan writes: Hello! First, thanks for your inspiring works. I was curious, what is your secret for producing so many books at such an astonishing speed? Other authors (I won't name names, but there are a lot of them) tend to take up to a few years to finish a highly anticipated installment, and by that time I have forgotten the prior plot development, or even why I was interested in the book. How are you able to work so quickly on such massive amounts of work? Thanks!
Terry Brooks replies: Writers all work at their own pace, me included. I know some who do two and three and even four books a year. I can't imagine that. I do one a year, and that seems about right for me. Once in a while, I do one and a little more, but that is rare. I find that the one book a year pace is comfortable and doesn't leave me feeling rushed. The publisher only wants to put one book a year out in any case, although now and then they do two, if there is something other than a Shannara. But I see the value in doing one every three years or so. By then you've lost the old books in the set and have to buy all new! Maybe I should try that!
Jake writes: What does one of your sample outlines look like?
Terry Brooks replies: It looks like this: %#@*&^%@%*. Only angrier and longer. Okay, kidding. It consists of three parts. A chapter by chapter synopsis of the story, each chapter reduced to maybe one paragraph cover basics—action, characters, setting, voice and mood. A set of profiles on the main characters, which include not only what the readers need to know but what I know and am not telling. A map and accompanying geographical description of the main settings in the story. Oh, and sometimes a set of pictures of places I've been that inspired the story.
Anonymous writes: What do you do if the publisher or editor shows lack of interest in your manuscript?
Terry Brooks replies: I send Guido around to make them an offer they can't refuse. What do you think? Actually, I haven't had that problem since book two almost thirty years ago when Lester del Rey turned down my offering and told me to start over. You can read about it in Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life, if you want more on this. Since then, I've been living a charmed life. What usually happens is that my editor will suggest ways in which I could make the work stronger or improve the presentation or something of that sort. I get helpful suggestions every time out, which I am not ashamed to say I definitely need. But no one has shown a lack of interest and told me about it.
Anonymous writes: Have you ever thought of writing a book in first person?
Terry Brooks replies: Who is this anonymous person anyway? Is that a pseudonym? Okay, I'll try to get serious, 'try' being the operative word. Sure, I've thought about it. But in series, you don't change horses in mid-stream. So since all the previous books are in third person, it might be jarring to suddenly have one in first. On the other hand, I am thinking about a couple of new books unrelated to anything I've done before. For one or both of those, I might go to first person. It depends on a lot — too much to go into here. You have to consider the limitations of first person balanced against the closeness a reader feels to that form of narrative, just to begin with. It goes on from there.
Anonymous writes: I recently lost a flash drive with copies of my work in progress. The flash drive was password protected so I should be OK. I am thinking of copyrighting my work to protect it just in case someone either breaks into the flash drive and finds them or if someone steals my PC and finds them. I realize this might be a bit paranoid, but I have high hopes for my work. When should a book being written be copyrighted?
Terry Brooks replies: Normally writers don't copyright their own work until it is accepted for publication and then the publisher does it for them in the author's name. The reason for this is copying or stealing from unpublished work is rare. Mostly it happens from published work and takes the form of plagiarism. If you have copies of your work and have dated and defined them, I think you can prove the work is your own just from that, should someone try to steal it. Even now, I don't bother with copyright until I turn in a finished manuscript. But if you are worried and want to do this, you can copyright your work on your own. There are forms you can obtain from the government and fill out and submit. Or you can ask the help of a copyright lawyer.
Sean Thiesfeld writes: I grew up reading your work and have always admired your writing style. I aspire to be an author myself and have written a few short stories and am currently working on my first novel. I was wondering if you could go into a little detail about what it was like for you to write your first novel. How you felt, how much time it took you to complete it, if you ever envisioned yourself becoming as popular as you are, and just your process for laying out the story.
Terry Brooks replies: Let me start by suggesting you read my book Sometimes The Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life, which covers all this in greater detail than I can manage here. But I will give you the Reader's Digest version as a starter. I wrote Sword as a challenge to myself and because law school was driving me crazy and I thought writing a fantasy might help keep me sane. It took me six years, working on and off, to finish the book. Mostly, I was just trying to get the story down on paper and make it sound interesting. I didn't really know what I was doing technically. Not then. Now, I have a better handle on the matter. But just starting out, you are mostly learning your craft and seeing what you can do. I wasn't particularly well organized, and I rewrote the first half of the book several times, once completely. I worked nights and weekends and whenever I could fit it into my schedule. I had one goal—get it to someone who would publish it. I didn't have any expectations beyond that. Fantasy wasn't hugely popular back then, and I didn't know enough about the business to have expectations that made any sense. I just wanted to see if I could do it.
Josh Wise writes: During the past year, you've hinted at the possibility of writing something entirely new. As always, you regale us with tidbits, enticing us with scintillating morsels until we're drawn out to ask: What will you be working on?
Terry Brooks replies: Well, here's the thing, Josh. Some writers (me, for instance) do not like talking about something they haven't written yet or even outlined yet because talking about it seems to leach away some of its magic. I have the shape of the thing, and it is different than anything I have written before. This does not mean it isn't a fantasy, because it is. But a different sort of fantasy for me in the way that Word & Void was different from Shannara and Magic Kingdom. So you will have to be patient on this and give me some time to finish working it out and getting started on the writing. Then I will be willing to talk about it some more.
Julian Barr writes: Hi Terry. Just a quick question: What are your personal feelings about fan fiction?
Terry Brooks replies: Well, I understand the lure of fan fiction. Readers who love the books of a writer want to see more than what a writer can produce and want to be part of the mix. So if someone wants to try their hand at copying writer and taking the story in a direction that appeals to them, I don't think that hurts. Unless, of course, they try to sell it or use it in a way to makes them a profit, in which case they will hear from the publisher's attorney's pretty quickly. I always thought that it meant more to write something that belonged to you and you alone. That's just the selfish part of me talking, of course. Doesn't play well with others, all the report cards said. Not much has changed.
Anonymous writes: Greetings Terry. I am a beginner writer, and I have been working on a fantasy book for two years. During the process of writing, I love what I have written, then when I come back several weeks later to read through what I've written, I want to add things in, and change it up a bit. I usually end up adding new vocabulary, and rewriting whole scenes. So, here is my question. Since I am so picky, would it be better to trust what I've already written, and move ahead, or should I keep rewriting to where I'm satisfied?
Terry Brooks replies: I think there is a danger in going back over the same ground too often in an attempt to get everything right. Using my own experience as a guide, I find that it works best to write a chapter, give it a once-over, and move on without going back. Momentum is important in finishing what you start, and so I leave a thorough edit and rewrite for the very end of things, when the book is complete and I can work on a cohesive whole. But every writer has to find their own path; you will, too. Still, you might try my way in an effort to get through the initial writing of your story.
Katy Cameron writes: Have you ever heard of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)? You try to write a 50,000 word novel in one month (November), and it's really fun. Do you think you might do it next year or anytime after that?
Terry Brooks replies: Not unless I lose my mind. I admit that I haven't heard of NaNoWriMo before, Katy, even though I have to tell you that those of us in Washington State, if asked, might guess it was the name of a Casino. Anyway, I think it is a good idea, but I won't be doing it mostly because I don't have the time. A whole month given over to a project like that doesn't make a lot of sense for a professional writer. Too many other commitments take precedent. But for beginning writers who are still working on their technique and do have some time to write, I would think this would be a good exercise.
Michael Fenn writes: Do you think it is good for a beginning writer to plan out a whole series if his/her story dictates that it might take him/her that long to tell the whole tale? Because I'd hate to have to cut out large chunks to condense it into one volume.
Terry Brooks replies: This is a really tough call. On the one hand, your story dictates how large it has to be. On the other, for a beginning writer with no guarantee that the first book will ever find a home, it is a gamble. I sort of lean towards the first choice. It is always better to assume the best and think the story through, even if it never gets written. You have to assume that you will write it, no matter what, because it interests you sufficiently that you want to get it down on paper. A truncated novel is never going to be your best effort, so cutting out large chunks is not acceptable in any case. At best, you would have to find a way to shorten down the story without changing what's necessary. I would suggest that you find a way to make your first book feel as if it has reached some important resolution rather than leaving everything hanging.
Amanda Scholze writes: Terry, do you ever find yourself caught up writing a part in a book that you can't stop? Do you ever have to force yourself to "put down the pen" and walk away? I find myself having that problem while reading them (staying up all night long) and I was wondering if you got as caught up in your books as your readers do.
Terry Brooks replies: I do get caught up in my writing, and I find that if I walk away without reaching a reasonable stopping point I just keep thinking about it until I come back and wrap things up. But when you have those moments - and they don't happen every time you sit down to the computer - you have to go with them. I will write until I am written out. Then I will walk away. These days, it doesn't take that long for me to tire out. Three hours is about all I can give to any session. So I have adjusted my thinking to fit my dwindling capacity to stick with things. I seems to be working.
Julian Adorney writes: I recently finished a short story, in which I killed a character I absolutely loved. Part of me wanted nothing more than to let him walk out alive, but I still killed him. A couple weeks ago, a friend asked me why: if I loved the character, and I held his life in my hands, why did I let him die? Now, I still don't know the answer to that question, so I'm turning it over to you. Why do you kill off characters? Even though you must love them, why did you kill Garth and Helt and Keltset and any number of others?
Terry Brooks replies: Mostly because I am sadistic and evil. No, no, kidding! Tough question, Julian. To begin with, the type of story I am writing only works if it is believable. I think we all know that in the worlds I write about (Magic Kingdom aside) some of the characters are not going to make it. The dangers they face and the struggles they endure are going to put some of them down. The question always becomes who will live and who will die. I never kill a character without a reason. Their death has to advance the story in some measurable way. I also have to take into consideration who is most likely to die given the extent to which all of them are in harm's way. Sometimes, it isn't easy to determine. My rule of thumb is that no character is safe; the reader can never assume I won't kill off a main character. That keeps the story edgy and exciting.
Russ Wilkerson writes: You have mentioned that you outline your plots, then fill in the details to make a novel. Have you ever been surprised or taken back by the unscripted or unplanned actions of a character, almost like they have a life of their own?
Terry Brooks replies: Well, I'm fond of saying that when your characters take on a life of their own, you need to rein them in. Who's running the asylum, anyway? But I know what you mean, Russ. Sure, sometimes things don't work out the way you planned them. A good deal of the time, actually. You never know how an outline is going to work until you write the book. You get better ideas along the way, and new paths open up to you. Sometimes characters grow in stature and interest as you write about them, so their place in the book might change. You need to be open to that. But you also have to remember the first rule of writing. Everything that happens has to have a point. It has to advance the action and it has to illuminate the characters. If that doesn't happen, then you have to rethink your character's insistence on scene-chewing.
Deborah Nolan writes: In Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life, you write about your editor and his importance in your work. My manuscript has been picked up by a New York agent. He loves the characters, the writing, says he loves the book but wants such major changes in plot that I am unable to write, I am so disheartened and stuck. Help!
Terry Brooks replies: Well, my own personal feeling is that making major changes for someone who isn't going to buy your novel is a crapshoot. Some agents are good at helping writers, but some don't know more than the writers do about what will sell. After all, it's an editor's call when it comes to picking up a book, not an agent's. If you feel strongly enough about your book as it is written, you might have to tell your agent you can't do it. It's a hard, hard call. You don't want to give up a chance, but you have to be true to your art as well. Has anyone else told you they think you need major plot changes? Have you gone to any writing conferences and had an editor look at your work? Maybe that would help you make up your mind.
Carl Dunkling writes: What has driven you and what still drives you to think of all the stories and to deliver them to us?
Terry Brooks replies: At this point, I am inclined to say habit. This marks fifty years or so of constant storytelling, so habit must have something to do with it. But if you want a more nuanced answer, Carl, I guess I would say that I write mostly because I love the process. I have always loved putting words together to make something come alive, and fortunately that hasn't changed. I've said in the past that once a book is done, I move on right away. Those books belong to you, the readers, once they are published. What drives me is the expectations I have for the next book, the one I haven't written yet or am in the process of writing. I really do love it.
Chris Defossez writes: Hi there, Terry. I hope to have a future in writing ahead of me and I was wondering how you deal with critics of your work. Do you ever read reviews of your books, or do you tend to stay away from doing so? I suppose what I'm trying to say is, how do you manage to take criticism without being too influenced (or offended!) by what critics tell you to change?
Terry Brooks replies: Wait a minute! Are you telling me I have CRITICS, Joseph? You mean there are people who don't like my books? Let's find out where they live and send Guido over for a visit! Okay, seriously. Sure, I read the reviews when I get them. I like it when they speak well of my work, and I don't like it when they speak ill. But that's the nature of the business, and as a writer you have to remember that no matter who does the reviewing, it is only one person. Doesn't matter whether it's Stephen King or Joe Blow (no offense), it's still only one person's opinion. You can't please everyone, and you won't ever find a way around that. I write first for myself and for what I perceive to be the market. I know what my readers like, and no review or critic is likely to change my mind on this. My toughest critic is my editor, and since she is the representative of my publisher and a skilled professional, I tend to pay attention to what she has to say.
Rich Stowe writes: I just heard that Robert Jordan just passed away while he was working on the 12th book in his Wheel of Time series. I know he was a trooper by trying to finish the book while dealing with the illness. His passing brought to mind a question. Do authors have any plans in place for this kind of situation (a ghost writer to finish etc)?
Terry Brooks replies: Word is Robert Jordan's wife, who was also his editor, will finish the last book. Could be she will do a few more, too, if there is interest. What usually happens with a successful series is that the publisher and often the deceased writers own family will try to find a way to keep the story going. Lots of authors—Robert Ludlum and V.C Andrews among them—are still writing from beyond the grave. I think this is very much a personal issue with each writer. I don't let anyone work in my world at present, and that's not likely to change while I am alive. But after I am gone, who knows?
Mark Baer writes: I was wondering if you have ever stumbled upon an unpublished authors work and felt compelled to help them get published?
Terry Brooks replies: I wouldn't say I stumbled on anyone who deserved to be published, but I've encountered a few in classes I taught and in manuscripts I was given to read. But it really isn't my call. I might feel someone is deserving, but it takes a committed editor and publisher to make it happen. Now and then I pass something along to my editor for a look-see, or I send something on to an agent for a glance. Less so these days because I am not reading unpublished manuscripts anymore. I just don't have the time. The most I do is make suggestions about where a writer might try to strike gold.
Sherry House writes: Do you write books for other people if they tell you their story? I always wanted to tell my story to someone but don't know even how to get started. I don't have the ability to write it, nor start on searching an author to write it for me. But I am sure it would be a great #1 bestseller! Can you help?
Terry Brooks replies: Well, I've got all the work I can handle with my own books. Also, as I am fond of saying at events when asked about working with other writers, my school report card always said, "Does not play well with others." This means I am captain of my own ship, and pretty much I just want to work on my own ideas. This is true, so far as I know, for most writers. The only ones who work on other people's stories are those who freelance to the publishing houses and are chosen to do celebrity or personality ghost work. This won't help you, I am guessing. Writing your own ideas into stories is one of the requirements of being published, I'm afraid. Sorry I can't help. Maybe you should give it a try on your own. You might surprise yourself.
Fabio Piras writes: I'm looking for a publisher for my first book and already had some answer from a small publisher that asked me for money to publish it. Since I had a good answer from them should I try the bigger publisher?
Terry Brooks replies: Normally, you shouldn't pay a company to publish your book - they should pay you. When you pay, it's called a "vanity press" which alludes to the implication that you are desperate enough to see your book in print to pay for it yourself. I would keep trying for awhile before I went that way. Send it in to some major publishers working in your area. Try to go to a writer's conference or a convention where you can meet and chat with agents and editors. Mostly, if you speak with them and ask if you can send them your work, they will be happy to tell you where and when to mail it in. Don't try to give it to them there. But a personal connection always helps. Getting published takes time and effort and a lot of patience. It also involves a bunch of reject experiences along the way. Hang in there.
Seth Strong writes: I definitely feel a connection between your books and the descent of our government's competency. The rising tension of Running With the Demon and the notion that victory isn't one big thing it's the culmination of little events ring similarly to the downfall of U.S. competency in foreign affairs and the dying faith in our officials. Do you consciously use the tension of the times to empower your writing pen?
Terry Brooks replies: Yes. Good fantasy always reflects the world of the writer through the writer's eyes, but it also allows the reader space to interpret. So what you are seeing is something of me, but also something of you. That should be true for every reader. Good fantasy makes a reader step back and think anew about his or her own world and life and how it really is. As a writer, it isn't up to me to think for the readers. but it is up to me to try to find ways to make the readers think.
Shane Cash writes: Hi Terry. Do you deliberately leave points open on a story that when you finish a series, you know it leaves it open for you to return to when you have the right follow on story?
Terry Brooks replies: Yes. This is always deliberate. Sometimes it is because I intend to do something more with it down the road - or at least think I intend to. But often it is because I want the reader to decide what happened afterwards and not rely on me. I am a big believer in the interactive function of books. Readers should be able to imagine much of the story for themselves. I try to let readers have some space for forming images of characters and monsters and places. But I also don't like tying up loose ends too thoroughly. Part of my enjoyment in reading books as a kid was not knowing everything that happened afterwards and having to make up my own mind.
Lauren A. Catron writes: When you write a book (especially your first 3 books), how much material, in terms of pages, is actually cut out of your original manuscript after the many edits a book goes through?
Terry Brooks replies: There was a great deal more editing early on than later. Maybe I actually learned from my mistakes. Or maybe they just gave up on me. The first three Shannara books were heavily edited with extensive rewrites. After Magic Kingdom for Sale—Sold!, the rewrites dropped off significantly and haven't been required since. What's interesting is that although I rewrote Sword extensively and Elfstones completely, neither saw much in the way of cuts at any point. Nor have I done much of that since. Mostly, I get my changes made before it gets to the editors and what is required of me after that is mostly rewrites. So what you see in the published edition content-wise hasn't changed all that much from draft one.
Justin Vanwely writes: Terry, how does your life change as soon as you write a bestseller? Is it a roller coaster ride, or just nerve-racking? And what sort of celebrity treatment do you receive as a result? Most authors usually seem to prefer a quiet, secluded life away from the spotlight. Why is that?
Terry Brooks replies: Fiction writers, at least, tend to be less interested in celebrity. Writing is a very solitary enterprise, so too much publicity about the author sometimes isn't a good thing. I was taught years ago by Lester del Rey that the author should never come between the readers and the books. I know what he means now. Its the books that matter, not the author. Some pretty good authors have gone downhill after too much attention has been paid to them. It interferes with the writing, and there's enough of that sort of thing already! I think I was lucky. Sword got a lot of attention, but I really wasn't aware enough of it to be influenced. I was living in a small town in Illinois writing the next book. If I had gotten massive attention the way first time writers do today, I don't think I would have lasted thirty years. It's just too overwhelming. For years, I could go anywhere. Now, that's pretty much changed. I get recognized all the time. But now it doesn't matter. I'm pretty well immune to it. I hope.
KJ Shankweiler writes: Terry, do you think that your college education was necessary in preparing you with the skills necessary to be such a successful writer, or do you think if one were interested and read enough that would suffice?
Terry Brooks replies: I don't know the answer to that one, KJ. It is always easy to look back and say, "Well, I could have skipped all that and just begun writing Sword of Shannara." But could I? Everything we do has an impact on what's to come in our lives, so I don't know that it would have worked out the same way for me if I had not gone to college. That said, it isn't the same for everyone. Some very good writers didn't go to college. So you never know. But going to college is a way to grow and to learn to see the world through different eyes and to study some very great writers. That isn't wasted time, no matter what. One of the problems with trying to write something too early in life is that you aren't seasoned enough yet to appreciate the depth that is needed for a story to work. That's why most of us write a lot before we write anything worth talking about.
Troy Cafferky writes: Terry, in March's questions you mentioned that some readers didn't pick up Armageddon's Children because they didn't realize it was a Shannara book. How important are the sales numbers of your books to you personally? Is it a figure you look at?
Terry Brooks replies: I do pay attention to my sales figures. It really is the only accurate measuring stick for how well a book or series is received. Best Seller lists can be manipulated and depend to a great extent on how well other writers are selling. Also, sales numbers are what the publisher cares about. My ongoing goal is to increase those numbers whenever I can. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn't. The good news is that all of my books are still in print and still selling regularly. Very few authors can claim that. All in all, I don't think I could ask for much more.
Seth Strong writes: During a revisit to the lore of Middle Earth, I noticed that the evil races were 100% evil whereas the forces of good had betrayers among them like Saruman. Additionally, the teams of good and evil fell across race lines. Granted the orcs of Middle Earth were created to be evil, but I still hoped that somehow regardless of their nature that in the proper environment some of them could adapt to live in peace. You redeem members of the "races of evil". My favorite example is Slanter. I would like to know your thoughts about stereotypes even within your worlds. Is that effort conscious in order to address modern social considerations, or does it just come as a package with the rest of your style?
Terry Brooks replies: Goodness, what a great question. Very deep. Let me see what I can do with it. Stereotypes are always bad, as we know. People don't fall easily into categories based on race, religion, nationality, education, you name it. There are always exceptions. That's the nature of the human race. Now, if you are writing about orcs or demons, that's another matter. The writer defines what those creatures are like, and maybe their composition doesn't allow for anything approaching what we would deem to be goodness. That would be my take on Tolkien's world. In my world, everyone save the Elves grew out of the old race of Man. So they have to exhibit human traits of behavior. Elves, it turns out, are more human than not. But demons and creatures subverted by the dark magic, lose their humanity and their sense of right and wrong and become creatures hungry only for the power of the magic they crave. I think good epic fantasy always holds a mirror up to civilization and makes us take a look at what we are like and rethink whether that's good or bad. So there is a mandate, in my opinion, to address social considerations in my writing.
Scott Zimmerman writes: Hello Terry, I know you said in Sometimes the Magic Works that you outline each book before writing. But do you outline or pre-determine the ending (or a potential ending) too a trilogy of books as a goal for the process?
Terry Brooks replies: Hey, Scott. The ending is perhaps the most important part of the book or set of books. It's the payday for the reader, who has stuck with you for pages and pages hoping for a great ending. So I always know what my ending will be in both the first book and the last of any set I am working on. I have a lot of trouble writing if I don't have that ending to write to. If the ending doesn't excite me, doesn't make me want to hurry up and get there, then I need to go back and start over.
John Church writes: Do you ever lose a little interest in your story after you have already started it? If so, what do you do to correct this situation?
Terry Brooks replies: Every now and then I find my interest in a story waning. Not the whole story, usually, but a certain part of it. To some extent, this is due to the fact that plotting a story only gets you so far. You can't see ahead to how things are going to shake down once you start writing. The outline changes, your thinking about the story shifts, everything is different in the writing. So you have to expect that at one point or another - or maybe more than once, you are going to lose steam. This usually indicates that you need to rethink your plot. You've reached a point where some sort of shift is needed to get back on track and your instincts are telling you that your story needs a shot of adrenalin. I look for a way to change my approach, first, and if that doesn't do it, I look for a way to increase the tension.
Jay Nelson writes: I was just wondering what your personal views on self-publishing are?
Terry Brooks replies: I think if that's what it takes to get you out there and find you readers, then fine. I think you have problems with distribution that are hard to overcome, and sometimes it is difficult to get the mainstream media and bookstores to pay attention to you. Most successful self-published books took a great deal of effort on the part of their authors and no small amount of luck. It also take a great deal of self-confidence to put your own stuff out for sale working without a net. But there are new and better ways of doing it these days, including using the internet.
Rick Magsanay writes: I am currently writing a book myself and sometimes I stop here and there and say to myself that this will never work out. I find myself wanting to quit but after thinking things through I continue on. While writing The Sword of Shannara did you go through a similar thing?
Terry Brooks replies: Not only while writing The Sword of Shannara, but while writing almost every other book, as well. You never get past the doubt and the nagging feeling that you might have screwed up. You always think about quitting and starting over. That's a built-in insecurity all writers weather. Mostly, I have learned to trust the process and not over-react. Sometimes I step back from my work for a few days to let things sort themselves out. Sometimes I back up and rework what I have done. It's hard, but it's a part of the writing life.
Not asking you to give out any trade secrets here but I've had swirling thoughts in my brain for a decade now for a series to write. What would you recommend be some starting steps from the writing process standpoint?
Dear Mr. Brooks, I'm curious about the editing process. You have an impressive writing resume with lots of experience, skill, and hindsight. I would imagine by now that you know all the tricks and traps to avoid in the editing process. So when you send your novel to your editor, is there much left for him to edit? Does he edit simply to edit? Hypothetically, how would your work be different if it wasn't edited (as in story or structure)?
Jay Forcelle Writes:
Dear Mr. Brooks, I was wondering from your own perspective how you feel your writing has evolved and changed over the years since The Sword of Shannara was published. I have read pretty much all of your published works and absolutely enjoy each one, but the newer releases to me seem shorter, abrupt, and more straight to the point in style. Was this merely the evolution of your writing style or more of a conscious decision?
Savanna Joy Writes:
Ever cried while writing your own material? Embarassing, isn't it? It's not like your crying because you're so awesome but, do you ever just get so wrapped up in the moment, pounding furiously at the keyboard, tears welling up? Maybe I'm out in the dark on this one, but I know I've been too long on the computer when I get a little too tangled in a character/situation etc. and end up just as frustrated as the individuals in my stories. Some people just don't understand what emotional journeys writers take!
Michael Fenn Writes:
Hey, I am a devout fan of your works. They're all great and worth reading from cover to cover more than a few times. I am a writer myself. Now, my question is, do your friends and loved ones give you honest feedback? Thank you, and can't wait for the next 2 books.
Steve Fernaays Writes:
Beyond the commercial success of your books how do you hope your works will be remembered/evaluated - as epics or fantasy fiction or something else?
David Simonds Writes:
Mr. Brooks, what do you do when you're writing and you get really tired? Or if your're really tired beforehand, how do you deal with it? I can't think very well when I'm tired, much less write! It becomes ten times as hard to think clearly and produce coherent ideas. Also, my second question is, do you take breaks while you write? Again, I don't think I could write for eight or nine hours straight. I can't do anything for that long! Could you please enlighten the tired and braindead?
Aaron Volner Writes:
Have you ever had a major argument with your editor/publisher over whether or not a certain change to one of your books should be made during the editing process?
Brian Crawford Writes:
My question to you: How were you able to balance work, family and writing to the extent that you managed to write (and often rewrite) three successful books? What habits did you keep in order to keep yourself on track? Do you feel that your family life suffered as a result of your obsession?
Jonathan Rachowicz Writes:
I see you get plenty of praise in these boxes people fill out when asking questions, so to keep it short, I'll cut right to the chase. I saw a book at the local book store with a review on it by you. So, my questions are: (1) Do people just send you an advance copy and ask you to read it, or do you read a book and send a letter to the author? (2) If the former is the case, how exactly does that work? If the latter is the case, how do you decide which books deserve a letter to the author?
Mark Gale Writes:
Hi, Mr Brooks, I have been a fan since reading The Sword of Shannara too many years ago. I have enjoyed all your work and it has helped me at times, when my own creations have stalled. I have written nineteen novels, only three fantasy based, none yet published. I realise you have probably been asked this before, and I know all about the Writers' Market handbook etc, but I was wondering why publishers never say why they have turned my work down? I have been writing for twenty years now yet I am still faced with the same obstacles. Do you have any advice.
Katie Ross Writes:
How do you manage to breathe life into so many characters without the characters becoming predictable and a stereotype?
Jacob Fiegl Writes:
First off, I would like to thank you for inspiring my creativity and allowing me a place to escape from reality - whether it be for ten minutes or a whole day. I have read the original Shannara series at least ten times and can't wait for your next series. I am trying to write a fantasy novel involving two unlikely friends, an elf and a troll. I am having considerable trouble dictating how much of their battles to describe. I feel as if i am dragging them out. How do you determine how much detail to include in a battle scene?
Wesley Chang Writes:
From what I've read from your's and other author's responses, writing is very hard work and demands discipline. What advice do you have for those people who are, for lack of a euphemism, lazy and weakminded but want to improve their situation? It is a very difficult matter to become someone or achieve something if you do not have the sheer willpower and drive that great people like you have!
John Rego Writes:
Like you before your career change, I am an attorney. I have also been addicted to fantasy novels since I was a teenager (triggered when I stumbled upon Elfstones back in 89, so thanks for that). My question is this: How would you answer all those people who view fantasy as a second rate form of literature, or as a form fiction for "young adults" only? Since I am never found without a fantasy novel someplace close by (often in my briefcase) and I am surrounded by stuck up business professionals, I find myself answering that question too often. To me the criticism seems outrageous. I was just wondering if you had some words of wisdom that I can hit the next fantasy critic with the next time I hear the same stupid question?
Patrick Sanborn Writes:
Mr. Brooks, I love writing. I have to say that it has a lot to do with you. When I was young I disliked reading and anything associated with it. When I was exposed to The Sword of Shannara, it captivated me in such a way that I began to read as if addicted. I finished the Shannara series and now read any and all authors who catch my eye. This has led me to study large amounts of history and myth, which I consider to be another, huge inspiration. I later discovered that a hardbound copy of Sword had been in my father's rather large collection of books since before I was born. I hope to be a writer some day and I owe it, in part, to you. To get to my question, do you ever read unfinished works for growing authors? If not, why?
Albert Hoyt Writes:
As an aspiring writer and someone who has read each of your books at least 3-4 times, I want to know what your opinion of borrowing from or being influenced by another author is. For example many themes in not only your works, but also in the works of other authors such as Stephen King, David Eddings, R.A. Salvatore, etc. can be directly connected to Tolkien's works. Do you find it flattering if you see something in another author's works that mirrors your own or do you see it as cheating and have you ever consciously done it yourself?
Jeffrey Nilez Writes:
Dear Mr. Brooks, first of all I love your books, especially The Scions of Shannara which I read in three days. Anyway my question is, how do you know when to start or end a chapter? I'm in the middle of writing a story but I have no idea when to end a chapter.
Julian Adorney Writes:
Dear Terry, where do you get your ideas from? I read your books, and I marvel at the strange, fascinating concepts within them (a sword of truth, magical stones to draw upon the wielder's own inner strength). These concepts are unique without being bizarre, and I am curious as to how you come up with such great ideas.
Emma Neighbour Writes:
Hi Terry! Firstly want to thank you so much for sharing Shannara with us....the most fantastic books ever read and subject of much discussion down the pub on Friday nights. When the characters in your books pass on it mostly leaves me absolutely devastated - in particular when Walker left. I was wondering how it affects you? Also wanted to ask whether you have in mind that a certain character will be leaving the story or do they kind of leave of their own accord as the story pans out?
Tou Pheng Xiong Writes:
Books aren't all about brilliant moments. There is all of the stuff that happens in between. You do a great job on these parts, and they lead to the great parts in style. I have problems with these in between parts as I write. How do you over come these moments?
Tia Taylor Writes:
First of all I have to say that I love your writing style and I'm still sad that you killed off Tay. Also sad that you killed off John Ross. My fear that you had actually killed off Pied was so intense that I had to search the book to find if it was true, I didn't find it until I actually got there by reading it and then I was so happy that I couldn't read anything for a while. My question is do you have any tips on how to create such genuine attatchment to characters like that?
Dwayne Walker Writes:
Hello Terry. I have read your entire Shannara series to date and just started the Word/Void series. I am certainly a devoted fan. I understand that when you started writing you were also a full time professional attorney. I am currently a full time business professional and have always wanted to be a writer. I have been kicking around a story in my head for quite some time now and every time I want to sit down to write I cannot seem to get my thoughts down on the paper as I tend to get distracted by one thing or another. Two Questions for you: How did you find time to write while holding down a full time profession? And how were you able to eliminate distraction from interfering with your creativity?
Roger Sampras Writes:
Terry, I have read that actors like playing the role of villains because it is �fun.� Do you find writing from the perspective of the villain and getting into their minds to be fun and enjoyable as well?
Amy "Lou" Shepherd Writes:
Just wondering if you are human like the rest of us and ever had a computer systematically delete a story half way through before you decided to get back-ups on it? (Needless to say, I had to learn the hard way.) So, Terry, are you human, or is my assumption correct that no faulted person could concoct the wonderment of such brilliances as Shannara?
Chris Yerkes Writes:
First of all, I thoroughly enjoy your storytelling. It is rich prose with tangible detail. I am an aspiring writer (aren't we all) and I was wondering about the process you use to develop the names for your characters. In the Shannara series, the names you created are not too fantastic that they sound "cheesy." They fit the characters and their ethnicity very well, completing the feel and the visual of each character. Where do you find the inspiration for names like Par, Shea, Panamon, etc.?
Angela Price Writes:
I first stumbled onto your Magic Kingdom series as a teen (I'm 21 now) and have just been excited (and daunted) to begin The Sword of Shannara and other series. I think you are a brilliant writer, and recommend you to everyone I know. As for my question: I once heard that if (as a writer) you don't write an idea down in the first 10 minutes of receiving it, it is gone forever. Do you find this to be true? I write stories, etc., myself and have lost ideas before because I didn't capture them when they first occurred to me on paper, but maybe it's just me. I've gotten so paranoid since I heard this that I never go anywhere without paper and pen.
There certainly isn't anything wrong with jotting down a few notes to yourself about an idea. You should carry pen and paper with you everywhere for that very purpose. But really good ideas, the ones that hold your interest and will sustain it for the time it will take you to write an entire book, usually don't disappear overnight.
Lee Mann Writes:
I have read The Heritage of Shannara at least twice and am on my third reading and dabble in the art of writing myself. What do you think are key attributes that a good Scifi/Fantasy writer or any writer might need?
Paul McCarthy Writes:
Do you ever yearn to write more stand-alone novels as opposed to trilogies? Can you comment on the pressures from publishers to produce trilogies and do you feel it changes the way you write?
Jesse A. Clark Writes:
Terry, I've read your book Sometimes the Magic Works and I was impressed, but in the novel I'm working on I'm having trouble finding the right place to write the history of past events, wars, and just plain back story, is there a right place to put this?
Helen Beupre Writes:
Dear Mr.Brooks, I'm a huge fan. Your books are absolutely amazing! But I was wondering what inspired you to write your books, and why you choose to write this certain genre.
Ronald Steelman Writes:
When publishing comes around for me should I go the route of an agent, send straight to the publishing companies, or what?
I have read all of your Shannara books and I have never ceased to be amazed. Recently I decided to go back and read your first, The Sword of Shannara. I'm constantly spellbound at the extensive history you've created as a base for your books. My question is how did you do it? Was it all in your head or was there some research and outside influence involved?
Raymond Blocher Writes:
When you first started writing did you have a map of the land, and lists of characters or did you just start writing and realize later that you might need such things?
Patrick Sanborn Writes:
I have been writing for the past 7 or so years. I'd like to know if you ever read over your work in progress and feel disappointed; have you ever considered just scrapping and starting over?
Julie Sanchez Writes:
Why do you always leave your books with cliffhanger endings? I know that it is a great way to keep your readers reading your books, but sometimes it does get a bit annoying to have to wait another year or two just to resolve one books climax. And what if something were to happen to you, for example if you decided to stop writing, then all of your readers would not ever be able to find out what happens to the poor characters you have so desperatly gotten twisted up into some weird plot line.
Mark Lavallee Writes:
Over the years I have noticed how the environment plays a big role in your stories; not just a "place or setting" but almost a character all to itself. Morrowindl, in The Elf Queen of Shannara for example, had it's own sense of awareness and life unique to that location. I just moved to Seattle, and now that I'm here I have to ask: Does the climate and environment here in Seattle play into the environments in the world of Shannara? Do you ever travel to other places just to view a potential setting? Now that I've seen this place I feel like I've been reading about it my whole life in your books; walking around here I almost feel like I'm in a forest you've written about. Thanks!
Magnus E. Larsen Writes:
After you have written the story down do you read through it once, twice or more, before you send it to the publisher?
Scott Bring Writes:
I'm writing a novel. My world sometimes seems so vast I have trouble narrowing the plot down. Do you ever really know the whole plot of a story before you begin or just part of it?
Joshua Lewis Writes:
I've just started writing my own novel (still in progress). I wanted to know if it is imperative to have a substantial picture of everything within the novel (settings, characters). Usually I create the picture, but it's hard to see. Is it a problem if I can describe something, but can't see it myself detailed?
Erik Brooks Writes:
Hello Terry, I am a young writer, who like yourself was hooked on fantasy writing by the Lord of the Rings. My questions are how long does it usually take you to complete a chapter in a book, and do you read other books while you write your current book, or do you find that an annoyance to the process?
Katherine McAllster Writes:
I am 18 (about to graduate) and have been writing bits and pieces since at least sixth grade. Finally, I have found a story that feels right, and I am finishing it to the end. I know that Christopher Paolini was published young, and I was wondering how difficult that really is. Do I have to be exceptionally "eye-catching" to be accepted by publishers? What I mean is, are young writers generally taken less seriously? I am willing to try again and again to call attention to myself if necessary. What can I do to make myself stand out in the crowd?
Drew Mackenroth Writes:
You often talk about the significant role that Lester Del Rey played when you started your writing career, and the importance of working with a good editor. So my question is, how does a new writer find a good editor.
David Rincon Writes:
I am in the middle of writing a story (I'm actually 103 pages into the story), but I have hit a wall. How do you get through writer's block to continue a story?
Shanna Stichler Writes:
Dear Mr. Brooks, my first question concerns your feelings regarding fanfiction. I personally have no interest in writing any, but I know some authors support fanfic, while others do not. Do you have an opinion on this subject either way?
Keith Bushman Writes:
Do you feel that in order for an individual to be a successful author he or she must be gifted with an amazing intellect, or is it possible for the common man (or woman) to produce a readable book through tenacious effort?
Stuart Crickmer Writes:
Terry, I am revisiting the world of Shannara after many years and am thoroughly enjoying it. I likewise enjoyed Sometimes the Magic Works. When reading your comments about the importance of outlining a story, I thought it would be interesting, and perhaps instructive for aspiring writers, to see an actual outline from one of your books. Would you consider offering that type of glimpse into your writing process?
Cole P. Chapman Writes:
Howdy Mr. Brooks! I've been reading your novels most of my life. I am currently wrapped up with Straken, and loving every minute of it. I have always wondered how you go about writing a new story. Which generally comes first: the characters or the story?
When you write, are there strict deadlines or is it flexible to some degree?
Marjorie Haynes Writes:
Hello Mr. Brooks. I have been a long time fan and I wonder how you pick the locations in your books?
John Timmis Writes:
Several years ago the writer Stephen Donaldson did an author's tour of Australia to promote the release of his novel White Gold Wielder. I was there when he spoke at a local university and at one point he made the comment that his first novel, Lord Foul's Bane was submitted thiry-five times before a publisher picked it up. Is this fairly common with writers of Fantasy and SF?
Johnny D. Writes:
Greetings from the Emerald Isle! Hi Terry, I was just wondering, having been looking at this webpage for some time now, how you manage to maintain inspiration over an extended period of time. I mean in your answers to readers' quetions you seem to have your next few books planned already. How do you know if you will still be interested in writing such and such a book when the time comes round? Also i have just finished my first year studying law, should I get out now while i'm still young?
Zachary R. Williams Writes:
I recently finished my first fantasy novel and I am not sure whether or not to send it to agents or publishers first, have you any advice for a first timer?
Of course, I assume that you have something worth showing. If it isn't your best work, don't send it. Go back to the drawing board or keyboard or whatever and get it right. You don't want to go out there with something that isn't publishable.
Also, if you can make direct contact with an agent or editor, this is best. This means going to a writing conference or science fiction/fantasy convention and speaking with professionals about your work. You will be surprised at how receptive they are. If you can, ask to submit your work at a later date. When you do, remind them of how you met.
Finally, I am against submitting anything for publication that isn't finished. If you are in the middle of writing it, then sit down and finish it first. Because if you are lucky enough to find an agent or editor who wants to see your work and you tell them you're still writing it, they might not stick around mentally to see how it turns out. Always go in with something finished.
Tony Obfenda Writes:
What is a typical day like for you when you are writing? Do you write in your own office or anywhere that's confortable?
I never write on the road. I never write while traveling. I seldom write anywhere but in one of those two offices. A typical day begins at around 6:30 am and ends around 3:00 pm. That's the creative apex of my day. After three, I am pretty much brain dead.
Robert Dean Galloway Writes:
In the book Sometimes the Magic Works you discuss rewrites. How much is actually invested in a new book before publishing?
Shannan Perry Writes:
How do you decide who lives and who dies? Cuz it seems in these newest novels of Shannara there is a whole lot more death than I remember.
Kristopher Mark Jones Writes:
First let me take you back, twenty some years or so. A much younger Terry Brooks pursuing a career in law. Wakes up one day with a thought of a story. Thinking of story lines and races, plots of good and evil. Then suddenly the thoughts are written down, months and months go by and now little ideas become larger than life. A passion for this fantasy world grows into an incontrolable obsession. O.k. End it there. Well that's where I am now. Since December 2003 I have been writing my first fantasy novel. One day I woke up with an idea and for three months I did nothing but think. Before I picked up a pencil or turned on my computer. I thought about many things in that three months. Until I thought of so much and got so excited I had to start writing the story. I was very organized about it did it to the best of my ability. Right now I'm going over it again. I know that it will be ready for me to send it away to a publisher soon. My passion is still thriving on my storyline and I know if it takes years of editing I know it will be worth it. What should I look for in a publishing company and how many copies should a first timer send out to companies?
But the best thing you can do for yourself is to attend various writers conferences, such as the Pacific NW Writers Conference held here in Seattle every July, or any of the hundreds of SciFi/Fantasy conventions, where you will have a chance to take a face to face with an editor or agent. Nothing beats meeting someone face to face and asking if they will look at your work. Mostly, they will.
Then, prepare to learn patience.
What has been the most enjoyable book you have written, in terms of the actual writing process?
Francisco Hernandez Writes:
Are you going to combine the Word/Void books into a single hardcover book like you did with the Shannara trilogy?
What do you feel is the most important part of the creative process?
Theodore George Janiszewski Writes:
How much experience do you think that a person needs before they can write passable literature - how much reading others' work, studying English, and practice is necessary?
I am trying to write a fantasy -science fiction book. What advice can you offer me?
Misti Chavmen Writes:
When writing books (especially your first), did you ever feel frustrated, like it was taking too long to finish or it wouldn't get published? When you have difficulties writing, what do you do to help continue the book?
Samuel Merrifield Writes:
I am only 13 but I have read most of your books plus many, many other fantasy novels. Your books in particular inspire me to write more often but I have trouble starting anything. Do you have any tips for me?
Francesco Cafaro Writes:
How do you manage to write a complete book? I mean, I try to write sometimes but while I am writing about a subject I lose my interest being attracted by something else?
Evan Hershman Writes:
I just finished reading Sometimes The Magic Works, and I was very impressed. I especially enjoyed reading about your experiences adapting both Hook and SW: The Phantom Menace, and how different those two experiences were. My question is, what are the differences between writing your own, completely original work and writing an adaptation? Do you go about writing the book differently? Do you still outline the novel like you do with your own work?
Mike Wincek Writes:
I read your book Sometimes The Magic Works this week and loved it! My question is about dialogue - is this something that comes easy to you? How do you keep a character on track without rambling on and on...kind of like my question :)
Ian Smylie Writes:
Hi! I Started writing a fantasy novel, and it is really fun... So far. I was just wondering if you had any tips, any important things a fantasy needs. Thanks!
Justin Cox Writes:
Mr. Brooks, as an aspiring writing, I've always found the relationship between writer and editor very interesting (and in many cases, inspiring). I particularly enjoyed the chapters in Sometimes the Magic Works in which you detailed some of your experiences with Lester del Rey. I know Betsy Mitchell has recently joined the Del Rey team, and her efforts to help one of your peers, J. V. Jones, break into the realm of published authors is well documented. Are you working with Betsy? What's that like? Is she busting your chops despite your status as Ard Rhys of fantasy authors? Thank you.
Heidi Pogner Writes:
I just finished reading Sometimes The Magic Works. It was wonderful, and answered so many of my questions about writing, especially on outlining. I noticed you mentioned you have taught classes on ficition writing. Do plan on teaching again the future? I know it is highly highly unlikely, but I wanted to ask, since I would genuinely be interested in taking your course. Thank you so much!
Eric C. Henrickson Writes:
I have enrolled at the Pacific Northwest Writers Confrence in Seattle July 24th - 27 and signed up for your "General Fiction Critique" of a "A Legend in Thars" a novel I am working on what can I expect durring this session?
Michael Palmer Writes:
I have been noticing in several books that I have read that characters names are just a string of consonants with a couple of vowels thrown in (ex. "Maentwrog", "Morgawr"). How much thought goes into naming characters and what makes you say "OK that's it, that's the name?"
Daniel W. Writes:
Do you ever get tired of writing?
Cpl Jeffrey Karns USMC Writes:
I recently have been all around the Pacific region of Asia and have witnessed unbelievable events that inspire me to write. Have any of your books been inspired as a result of situations you've been in or places you've gone to?
A.G. Thorley Writes:
What aspects of your approach have to change the most when you write a short story like Indomitable, as compared to a novel (and might we perhaps see more stories like this one)? Despite your familiarity with the characters in Indomitable, the elements of the story would seem to be different if for no other reason then the limitations of a shorter story format.
David Kepes Writes:
When do you have your writing sessions and seminars?
Amy Lynn Brewer Writes:
When you write, do you have a special place to think or to be alone to write your books?
David Thompson Writes:
Terry my name is David Thompson and I am thirteen and I have read all 12 of your books with Shannara anywhere in the title. My favorite overall was The Elfstones of Shannara and I liked your most recent book, The High Druid of Shannara - Jarka Ruus. All your writings have inspired me to write a book of my own. My question is how do you find or choose the names in your books? And I would like to say that I have heard that you liked the Count of Monte Cristo that was my favorite book until I read The Elfstones of Shannara.
David Taylor Writes:
After reading your book Sometimes the Magic Works, I was very surprised to discover that your original attempt at a second novel Song of Lorelei, did not make it into print. I know you related in SMW that you finally agreed with Mr. Del Rey that it was unpublishable. Is there ANY chance your fans may one day get to see this mysterious piece?
Cindy Murphy Writes:
Terry, I want to take the opportunity to congratulate you on the success of your works and thank you for sharing your wonderful imagination and talent. Your books are some of the most cherished in my collection. I'm curious to know how painful it was to have your first novel "scrutinized" by an editor and if this process ever gets any easier, since I know firsthand how intensely personal our stories are to us. Would you mind sharing?
Nathan Bauder Writes:
I have read all of your Shannara books and I am now glancing at the cover of Antrax. As a Fantasy reader and hopefully a future writer. How do you put your characters in such circumstances that it seems impossible for them to escape with their lives. Then, pull them out with out leaing too heavily on magic?
Matt Rowley Writes:
I couldn't help but notice a significant change in the tone of your writing from Sword of Shannara to Elfstones. I loved the original Shannara novel, but with Elfstones your writing had a more confident, mature feel that you've maintained since. What made such a difference those five or so years?
Web Druid Writes:
Often on this website people ask about writing and how to go about it, how to get published, agents, etc. But I have a very simple question: How does it feel to put that last word down in the last chapter of the book? Do you celebrate it's completion? Or is it just another day?
Joshua Gates Writes:
Dear Terry: Sorry for such an odd question...while writing your books, what do you use to write? A word processor, typewriter, etc? And then when submitting a manuscript, do you also print this at home? Sorry for such an odd question and thank you for your time.
Bethany Flores Writes:
I am currently a senior in college. If I continue, I will graduate this time next year with a teaching degree. All of my life, I have had the gift of writing, and an endless well of ideas to draw from. In my very first semester of college, I was fortunate enough to have an English professor who took an interest in my then, unfinished book. He became very excited and assured me that one day I would be on the "Today Show". I have since finished the book, and have continued to write. However, I'd like to get my book published, and be able to write for a living. How realistic is it? What path should I follow? Should I consider leaving school to devote all of my time to this pursuit? In a nutshell, what is your advice?
Hello Mr.Brooks, first I'd like to say love your Shannara series, I've read most of them more then once but am now reading them all over again, I was wondering how many pages you usually write in a day, and for the fun of it whats the most pagesss u've ever writtebn in one day? Thanx
Adam Joseph Walsh Writes:
How do you know when you've written a piece to really be proud of, does that feeling of success come after personally reviewing it, or after you've received good reviews from family and friends?
Every time I finish one of your books I say to myself; "Oooh that was much better than the last one". Do you find that, as a writer, your skills naturally improve with every novel or do you conciously and deliberately work harder than ever before to make the next novel you write your best ever?
Terry Albert Writes:
The Sword of Shannara was the first book I ever bought and I had to get the whole Shannara series after. I think your work is awesome. In your Shannara books you jump from one person's perspective to the other. My question is, when you write the book do you write that person's story all at the same time or do you write it as we see it in the books?
Emerson McAfee Writes:
Hi, I am a big fan, and I am trying my own hand at writing a book. I had a plot in my mind, and everytime it starts becoming a tangible plot, I end up finding a flaw and changing it. How do you go about thinking up a plot and then developing it, and do you have a lot of major changes in your book plots while you outline the book? Thanks for so many great books and thanks for the help.
Next April I will be publishing a book on writing and my writing experiences entitled Sometimes the Magic Works. Keep an eye out for it, those of you who are interested in writing and the lessons I learned about being a writer. It might help.
Benjamin John Forsberg Writes:
When you write, and your mind wanders to another story idea (if it does), how do you get back to writing the initial story?
Tug McGroeen Writes:
Have you ever written something and thought it was total junk, submitted it and then found out that the publisher/readers thought it was great?
How much literary control does your publisher give you?
Simon Martin Lewis Writes:
Why did you choose fantasy as your first attempt at writing a novel?
Amberle Elessidil Writes:
Is it hard for you to create names for your characters? I have friends who are interested in writing and have trouble in this area. Any tips?
J.S. Gorham Writes:
Mr Brooks, I have always wondered what kind of commitment professional writing needs... I understand the commitment to the writing part... But I am curious about the commitment of deadlines... I guess my question is: Who sets the deadlines, yourself or the publisher?
Daniel Elliot Writes:
What books or resources would you recommend for learning good outline writing and practice?
Steve "Vale Shade" Wood Writes:
I'm beginning to write a novel again. I've tried many times before and never got past the ideas and a few paragraphs. I've just finished my second chapter! I'm concerned about infringing on someone elses copyrights. Is there some resource available where I can check to make sure I don't step on any feet (or pens)?
Cassandra Nehf Writes:
I am very exited about the idea of writing, but when I actually get down to it, or even think of actually writing, I get scared and chicken out, even finding excuses not to write. I don't understand why, because I really love writing. What is wrong, and what should I do to get over this???
Copyright � 1999-2009 Terry Brooks & Del Rey Books
Website � 1999-2009 Shawn Speakman
Last Updated: December 9, 2009