TONS of Writing Advice from Fran Wilde’s Uplifting Updraft AMA!

Fran Wilde’s debut novel, Updraft, has taken flight! The coming-of-age tale takes us to a wonderful yet harsh skyworld, as Kirit Densira inadvertently breaks Tower Law, and must join her city’s secretive governing body, the Singers, rather than joining her mother as a trader. But can she master her dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City? And while Wilde is embarking on a fantastic author tour this October, she also spent some time over at reddit holding a fun AMA that was packed with great writing advice. We’ve rounded up some of the highlights below! You can also read an excerpt of Updraft here, and check out one of Wilde’s poems here!

Why You Should Put Updraft on the Top of Your TBR Stack:

“Winged knife fights in a wind tunnel.
Giant, invisible, carnivorous predators.
A city of living bone.

Fran Wilde’s Three Desert Island Books:

  • Dune
  • The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy By Women (A. Susan Williams and Richard Glyn Jones, eds., 1995) (warning: contains science fiction too)
  • Annals of the Former World by John McPhee (FSG, 1998) – which is big enough to be used as a weapon, a step-stool, or a table, if necessary. Multi-tool!

Twitterfolk to follow, organized by theme:

But the real protein of Fran Wilde’s AMA was a flurry of writing advice! When asked for advice for fantasy writers specifically, Wilde said:

Find other writers, even in other genres, and talk with them. Read and write. Research. Write more. Send work out to magazines and publications. Revise. Send it out again. Feeling discouraged is ok. Everyone does. But getting past that and moving forward is important.

There was so much great stuff, we decided to group her answers by theme, as you’ll see below.

On Planning vs. “Seat-of-Your-Pants” Writing:

I try to plan. So often, the best parts happen during deviations from the plan, so I let that happen too. No plan survives an encounter with actual characters.

Making the Jump from Short Stories to Novel:

For Updraft, the short story that started it all wound up being the middle of the book, so I think it was easier. I wish I could do that for all books. The tough part was finding the right plot… because there were so many stories I wanted to tell, and I needed to focus down to that one arc. For me it was less a matter of scaling up and more a matter of unpacking… or maybe moving from a small apartment to larger digs. Some of my short stories are secretly novels crammed into 5k words. The upcoming novella from, “The Jewel and Her Lapidary” has been called by my editor an epic, in miniature. So I guess the act of spreading out and unfolding is what I’m engaged in when I move from short story to novel.

The hardest part is realizing that the amount of time I spend researching a 5k story can be nearly equal to the research time I put in when starting a novel. Not always, and certainly with a novel, I’ll go back and cycle through the research process again several times, but for the technical stories, it sometimes feels like the same. Revision is tougher for novels, because I can’t revise in whole pass-throughs like I do with some short stories. I need to do a pass on certain characters, then another pass on themes, and another on worldbuilding, over and over until the whole thing hangs together.

Should Writers Start with Short Stories?

Short stories are a great way to realize you can indeed finish a piece of creative work — but I think, in this case, some authors are happier at novel length. Saying “you should write short stories” is not going to serve those kinds of writers well. Similarly, some writers feel at home in the short story format and sometimes get a lot of pressure to finish a novel. That can be pretty frustrating too. I believe this: we writers should write what we love. We should push ourselves to try new things. We should read outside of our comfort zones, including short stories, and non-fiction. And even when it’s hard to write, we should do it anyway, at whatever length works.

On Research and Worldbuilding for Updraft:

Several primary details about the world came first – the bone towers, the wings. Then came Kirit. [Updraft’s protagonist.] I heard the city’s voice first, then Kirit’s.

Researching the worldbuilding for Updraft came in layers – the engineering, I spent a lot of time looking at wings, and at the history of winged flight; I found detailed plans and models (and wow, how no one used a footstrap or a tail for a while, and kept crashing). I talked to engineers and glider folks about the wings too. And developed a small crush on some wingsuit flyers and basejumpers, purely for their daring. I researched bridges and bone, and talked with biologists. I pulled on my own experience with wind as a sailor and in high places; I went to some of the highest towers I could find and journaled; I watched birds for hours. I spoke with cloud, wind, and weather experts at NOAA and elsewhere. And I got into a windtunnel and flew for a bit. That was cool. I put some of it up at a pinterest board; I posted about bridges here; wings here; and the wind tunnel here.

And Finally: If You See Fran Wilde at a Con, What Drink Should You Buy Her?

I’m a fan of a few drinks, though I don’t drink very much of anything… Roman Holidays if the bartender had access to star anise… things with tonic. Good wines. If there was a Galactic Ubiquitous Barcon, I’d like to try a pan-galactic gargleblaster, just once.


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