We like writers here. And we’re keen to learn from them. Steve Worland is the writer of the action thriller Velocity, and its sequel, Combustion, and he’s currently writing his third book.
Steve has worked extensively in film and television in Australia and the U.S.A. He has written scripts for Working Title and Icon Productions, worked in script development for James Cameron’s Lightstorm and wrote Fox Searchlight’s ‘Bootmen’, which won five Australian Film Institute Awards.
Steve also wrote the New Line action-comedy telemovie ‘Hard Knox’, the bible and episodes of the action television series ‘Big Sky’ and the Saturn award-winning ‘Farscape’. ‘Paper Planes’, a children’s adventure movie Steve co-wrote, begins production in late 2013 for a Christmas 2014 release.
Here’s how Steve gets words on a page.
For me the high concept plot idea comes first. For example, the log line for my latest novel ‘Combustion’ is: What if there was a virus in the air that didn’t affect humans but destroyed combustion engines?
Of course having a high concept is not enough on its own. You must then create compelling characters to drive the story. They must be fresh but relatable and have a point of difference that makes them interesting. Also, there must be scope for conflict between every character, even the ones who love each other. Conflict is the life blood of satisfying fiction. There is nothing more boring than characters standing around, furiously agreeing with each other.
Take us through a typical writing day for you.
When I’m writing a first draft I like to hit a minimum number of words a day, every day, no matter what. At the moment I’m writing my third book while prepping the release of my second so my time is split. I usually write late at night and won’t finish until I have reached my set world count. At the moment I’m writing a 1000 words a day. My books are usually a little over 80,000 words so a first draft will take about 3 months.
Who are the authors you love, and why?
Stephen King, specifically Different Seasons. Four tightly structured plots, vivid characters and that ability of King’s to cut to the emotional core of big issues. I read it as a teen and it really stuck with me, especially his use of regional patios.
Tom Wolfe, specifically The Right Stuff. Wolf didn’t glamorize the Mercury 7 astronauts but gave us a truthful look at the group of deeply flawed, morally ambiguous ex-fighter jocks who were the first Americans in orbit. This book sparked my long standing interest in the US space program.
Michael Tolkin, specifically The Player. Written by a screenwriter, it’s the novel I’d always wanted to read (and write), a sophisticated page turner with the pace and brevity of a screenplay without the inherent time, length and detail constraints. I learned how to write succinct, punchy dialogue from this book.
What is the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?
You can lose a great deal of precious time trying to be a screenwriter, time that is better spent writing novels. Yes, my writing style was honed as a screenwriter but getting movies and TV shows into production is a very time consuming and difficult process. You can create these amazing stories but very few people will ever read them, and then if they are produced it often has less to do with the quality of the writing and more to do with the financing and casting arrangements. Also, let’s not forget that screenplays are a blueprint for someone else’s work of art, which isn’t very satisfying if you’re not the director.
How do you deal with feedback?
You must embrace it, no matter how difficult it may be. There is always something constructive in there that will make the work better. But it is a balance. You need to hold on to your vision while being open to improvements. The thing to do is to keep an open mind and be polite. The people giving you the notes have their reasons for thinking something doesn’t work. You need to hear them out. Sometimes they may not be able to pinpoint what is wrong exactly, but you need to find it. It is hard but always makes the work better, and that’s the point of the exercise after all.
How have your own experiences shaped your writing?
I use everything I have experienced as often as I can. If you can draw on an emotion that is truthful, that you have experience with, it always reads well. If you have a feeling or thought, try and jot it down so you can use it in your writing later.
Give me some advice about writing.
You pay for the heart with the funny.
That means if you want the readers to care about the characters at the end, when the stakes are at their highest, then the readers must love (or at least like) the characters, and the best way for that to happen is for them to make the readers laugh at the beginning. It doesn’t have to be laugh out loud funny, but the characters must endear themselves to the readers early on. It’s like real life — we all like to be around people who make us laugh.
Find a compelling central concept and create interesting characters. Also, before you send a manuscript to a publisher or an agent, hire a reputable, experienced editor to go through it. It won’t cost that much but it will be money well spent. It will increase your chances of success ten fold. Do this even if you are going to self-publish. The book will be better for it and you will learn a great deal from the experience, which you will then use when writing your next book.
What’s next for you?
I’m writing an action adventure novel set in the world of Formula One for 2014. Also a movie I wrote is shooting at the end of this year. It’s an Aussie kids adventure, in the vain of ‘Stand By Me’, called ‘Paper Planes’. We don’t make many Aussie kid’s movies so I’m really happy Screen Australia funded it. Robert Connolly (The Bank, Balibo) is directing.