Frank Martin: Themes are important
Frank Martin is a unique writer. Why? Outlines are important to him. He depends on them, and he depends on themes in his stories. Today, he has shared with us what is so important about these things, as well as how he uses them in his writing.
What are you currently working on? How did you begin working on it?
I could spend all day just listing the things I’m currently working on. I would say my biggest project, though, is a fantasy trilogy that takes place in a series of floating cities. And I’m a plotter at heart, so it’s really hard for me not to form an outline on everything I do.
Not a lot of writers like outlines, so what do you like about them?
Organization. To know where the story is going and how to get there. I don’t have a lot of time to write, so when I finally get a chance to, I want to write. I don’t want to sit around thinking about what to write. Outlines help me be prepared so I can just attack a chapter when it comes time.
What would you say is unique about you and your writing?
I studied a lot of philosophy in college. So, to me, the most important aspect of storytelling is theme. If a tale doesn’t have a strong theme to it then it’s not worth writing. Some writers put strong characters at the top of their list. Others an engaging plot. But if it all isn’t working to paint a deeper picture then I’ve failed as a writer.
What does a theme add to a story?
A theme gives a story weight. A purpose and a point of being. I don’t want to be cliché and call it a message, but a strong theme can resonate with a reader after the story is over in a way character or setting can’t.
What comes first: the theme or the story?
For me, I usually build a story around a theme. Or more practically, a compelling feeling that I feel has a story in it.
What if you think of a story, first? How do you come up with a theme?
Nothing is absolute when it comes to storytelling. That said, it is possible to have a story without a theme. Or at least, not a strong enough theme to become a driving force. Some stories have other reasons for being. For comedy, or action, or romance. A theme might be concocted to point the story in a direction, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the backbone.
What if you think of multiple themes?
If they work together and the plot/characters can accommodate it then go ahead. Plenty of great works have more than one theme. But it definitely runs the risk of making a story bloated. Tread carefully.
How does philosophy coincide with your story themes?
Philosophy is really just a way a thinking to break down ideas. Everyone has a “philosophy” because it’s really just a viewpoint. (Some people’s philosophy is stronger than others’.) So being a student of philosophy has helped me in two ways: 1) It has helped me to take my own complex themes and integrate them into a story or 2) I could just steal some of the already brilliant themes from ancient/famous philosophers throughout history. (Nietzsche is a favorite among authors.)
Do outlines help you come up with a theme?
Outlines don’t help me come up with a theme, but they certainly help me keeping track of one. It’s easy to lose your way when writing a story. A plot or characters start to go one way and before you know it, your theme is not where you want it. An outline helps a theme (and you) stay on course.
What outline structure do you typically use for your stories?
Since I’m the only one who will ever see it, my outlines are VERY informal and shorthand. Just a few words or phrases, perhaps even a line of dialogue, that will remind me of what a chapter is about. I doubt any writing teacher will use my outlines as an example for students, but the bottom line is everyone’s process is different. Whatever works, right?
How do you begin outlining your stories?
Every story usually starts with a single scene. A pivotal moment or plot point. Then you come up with another somewhere else in the story. The trick to outlining is connecting the two with a believable (and entertaining) sequence of events.
What would you tell a writer who has never used an outline but wants to?
Outlines are there to help you. But they’re not there to control you. The story is yours. If you feel your outline is incorrect or that halfway through, you want to go in a different direction, then change it up. Nothing is set in stone. Ever.
Give us insight to your main character. Who is he or she? What is his or her purpose?
In my fantasy trilogy, I would say the main character is a poor twelve-year-old girl who was raised by her grandfather and goes looking for information about who she is. This search for truth leads her on an unbelievable (and dangerous) adventure. Not an uncommon premise. But there are dragons, so it’s cool.
What is the biggest mistake you think you make while writing? How do you overcome it?
I sometimes get so caught up on word choice that I will get stuck on the same sentence forever. I have to remind myself, “Just write. Get the words down. We’ll worry about cleaning it up later.”
When do you usually write? How often? Do you have a word goal or page goal when you write?
Dune has the quote, “Fear is the mind killer.” Well my quote is, “Children are the time killer.” With two kids, writing is a luxury. So, at all times, I carry on me an old phone (has no service on it) with a flip QWERTY keyboard just for writing. I try to get in a sentence while in line at the grocery store, sitting at the doctor’s office, while pretending to go the bathroom, anywhere and everywhere because I never know when I will be able to at home. I typically set a writing schedule by week. Some weeks I want to get done a short story. Others a chapter of a novel. As long as I finish by week’s end, I’m happy.
What books or writing projects have you completed/published in the past?
I’m still a fairly new published writer so I will share two projects I’m proud of. The first is my comic anthology series, Modern Testament, published by Insane Comics. https://goo.gl/eSOUiL
The other is a dual horror novella, which also has two short comics published by Burning Willow Press. https://goo.gl/hRHLHL
Do you have any advice you’d like to give other writers?
Every criticism is constructive criticism. Even the troll who just leaves a one star review and says “this book sucks” has a lesson to teach you. Don’t get discouraged by it. Just keep going.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your writing career that has helped you improve?
This is the most important thing I’ve learned thus far from my writing experiences: “You’re never as good as you think you are . . . But that doesn’t mean you can’t be.” I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve written only to be told that they sucked. I was so sure they were the best thing ever written, but they weren’t. I only realized that after growing as a writer and looking back on all the improvements I made. The flip side to that is it’s very easy to get down on yourself and think that your work is terrible and nobody likes it. But then I get great feedback from someone and it boosts my spirits. Writing, like everything in life, is a combination of confidence and humbleness. They key is being able to balance both at the same time.
What about writing is most important to you?
Leaving a legacy. One day we’ll all be gone, but the stories we craft will live on. They’ll tell everyone all they need to know about us.
How can readers and fellow writers discover more about you and your work?