Write This: Author Mindee Arnett on Writing, Road Maps, and Character Development

Lillie Forteau's picture

Picture this: Grand Rapids Comic Con, where we are always impressed by the cosplays, intrigued by the artists, and absolutely stunned by the authors. So there’s a high bar there, and we’ve interviewed several authors we’ve seen talk, in our Write This series.

When we listened to author Mindee Arnett speak about writing, we were dazzled.

She’s an extraordinary author, a compelling speaker, and a treasure trove of writing information. If you haven’t read her books yet, we love them! Onyx & Ivory—and her new sequel/conclusion in the Rime Chronicles, Shadow & Flame—are in the genre those books you cannot put down.

Author Mindee Arnett and cosplayer Lillie Forteau as Captain Hook. From Write This: Author Mindee Arnett on Writing, Road Maps, and Character Development

Without further ado, books, writing, and more, with author Mindee Arnett:

Author Mindee Arnett with her horse. From Write This: Author Mindee Arnett on Writing, Road Maps, and Character Development

Please tell us about your book, Onyx & Ivory...
Onyx & Ivory is about a world with a serious dragon problem. They’re called nightdrakes, and they only appear in the dark—and they will eat anything human they can find. Basically, they’re vampire dragons and can’t tolerate the sun. To survive, the people of Rime live behind magically fortified walls. My main character Kate works for the Relay, which is the royal courier service. It’s her job to deliver the mail between the city states before the sun sets. Thanks to a secret magic, she’s pretty good at it. But then one day she discovers that her ex, Corwin,—who just happens to be the prince—has been attacked by nightdrakes. She rescues him but soon realizes that the attack happened during the day. In other words, there’s a new kind of drake terrorizing the people. Now she and Corwin must work together to decide what to do about it.

What is your writing process?
I’m a revise as I go author. This means that I take a long time on the first draft. I start out each morning reviewing the scene / scenes I wrote the day before and making them better. Then I spend the rest of the writing time adding new scenes. This means that there are some days where all I get done is an edit of the previous work. But that’s okay. It’s still progress, and it works for me.

I’m also a pantser with a road map. So I do outline some, but just enough to try and identify the key points of the story structure and my character arcs. I spend the rest of the time discovering the details through the actual writing. My best ideas arise out of the writing process itself. 

Let's talk characters...what tools do you suggest for constructing characters?
The most crucial activity a writer does when telling a story is to ask and answer questions. For characters, the most important tool is to question character motivation and make sure you have an answer that is deeper and more thought out then—“I need them to do this because of plot.” 

On the surface it’s easy to have a character make a choice or perform an action because it serves the plot—because you need them to do action A in order for result B to happen and so on. But in order to make realistic and unforgettable characters, we need to go deeper. We need to be able to answer why the character would do this. We need to know what makes them tick. And it should go deeper than their actions as well, although those are the most important. You should question every detail you choose to give the character. Why does she like this type of music? Why does she use this phrase? You really have to understand who the character is beneath the surface in order to make them believable.

Your characters are all so...complete, in their own way. I never feel  like they don't have a backstory, and I always want to read more about  each one. How do you track the story arc to include everyone, so completely?
Thank you so much. That is by far the best praise I’ve ever received. As far as tracking the arc, I think the key is immersion. I try and keep myself immersed in the story as much as possible. I focus deeply on it; I contemplate it while I’m doing other tasks, like taking a shower. The edit-as-I-go is another key part of that. Because I spend the majority of my writing time revising the new scenes from the day before, I naturally keep myself immersed in the story. This allows me to get to know my characters and to keep track of where they are in the story and where they’re going. 

Write This: Author Mindee Arnett on Writing, Road Maps, and Character Development

What resources do you suggest for writers to dig into?
Recently, I read and loved Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. I’m a big fan of story structure, and I really appreciate the way she’s broken it down here. She also gives a bunch of great examples. I would call this one a must-read.

Beyond that, I highly recommend that everyone check out Story by Robert McKee. It’s screenwriting specific but so much of it carries over into writing.

For characters, I rely heavily on Michael Hauge’s work, which you can find on his website at www.storymaster.com. The Hero’s 2 Journeys is a good one, but he also has some streaming lectures you can check out.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Thank you so much for having me. I love to talk to writers and readers online. You can find all my social media links on my website at: www.mindeearnett.com

Shadow & Bone cover. From Write This: Author Mindee Arnett on Writing, Road Maps, and Character Development