On the release of Elementals: Scorch Dragons, Amie Kaufman shares with Better Reading where her ideas come from, keeping track of complex plot lines and her amazing travels. Enjoy!
Ice Wolves is the bestselling first instalment in the Elementals series and this month Scorch Dragons is released. Where did this complex world of Wolves and Dragons spring from?
One of the things that’s important about writing a series of books is that you really have to love the story. You’re going to be spending years of your life visiting that world, daydreaming and imagining, so it’s really important to make sure it’s somewhere you want to spend a lot of time! When I’m choosing an idea to work on, I think about what makes me really excited — what are the kinds of stories I walk straight towards in a bookshop or at a library? What are the sorts of movie posters that make me say ‘Ooh, I want to see that!’ before I even know what the story’s about? I gather up all these little sparkly ideas and snippets and images, and I ask myself what could bind them all together, and then I begin to weave a story. In this case, some of the things I was excited about were: wolves, dragons, twins, shapeshifting, icy landscapes, volcanoes, runes, magic, magical inventions, boarding school, feasts, and learning to be brave when you’ve never thought you were. From there, I found my way to the island of Vallen!
Inventing and developing words in science fiction and fantasy can be very complex, how do you keep track of all the characters and storylines?
Not as well as I should! Honestly, the best advice here is to keep a separate document or notebook, and jot down all the details you create as you go. If you say that they walk two blocks and then turn a corner to get from home to school, write that down so you don’t contradict yourself later. If you say someone has black, curly hair, then make a note of that too! Of course I’m really bad at doing this, so I spend a lot of time going back through my stories trying to figure things out. I don’t recommend following my example!
You lived very close to the library and spent summers re-creating your favourite books in action with your sister. What impact do you think this proximity to books and having books as part of your everyday life had on you as a writer?
You bet I did! We made maps of our local area and renamed everything to create a fantasy kingdom, we camped in the back yard (Mum used to send us down baskets of food on a rope she tied to the balcony at one end and a tree on the other) and I lived half in the real world, half in my imagination. Having books in my life growing up had a huuuuge influence on me — everything you read goes into your memory banks, and it’s from all those ingredients that you cook up your stories. One of the best ways to work on becoming a better writer is to read widely, and I’ve done that ever since I was a kid.
You travel a lot – tell us about one of your most memorable adventures.
I do travel a lot! I’ve ridden a camel through the Sahara Desert and climbed a mountain in Vietnam, performed Waltzing Matilda in a pub in the middle of a field in rural France and rafted along a river in the middle of China. But maybe my favourite adventure was the trip I took to Iceland to research for this series. I knew I wanted the world of Vallen to be just a little like Iceland, full of imposing mountains and crashing waterfalls, twisting rivers snaking across wide plains, black volcanic rock and stormy coastlines — and that meant I had to go and see those things for myself. We drove a camper van around for weeks, exploring all kinds of different places, camping as we went, soaking up little details (and soaking up their famous hot springs) until I had all the ingredients I wanted to invent my own fantasy world.
What were your favourite books when you were growing up?
I started out with a lot of Enid Blyton (I really wanted those midnight feasts at boarding school) and after that I really loved the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome, in which a group of kids have imaginary adventures all summer long, being explorers and pirates, sailing and camping and inspiring a lot of that backyard camping I mentioned above! When I was eleven I found my all-time favourite book, which is The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper. It was about a boy who was part of a magical world that’s part of our own — except that most people can’t see it. I loved the idea that an adventure like that could be just around the corner!
Can you share some writing tips for budding writers?
Well, I mentioned above that you should read lots of different books, and I think that’s one of the most important ones there is. Beyond that, I think there are lots of other ways to add ingredients to your memory banks — obviously going somewhere like Iceland is amazing, but you can go to places locally that can inspire you. A visit to the beach can give you everything you need for a visit to a port in a fantasy world, and a documentary on TV can help you travel to the middle of a jungle. So fill up your imagination with all kinds of things — even if you don’t know what they’re for yet — and your stories will be much richer and more interesting.
Amie Kaufman is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of young adult and middle grade fiction, including Unearthed and the Starbound trilogy with Meagan Spooner and the Illuminae Files with Jay Kristoff. Ice Wolves is her first solo novel, and her favourite part of the writing process was taking howling lessons from a wolf expert.
Her multi-award-winning work has been described as ‘a game-changer’ (Shelf Awareness) and ‘out-of-this-world awesome’ (Kirkus Reviews). Amie lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband, their rescue dog, and an extremely large personal library.
Read more at www.amiekaufman.com