Friday, March 9, 2012

How She Does It - Vijaya Schartz


Thanks, Janet, for having me on your blog. I love the cat, by the way.
Find Vijaya's books at
Q - We all know there are six elements in writing fiction and often fact. Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. I believe the first five lead to the sixth which for me is the plot. What's your take on this?

I believe there is a seventh element that follows these six primary questions. What comes next is WHAT IF? And that’s how I usually brainstorm my plot. After I have a frame, a basic idea of where the story is going, it’s fairly linear and predictable. So I start throwing obstacles and surprises in the mix to twist the plot. What if the villain is actually the good guy, and vice versa? What if the hero is not who he believes to be? What if the villain is actually her real father? What if she is buried alive? What if he is taken prisoner? What if... There is no stupid question when you brainstorm. I question everything, and often I find out so much about my characters and the possible plot points that I have to pick and choose what twists I’m going to use.

Q - How do you create your characters? Do you have a specific process?

I first ask myself what my main characters want, because that’s what will drive them throughout the story. Then I give them strong qualities that can be double-edged. If it’s a romance, I want them to be compatible in some ways and conflicting in other ways. Since no one is perfect, however, each hero or heroine should also have at least one fatal flaw that’s going to come up and foil their plans at the most critical time. It’s easy to go overboard with a good quality, and it becomes a flaw. Too much attention to detail can make you miss the larger picture, etc.

And since no one is totally evil either, I give my villains at least one redeeming quality and many flaws. Even a serial killer can love his mother, give generously to charity, or care about his cat. In the Ancient Enemy series, my villain, Captain Kavak, was dubbed the best (worst) villain of Science Fiction (according to a reviewer). That villain was bent upon destroying the human race, yet in her mind, she fought for a noble cause... the survival of her own kind.

Q - Do your characters come before the plot? Do you sketch out your plot or do you let the characters develop the route to the end?

To me the two are linked. I give the characters a personality, then I decide of their circumstances, I know what kind of ending I want, and I reserve the right to throw obstacles in their way. But the characters’ reactions to circumstances and obstacles, their decisions and actions will determine the next step and consequently the course of the story. And sometimes, they surprise me with twists of their own, events or people I didn’t see coming. I love when that happens, even if I have to rewrite a chapter or two, because it usually is better for the story.

Q - Do you know how the story will end before you begin? In a general way or a specific one?

Since I’m fiercely partial to satisfying endings, I know the good guys will win, I know the planet or the galaxy will be saved. Unless it’s a series, then one threat should remain, or I will allow one villain to escape to stir trouble again in the next book. And if it’s a romance, I know the hero and the heroine will end up happily together at the end. I hate it when the author kills the hero at the end. My readers would never forgive me if I killed my hero or my heroine (unless they can be resurrected - Sci-fi and fantasy sometimes offer that option). I usually know what tremendous event or battle or plot twist or struggle will determine the final victory. How will the characters get to that event? I have no idea. I trust that if I gave them the right personality, conflicts will arise, weaknesses will have to be overcome, and if I gave them the right tools, they will grow enough to accomplish the feat and get their well deserved victory and happiness in the end.

Q - Do you choose settings you know or do you have books of settings and plans of houses sitting around?

Since I write mostly Sci-fi and fantasy, in futuristic or historical settings, it’s usually not a place I visited. I might have visited the ruins of a medieval castle, but I’ve never lived on a spaceship, or on a space station at the fringe of conquered space... at least not that I know of. My husband believes I’m a time traveler and I come from the future. They must have erased my memories, because I can’t remember that at all. New Earth, in the CHRONICLES OF KASSOUK series, is an imaginary planet. To remind me of what settings and characters look like, I make posters, collecting portraits and photos evoking the kind of surrounding I pictured in my mind. Sometimes I post these pictures on my website, when I do not yet have a cover for the book, so my readers can get a feel for the story by looking at characters and settings.

Q - Where do you do your research? On line or from books?

It depends on what I am researching. If I’m looking for pictures (I’m very visual) I research online. Then I make a poster for my new story. If my story is set in a known galaxy, I research that galaxy on reliable websites, (NASA, Scientific sites, Space discoveries, etc.) to make sure I have my facts straight. All this time, I think about the cover, because all my publishers ask me for input. Some say I’m lucky I have such good covers, but I don’t think it’s luck. I spend a lot of time thinking about covers and express the mood for the cover in descriptive words. Of course, I take into account the style of each publisher. When my suggestions are good and appropriate for the publisher, the cover artists usually get it.

But if I want to re-familiarize myself with the feel for a place where I’ve been before, I read novels set in that particular town or area, preferably from authors who lived there. If it’s a series, like the Borealis series, the Ancient Enemy series, or the Chronicles of Kassouk, I re-read the previous books in that series to refresh my memory. For Noah’s Ark, the Prequel to the Chronicles of Kassouk, scheduled for release April 1, 2012, I had to remember all the threads I had sowed along the four books of the series, remind myself of all the references to the past, in order to concoct a story that would take into account all the facts, legends, and beliefs I had created over the past two years. I know that if I miss something, my loyal readers will notice, and I do not want to disappoint them.

Thank you so much for having me as a guest on this blog.

Vijaya Schartz
Blasters, Guns, Swords, Cats, Romance with a kick
Vijaya's books at


Vijaya Schartz said...

Thank you so much, Janet, for having me on your wonderful blog. It's a great place for writers to connect and learn techniques from other authors.

Stephanie Burkhart said...

Vijaya, fascinating interviewing. You keyed in on everything I strive for. The big one for me - the "What if." That must be why I enjoy your writing so much.


jude urbanski said...

JL and Vijaya, this is a post literally chocked full of excellent tips. I like the "What If" which is a favorite of mine and of Donald Maass, and it seems Steph, too.
Thank you.

Gail Roughton said...

I agree! What if... is what moves a story forward.

Vijaya Schartz said...

Thank you so much for the feedback... and for liking my writing. I think we like plot, that's why we value the "what if."

Diane Craver said...

Great post! Very helpful to me to read about your writing process and wonderful reminders for me.

Vijaya Schartz said...

Thank you so much, Diane.

Naomi Musch said...

Hi, Vijaya,
Great interview. I've never heard "what if" referred to as the 6th element in story-telling before, but it's absolutely true. Enjoyed reading more about your process.