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  Transcript: Richard Hatch and P.N. Elrod on Literary Collaborations

At Visioncon, Branson, Missouri

February 2000

This is a transcription of a panel that took place at Visioncon in February of 2000. The participants, actor-writer Richard Hatch and writer P.N. “Pat” Elrod have each worked on writing projects with partners, and both bring a unique point of view to the process.

 Hatch has authored many works, including, with Christopher Golden, the Battlestar Galactica novels, Armageddon and Warhawk

Elrod has worked with Nigel Bennett (LaCriox of Forever Knight) on Keeper of the King and His Father’s Son, as well as over a dozen of her own novels.

 

The information and insights here may be of help to other writers!

 

Hatch: Collaboration is a relationship; it’s partnership; it’s collaboration. That means you have to understand that no matter how strongly you feel about something you have to be willing to let go. It’s like when you invite other people on to the ship, if you keep trying to make everybody do it exactly your way, then everybody becomes an order-taker and you become an order-giver, and nobody wants to function that way. Collaboration means that two people give way from two points of view and they come off with a third. Hopefully moving from a point of view to a viewing point. It means you see a broader perspective, a broader circumference of this premise.


    What I was lucky with, number one, Chris (Christopher Golden) has done a lot of collaborations, so he’s skilled at doing that, he’s good at doing that, and he enjoys doing that. A lot of writers don’t. They feel very strongly about what they’re doing; they feel violated if somebody comes in and takes it off in different direction. What was nice with Chris is we spent not several hours, but several weeks—if not three or four months—going over the story. I brought my story to him, then we talked about it, going back and forth and exchanging ideas. We had to develop a relationship first to establish trust. So those three or four months we’re just hearing ideas, getting to know each other, me seeing his thinking, him getting to know my thinking and getting to a deeper understanding of what this story that I was bringing to him was all about.

    I hate to say it, but communication is difficult in this world, because you think you’ve said something absolutely crystal clear and somebody gets a totally different message from it. Someone can take the same exact words and say it the exact same way and get a totally different understanding of what that means. So we had to get on the same track. You test each other, you come up with an idea, you bandy it back and forth, he’ll go off and think about it, he’ll come back with his ideas or feedback or things to enhance it, and just by doing that you start to see how what you’re saying is effecting him and whether he’s understanding the deeper essence of what you’re communicating. After a couple of weeks I knew he was getting it, understanding what I was saying and he would throw stuff at me and I would come back to him, and he’d start to realize I was understanding where he was coming from. And this was one of those rare times where it worked. I’ve done lots of things with other people and many times they’ve ended up being a competition, very adversarial, you try to out-do each other, or get territorial. Someone doesn’t want you to change anything. They have such a strong vision of where it has to go or should go, that they’re not open to your creative insights.

    Again, if you find the right person and you can develop that relationship, you develop a syntax, a means of languaging, a way of communicating ideas back and forth so that the two of you are understanding what you mean by those words and phrases that you’re using. Once you develop that communication, built that bridge between the two of you, then you can move into the story you want to communicate on. If you try to do the story too quickly and you haven’t developed that bridge, you’ll be ripping your hair out.

Elrod: Actually, it was the opposite for my particular project. Your experience was totally different from mine, so this is fascinating to me.

Hatch: (chuckles) How’d it happen to you?

Elrod: Nigel Bennett and I were guests at a convention in 95, and unknown to me a book packager named Bill Fawcett, was talking to my best friend Teresa Patterson (co-author of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time World Book and the world book for Terry Brooks’s novels) who was running the convention. Bill wondered if Nigel might be interested in writing a vampire novel, but worried that Nigel might not be able to write. Teresa suggested that Nigel be teamed with a writer and—God BLESS that woman—suggested me as a possible collaborator. Six months later I’m guesting at another convention with Nigel and I don’t know that he’s been contacted by Bill by then. Nigel and I got to talking about writing. This is the first time I learned that he’s done any for himself, so I gave him my “Handy-Dandy-How-to-be-a-Writer Kit,” something I share with others in the business. Then six months later we’re doing another convention and he waves me over just before he’s about to go on stage for his first appearance.

    “Pat, Pat-I need to talk with you!”

    Now the last time someone said that to me I was about to get fired, so I asked, “About what?”

    “It’s about writing.”

    Being secure on that topic, I relaxed, and afterwards we got together in the green room. 

    Nigel said, “This guy approached me about writing a vampire book and you’re on the short list of collaborators.”

    I go all casual and say, “I think I can make time for this,” and inside I’m turning handsprings and bouncing off the walls. I love the guy’s acting work, and he’s very sharp, a very smart man, it would be a totally wonderful thing to work with him on such a project. It was a great thing that only might happen, though. I didn’t get my hopes up too much, the decision of who was best for him to work with was his after all.

KeeperDay2.jpg (108719 bytes)    But a few months later I got the phone call, Nigel said the papers were signed, we’re ready to roll, let’s get started. So after I scraped myself off the floor since I’d been hovering around the ceiling in celebration, Bill flew me up to Toronto and I spent 2 days in a hotel room with the two of them hammering out our first outline. We each brought our laptops, I had a tape recorder going, and the 3 of us were throwing ideas all over the place of what we wanted in the novel. I call it a story-storming session. The purpose is to get as many possibilities out as possible and speculating where they can lead in terms of plotting and characters. It’s very much a development thing. Anything goes.

    So we eventually came up with an interesting premise of Lancelot as a vampire in modern Toronto who has to go after the Holy Grail again, and this time he’d better find it! Nigel absolutely lit up, he loved the idea.

    Then Bill said, “Oh, we need a heroine for Lance to rescue.”

    But I said, “No—we need a female partner to help him solve the mystery. Ninety-eight percent of Nigel’s fans are women, if you screw up on the heroine he’ll get the blame!”

    Nigel was looking a touch worried at this point. What sort of woman would be good in the part? There were not a lot of tough female role models that either of them could relate to.

    Then I said, “Classic Avengers: Mrs. Peel.” And they both went “Ooooh!” So we got that totally right! We have a Mrs. Peel with Rosie O’Donnell’s mouth on Geena Davis’s body. This is what I call “casting.” I think of the right actor I’d like to see playing a part should the book be a movie, then as I’m writing I visualize this actor. If I see Bette Davis playing a role, then her character’s dialogue almost writes itself.

Hatch: So when you get an idea and you’re trying to write a story, you get an idea for these characters before you start writing? Based on movie stars?

Elrod: Sometimes. Only sometimes. Other times it doesn’t work and then the right idea—or casting—will hit like lightning. It took me awhile to work this method out, and I don’t always rely on it because some characters just leap out of my head full grown. Now and then I use this as a shortcut when I’m pressed for time. The key of it is to help make the spear carriers just as interesting as the main characters for the time they are on the page.

    Now at the beginning of this project with Nigel, I’ll admit I was a bit in awe of him, and he was getting top billing, so whatever he wanted to put in the book, it was my job to make it work. Our first 6-hour session we worked on the bare bones of the hero, figuring out his particular abilities, his weaknesses, ditto for the main cast-it really helped to think in terms of acting here. I used to be a drama major and so Nigel and I had that common syntax that you’ve mentioned. At the end, we had the hero, heroine, a bad guy, several supporting characters—flipping through a phone book for their names!—and a general outline of what we planned to be doing. 

    The next 6-hour session, the following day, we refined all that--and even better, Nigel was so hyped about the project that he came in with the first pages of chapter one! He was up half the night just tapping away having a real good time. Later as we began to work in earnest about it, he’d send me 10 pages and I’d turn it into 20. He says “I do the establishing shots and Pat does the close ups and adds in the ‘grace notes’” which I thought was very sweet! I don’t know what grace notes are, but I LIKE the sound of it! And you know—to this day I still don’t know whether or not he’s ever read any of my books—but obviously he felt comfortable about working with me, which is of prime importance in any duet project.

    This was a total half-and-half collaboration, a real partnership effort. He brought stuff to the story that I would never think of putting in because I just don’t know that stuff. He’s had a different upbringing than I, but we mesh together, probably because of my small background in university drama, and were able to communicate on those levels. For you who want to be writers—take a dramatic class and learn about dialogue. I see so many writers fall flat on their ass because they don’t know who to write a good conversation with the characters playing off each other the way actors do when on stage. (To Richard) Correct me if I’m wrong on this!

Hatch: No, that’s the way to do it! Was that the first time you collaborated?

Elrod: Absolutely.

Hatch: You’d never done that before?

Elrod: Well, sort of, a little bit when I was married, but we had to remove all sharp instruments, blunt objects, and firearms from the room! (Audience laughter)

Hatch: (Laughing) Oh, my God! So it can be tough!

Elrod: Only because at that time I went into it like a teacher about correct a backward student’s paper. My ego was in the way, and that’s the wrong attitude to pull when you’re going to do this sort of job. You are totally right about the give and take of the work and making sure you are open to the other person’s ideas and input. That was my mistake, but I’ve not repeated it since, and I certainly avoided that working with Nigel. One of the rules we have during story-storming sessions is to never use the word “no” in response to any idea that’s thrown out. That’s something I learned from master cartoonist, Chuck Jones. When he was getting ideas in for his wonderful cartoons, they’d have the most outrageously funny stuff thrown in because the creators knew they wouldn’t have to hear that word. I keep that in mind for my solo works as well! “No” is the worst word in the world to hear when you’re trying to invent something out of nothing.

On Technique vs. Creativity:

Hatch: Talent is talent, it can be very raw, or someone can develop great technical skills. I was collaborating with a writer who is very technically proficient and very skilled and has been writing for 20 years. I wrote articles for publications, I’ve been quoted, there’s actually a book where many of my writings are in it. Aside from acting I teach and lecture all over the country at universities and I lecture and speak at corporations, businesses, churches, stuff like that, doing 3-day seminars teaching people how to go out and be more successful with their life. Writing is one of the key things that I do regardless of whether one wants to be professionally published.

    In that regard, it’s a real important thing to learn how to find your voice in the world. Until you find your voice, you’re lost.

    Everything you do is two steps removed from who you are. People can misinterpret who you are and you end up in the wrong place with the wrong people doing the wrong job.

    So the key for every writer, for every artist, for every human being regardless of whether you make it a career is to find your voice. Who are you? What are you about? What is your unique vision? What do you see? Most people don’t value what they have to see or feel or think, and therefore they hold it in. There’s wonderful stories that people are walking around with that they never share.

    The key, again for me, has been helping other people to do that and at the same time having to go out there myself and begin to take writing to the next level.

    I was always writing, but not necessarily doing it in a professional way, and I wasn’t submitting it to publishers. I was asked, because of the teachings I’ve done, to submit my work for publication, and I wouldn’t worry about the spelling or punctuation, none of that stuff—and once I worked with this writer who was more concerned about the technical end than the story. I said to her I know writers who get all that correct, but are terrible writers! I know film makers who go out and make these glossy films about nothing—you don’t care about them. I know people who get up and speak and have these eloquent words and have this wonderful way of communicating—that will put you to sleep. I know people who get up and speak a little roughly, don’t have all the perfect words to use, don’t enunciate every word, and you’re sitting there spellbound because what they have to say comes from their gut and their truth and they’re so powerful at expressing it.

    The key, of course, is to bring both together, develop your technical skills but not lose your connection to your heart, to your creativity, to your spirit. The trouble is, sometimes you get with someone who is very technically proficient, and they get very arrogant and condescending and get an attitude with you. What pissed me off was that I felt suppressed. I felt there was more concern over the structure of it than what I had to say. I understood that this was something I needed to learn, but help me communicate and then help me learn through my communicating how to do the technical things. Maybe it’s not structured quite correctly. Help me to work with that. But if you come at me with this attitude of “how much better I am” or more skilled or more knowledgeable or trained" than you are, immediately, the minute I’m working with someone like that it turns me off, and I walk away.

    I’ve worked with may different kinds of people and it’s hard for a writer who’s been around a lot, who’s done a lot of training to actually develop that. When you work with a young writer or someone who’s inexperienced, it’s hard not to get a little bit of an attitude. But I must say, for me I’ve worked best with someone who is very forgiving, very nurturing and supportive, and who doesn’t see any lack of—if you want to call it—technical training as a deficit. They look and embrace the work, help you nourish it, help you in a nourishing, supportive, forgiving way. If I had a teacher I wouldn’t want one sitting there in a scathingly beating me up for every little mistake I’ve made. I don’t learn well that way and when I teach, I teach in a very forgiving way.

    Unfortunately, when you submit your manuscript and you don’t submit it correctly, editors won’t even read it, they won’t even get to the story. So you need to develop both, the technical side as well as your creative artistic side. The two come together, but one cannot suppress the other. One cannot be in the place of the other. For me, I need somebody who has the compassion and understanding and can help build that bridge.

    When I was working with Chris, who’s written many, many books and developed many things, he had no attitude, no arrogance, was not condescending, wasn’t saying, oh, here’s an actor coming in trying to write something. And I wasn’t writing something for the first time. All the things I’d written before, I wrote all that stuff myself, the trilogy of stories I wrote, the Battlestar Galactica stuff I wrote, the synopsis Though he had far more success in the world out there writing books, when we came together, he didn’t have an attitude and was open to my story. He would come back with ideas of how to enhance this or to make this more dramatically exciting at this moment in time. Chris is very, very good with dialogue, weaves it very, very effectively into what he writes. We would go back and forth to get it right, but the publisher’s editing was terrible! You know how many grammatical errors are in these books? I had someone write to me about 200 or so, especially on book two!

Elrod: You had a nit-picker fan?

Hatch: I did! When you’re writing and putting this together it’s your job to do that, but ultimately the editor is supposed to go through it.

Elrod: I’m telling you some of those editors were selling french fries the week before! I’ve dealt with them!

Audience member: When you’re reading it for the 300th time, half the time you’re not even reading exactly what’s written, but the memory of what’s been. It’s easy to miss! You’ve got to have somebody look at it!

Elrod: I have some good editors, but I don’t “trust” them to catch everything. I got Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and memorized it—all professional writers will have this thin book on their desk! You’re talking the technical aspect, I related this stuff to Nigel about in terms of acting. You may be the greatest actor in the world and doing Shakespeare, but you don’t want to miss your blocking mark on the stage and fall into the orchestra pit. But you will hit your mark because this tech is stuff running in your head on the sub-conscious level while you act your lines. That’s what I do as a writer. On a sub-conscious level I put in a period at the end of a sentence. After a little practice, you no longer even think about it, it’s automatic as breathing.

Hatch: Most people are pretty sensitive about what they write and are not very comfortable sharing what they write. It’s hard enough to open up and say anything meaningful. My first step is to get them through the fear, release them from that fear, learn to start trusting their own voice, then start listening to what their own creativity, their own heart wants to say.

    You walk around in the world, you experience things, you know people, you see things and there’s millions of stories out there. You can take a little bit of something from a person you know and you’re not going to write his story, but there’s something about that person that triggers a story and you take that character and give them a whole life. It moves you into a whole new topography, a whole other area that you didn’t expect to go into, because that character in a sense is leading the way. It’s character-driven.

    I don’t like to lay out my beginning, middle, ending; I really like to find compelling characters, I’ll get a feeling, and idea for a basic premise, and then I let go and allow these characters to go places and show me things. A lot of times I find that I’ll do a lot of writing exploring the area of the characters before I hook in. It’s like you catch a ride. Something in the story and the character reaches this defining moment that all of a sudden ignites the real story that wants to be told.

Elrod: When I’m working I try to find where’s the best place to start the story. Where’s the best dramatic moment for it? Once I filled up a ream of paper on it working out this problem, a ream on one lousy short story, but I learned so much from it that my third book was THAT much better for all the effort I put in.

    I finally realized that where I’d jumped in for the beginning was the final climax of the story! So I had to back write everything to lead up to that point! A lot of people say to write your climax first, then figure out a way to get to it. I’m nearly always on a tight deadline and it saves me time. When beginning one of my books I knew the ending would feature a big machine gun fight, lots of action. Then I had to answer why do they have machine guns? Why not shotguns? What led to this horrible conflict? Who were the people involved? By the time I back-storied up answering all those questions I found I was on page one. I was able to finish that sucker fast-which made my editor happy!

Hatch: I was trying to do something unique. I wasn’t just trying to write another Battlestar story, but trying to write something that would really get into the heart and soul and spirit of this premise and really help us to see these characters in a way we had not seen them before. To take them to the next level.

Elrod: I like the telepath thing you put in!

Hatch: Some people didn’t like that and I said let me tell you why it’s there. I didn’t just bring it out of nowhere. If a story is already created and somebody inserts this thing they have on it, not from it, but on it, it’s like you want to force a character to do things he normally wouldn’t have done, but because you have this point of view that may have nothing to do with this character, you should really do it in another book!

    But I took that from the Adama sequences where he was dealing with Count Iblis, and if you remember when they were battling each other, Adama moved the thing on the table. Well, people didn’t pay attention to that fact that he was actually able to use telekinesis. That opened up for me the questions “Where did that come from?” “What was that about?”

    So I took these little things that happened there and answered, “This is just the people developing their minds” and we’re finding out that the powers of the mind are pretty substantial. We’ve only begun to explore that world. In Battlestar we’re dealing with a technology that’s at least a thousand years ahead of us for them to be moving through space. I would hope to think that there we would have evolved to a point where we would be using a great deal more of our minds. I would think the ability to do those things would make sense and would no longer be fantasy. It’s plausible.

    I wanted to go in and touch upon that, the training that would develop those abilities. Readers don’t want something to come out of nowhere. I always think things come as an evolutionary process. So I took threads and feelings, things that actually happened in the original episodes, and these are the threads woven through the fabric of this piece and developed more fully.

Elrod: And you can do things in a novel that you can’t do within the limits of a 40-page script on a TV screen.

Hatch: Yes! We went into the thing of “Who are the Cylons?” One of the problems of so many things we do, we’ll get into one character, but sometimes what we don’t realize is that it’s through the eyes of one that we meet all these other characters. And sometimes the so-called secondary characters are as important as first tier of characters.

Elrod: This is something I picked up from watching Babylon 5: Straczynski did a script-writing seminar, and I got a truly good thing out of it: “What does each character want? And how far are they willing to go to achieve it?” And if I point to someone in this room and ask “What do you want?” They might panic and blank, because a lot of us really don’t know what we want. And if you don’t know what you want, how the hell are you going to believably write a character who does know what he wants?

    I had a sort of savant-type character in one series, a math whiz, but with absolutely no social skills. She was also in need of more development. So I went back to the basic question: What does she want? I thought a long time about that, getting inside her skin and imagining what her day-to-day life must be like. And I finally came up with she wants to be respected. The reason she works for this horrible gangster who drills holes in people at the drop of a hat, he respects her. She’s loyal and does everything for him because she has his respect. That’s why this otherwise nice girl is in this awful place and everything in her world revolves around this fulfillment of her desire-even if she herself is unaware of the desire itself.

Hatch: That character developing you did, for you to get in touch with that-in writing it’s not what you say, but the intention. “I want your respect.” I may never even say respect, but the intention, the way the words come out of a character, the underlying agenda of that character will come out. To really crawl inside the characters and get in touch with those things-how many people in life are tapped into that?

    Most of us don’t want to deal with our agendas, we don’t want to look at our real intentions that are driving us in our life, wherever it’s taking us. We think we’re going one place, but perhaps underneath we’re trying to prove to the world how intelligent we are. At some point we bought into this belief that we’re stupid. And we need to prove to the world that we’re not, so that agenda drives that character in every place they go, in every job, every kind of training, through all the degrees that they get. Why did they overcompensate by trying to prove their intelligence? I know of characters who became great world-wide achievers because they were really trying to overcompensate for this deep inner fear, this feeling of rejection, this not feeling important enough. Sometimes the agenda drives them to ultimately transmute, to healing it, getting to the other side of it. But getting into those areas-you’re wondering “what am I going to do with this character?” and “I’m lost here” and you’ve lost the scheme or the juice, go back to the character and explore that character more fully and find what Pat said there. That is such a great thing: “What does that character want?”

Elrod: Look at the Molari character. What did he want? He got it, and ends up as that world’s version of Hitler. He got what he wanted, but not the way he imagined it. And that was such a wonderful twisting of that character, and then he turns into a self-sacrificing ’I must save my people’ character. You could tell the writer was fascinated by what this guy was doing.

    Now I’m doing that stuff, because I’m taking lessons from Straczynski to incorporate into my work. We steal from everyone! Writers are the biggest thieves in the world! But only YOU can do your own particular point of view—and if you’re willing to mesh it with someone else, you can come up with something bigger than either of you could have ever imagined alone.

    You do have to put the ego aside. By the time Nigel and I teamed up, I’d learned enough to do that. This was primarily his book, and I was okay with that, but in the end our creative partnership resulted in something that turned out to be larger and better than our input would have been working solo. I think it surprised us!

    (To Hatch) Now on your book you had already set up with the plot…

Hatch: I came up with the story, and the whole evolution story of the Cylons, how they evolved, why they evolved, the stuff with Count Iblis, I wrote all that.

Elrod: Whoever meshed it together, it’s very seamless, and that was something I consciously had to strive to do. Nigel’s writing style’s different from mine and I had to play chameleon to match. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to develop that skill.

Hatch: We do have unique ways of speaking and the hard part is that I feel very close to these characters, to this whole story, the whole premise. In a sense it’s very hard to write with somebody who may like the show, but it’s not something they’ve studied or been with for 20 years. They don’t have this deep understanding other than what they see—it’s what you don’t see that’s the most important.

    Writing brings up feelings and thoughts and pictures inside of you and reveals a world that is unseen. If the writer does his job he stimulates your imagination to create that world where there’s not enough words to describe! In the rhythm and the phrasing you are able to open a doorway that brings up this deeper context of the story you want to communicate. I had that feeling about Battlestar and I wasn’t sure he did, so I would speak for hours talking about what these characters would be doing and what they wanted.

Elrod: Now you had a harder task to do, because you’re working on novels for Battlestar Galactica, with millions of people familiar with the series. You not only had to capture the essence of something already well established in their minds, but also take it a step farther. Certainly people must have expected more from you since you had an insider’s perspective to the characters and their workings. And you accomplished that very well. In my collaboration, Nigel and I didn’t have that hanging over us since were making up things up as we went. If we had tried to do a Forever Knight book it would have upped the pressure on us because many fans are very set in their ideas of how something should be done. We’d have been sweating bullets trying to keep to the truth of that series. It’s a whole different animal. Each has its own creative demands.

Hatch: It would have been a totally different collaboration had Chris and I been working on a different project, then it would have been in a sense a more equal collaboration. In this case, I had the stronger insight into the story and the characters and the things I wanted to say, especially in Armageddon where I was resetting the tone, to relaunch the series 20 years later with the original cast. I wanted to say where would we truly be 20 years later. I also wanted to take things that were never resolved or explained in the original and bring those threads forward and evolve them.

Elrod: You’ve got characters flying Cylon raiders as part of the fleet…

Hatch: Flying Cylon raiders—what do you mean?

Elrod: Well, if I’ve got a battlestar with a limited number of Vipers and I find a useful Cylon craft, I just put it on our radio frequency, and say don’t shoot at them, those are our boys, paint the things pink, whatever it takes—use them. You’ve got limited resources, so you play scavenger, use anything you can find to survive. You’ve got that one scientist developing a Colonial Cylon and I say—yes!—that’s what I want to see! Cobble this stuff together, build Cylon robots that will shoot other Cylon robots in order to preserve human lives.

Hatch: I think it’s one of the important points in the story is that I wanted to take back in 1970, but there were certain violence codes that were very, very strict in TV. Literally, we were told you couldn’t kill humans, or you could only kill 1.2 humans per episode. (Audience laughter) But it made the Cylons look very benign.

Elrod: Or really bad shots!

Hatch: Or very, very bad shots! Michael Straczynski probably explored this better than any writer in recent memory, where nobody is all good or all bad. You weave back and forth over the line. We’re always having to deal with the dark side of our own beings and coming to terms with that. Sometimes to others we are horrible people, we are terrible, but we think of ourselves in a totally different light, thinking of ourselves as being heroic.

Audience member: Look what he did with Bester. To us he’s totally evil, but from his point of view he’s doing the greatest good.

Elrod: To himself he’s not evil, he’s doing his job, he’s good at it, trying to protect his people. He’s the self-sacrificing hero.

Hatch: What she said is right, from his point of view he’s not evil. I’m sure if you look at cows and lambs, they must view us as monsters. We’re higher up on the food chain and we eat them. Parasites live in our body, they need to do certain things to survive, and we may look at them as some horrible things, but they’re just doing what is natural to their evolution, to what they are.

    It is an interesting thing is to look at other races and realize that they may be destroying us, but they may have benevolent reasons. The earth might look at us as parasites. We cause it a great deal of pain. If I was the earth, I might try scratching to get them the hell off before we do any serious damage!

    That is where it’s interesting to write from, really explore the in-between area. Why do you think people always find the bad guy more interesting? Because on some level we can explore our own dark side that we usually repress, The truth is we all have to come to terms with our fallibility, our weaknesses, our flaws. It’s hard for us to take responsibility for that, but great stories come out of characters having to come to terms with the things we do to get what we think we really want or need to have to prove our agenda. I’m writing a story exploring that, it’s a very dark comedy where people end up doing horrible things. It happens step by step, but they get caught up in this series of circumstances because they have this need to prove something. In trying to prove it, they get desperate and out of desperation they end up doing things they never in a million years thought that they would do, and it gets so hideous and so sick—

Elrod: I want to read this! (Audience laughter) On the topic of bad guys—and this is something I picked up from Nigel since he plays a lot of villains. I asked him how he approached someone like LaCroix, who is truly evil. He said one of his directors told him “find the right shoes and you’ve found the character” (audience laughter). He also told me “No matter how horrible that villain is, find something you like about him.” Nigel liked LaCroix’s sense of humor. What do we like about Alan Rickman in Die Hard? He was so sneaky, but charming and loaded with self-confidence. We love that!

    In turn, find something you don’t like about your hero! Do this for all your characters and you’ll have readers who can’t wait to find out more about them. Give the character something that the reader can identify with.

    Like I’ve got a tough, bad-ass vampire, but he’s afraid of heights, so what happens, he ends up crawling up the side of a building in a high wind! People will relate to his terror. You can catch readers’ focus by showing them the characters’ honest emotions. Too many writers are afraid to extrapolate from their own emotions to do that. But a reader can always tell, consciously or not, whether you’re being honest with them. You have to be willing to get emotionally naked and share your truth with them.

Hatch: We root for characters. When characters fall from grace they get caught up in serious circumstances with incredible challenges, we root for them to find their way back. How they find their way back becomes very interesting story-telling. Characters should make bold choices. Create a wonderful character you can really relate to and love and care about and put him in extraordinary circumstances to see what happens!

(Audience applause as panel ends.)