Writer’s Toolbox

Author Q&A

Here we present our exclusive collection of Q&As with a long list of illustrious authors.

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Raymond Benson

Raymond BensonRaymond Benson is the author of several James Bond 007 novels.

What is your method for overcoming writer’s block?

If you experience writer’s block, it means something has gone awry with your story. Perhaps you’re having trouble figuring out a special plot point or the clever method by which your hero must escape a seemingly impossible obstacle. You need to step back from the project and take a day off. Go see a movie. Spend time with your family. Think about other stuff. Invariably the answers will come to you. For me, I spend a great deal of time on an outline (actually a prose treatment) of the complete story before I begin to write the book. I map out the various plot developments chapter-by-chapter, represented by block paragraphs. In fact, any angst and head-pounding I exhibit during the writing process is during this outline phase. I solve all the problems there so that the outline ultimately serves as a tool, a blueprint, a guideline...From then on, the task is a joy.

What are your favorite or most helpful writing prompts?

I tell myself I’m going to write a scene a day. That means it’s a scene with a beginning, middle, and end. Sometimes the scene can be an entire chapter of fifteen or more pages, other times it’s only a couple. Whatever the length, I try to write the first draft of the scene between the time I wake up and the dinner hour. If it’s a short scene, I reward myself by doing something fun for the rest of the day. If it’s a long one, I’m at the desk for hours, with a short break for lunch. That evening, before I go to bed, I read through what I wrote earlier and make minor corrections—just enough so that it’s a presentable first draft. The next day I move on and do it all again. Day-by-day the manuscript builds…I call it “building” a novel, much like one of those five thousand piece jigsaw puzzles. You do a little at a time and eventually you have a first draft of a novel.

What is the most valuable advice you received as a young writer?

Ironically, the most valuable advice I received came when I was studying theatre in college with the goal of becoming a stage director (which I did for a decade). My directing professor, Francis Hodge, drilled it into me that I had to analyze the story in terms of character, plot, theme, tempo, and mood. He taught me how to tell a story and what components made a good one. Since then, I’ve used everything I learned from him not only on the stage but in my other endeavors such as designing and writing computer games, novelizing movies, or penning my own original thrillers. Another treasured piece of advice came when I was not necessarily a young writer. Ian Fleming’s literary agent, Peter Janson-Smith, told me not to attempt to write like someone else—I was to just be myself and find my own voice.