Bestselling author William Bernhardt has written more than thirty books, including the blockbuster Ben Kincaid series of novels, the historical novel Nemesis: The Final Case of Eliot Ness, currently being adapted into an NBC miniseries, a book of poetry (The White Bird), and a series of books on fiction writing. In addition, Bernhardt founded the Red Sneaker Writing Center in 2005, hosting writing workshops and small-group seminars and becoming one of the most in-demand writing instructors in the nation. His monthly eBlast, The Red Sneaker Writers Newsletter, reaches over twenty thousand people. He is the only writer to have received the Southern Writers Guild’s Gold Medal Award, the Royden B. Davis Distinguished Author Award (University of Pennsylvania) and the H. Louise Cobb Distinguished Author Award (Oklahoma State).
Bestselling author, my friend and law school classmate, William Bernhardt
I first met Bill when we entered the University of Oklahoma College of Law in the fall of 1983. Through the years, he has become my friend, editor, and cheerleader, not to mention a bestselling author!
My autographed copy of bestselling author, William Bernhardt’s, blockbuster legal thriller, SILENT JUSTICE (2001)
THE WILLIAM BERNHARDT INTERVIEW
1. What is your writing schedule? Do you have a daily routine?
My schedule has to be modified when I’m traveling, but usually I do follow a daily routine. When your schedule is predictable and you don’t have to think much about it, it frees up those subconscious brain cells to focus on your book. I usually wake early, meditate, exercise, eat a little something, and sit down at my desk and write. Sometimes when the weather is nice I start on the back porch at the patio table. The view is gorgeous and the birds like to see what I’m doing.
2. Do you outline your novels? If so, do you outline in terms of chapters, storyline, character arcs, or other touchstones?
I almost always outline my books. If you’ve read my books on writing, particularly Story Structure: The Key to Successful Fiction, then you know how important I think this is. It will not only save you time, it is an essential step in the writing process and results in a better end product. I know when authors are interviewed on television they rarely mention outlining, but I’ve talked privately with many professional writers and I believe most do. I know there are people who like to call themselves “pantsers,” meaning they just sit down to write without forethought, but to me, that’s treating writing like play rather than making a serious effort to produce a good book.
Bestselling author, William Bernhardt’s, Red Sneaker Writers Newsletter
3. In your opinion, what three elements must be present to create a complex character?
Of course, in Creating Character, I wrote in detail about what makes for an engaging character. Essentially, your character must have a goal or desire–there must be something they want that they don’t have. They must have some chance to obtain it–though the likelihood may seem remote. And they must be sympathetic or empathetic to the reader. Which does not mean they must be perfect or all goody-two-shoes. But there must be some aspect of the character that allows the reader to make an emotional connection.
4. As a writing coach, what do you consider the top three mistakes novice novelists make?
Narrating rather than dramatizing. Telling rather than showing. And paying too little attention to their use of language. It’s not just about telling the story. It’s about telling the story with the best choice of words to accomplish your goals. Most manuscripts are rejected because the writer is simply not working at a professional level yet, which an experienced agent or editor can detect in a paragraph or two. The more you write, the better you’ll get. And a little instruction to point you in the right direction can be helpful too.
5. You are a prolific author. How do you stay on task? What pointers can you offer writers who struggle in the discipline department?
I don’t feel very prolific. These days, I typically write, rewrite, set the manuscript aside, let it marinate, come back to it, rethink it…you get the idea. The Game Master was four years in the making. Some of the poems in The White Bird go back even farther than that. But I make myself write every day, even when there are other things that would be more fun (which is most days). Even when I have family obligations or other kinds of work I need to do, I find some time someplace to write. And that makes all the difference. Even if you only get a few pages done a day, if you write every single day, those pages will add up to a complete draft relatively quickly.
Thank you, Bill, for sharing your writing insights and experiences. You inspire us! Write on!