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Author P. J. Flie On How To Write Compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories

An Interview With Ian Benke

…Strong author vision — that doesn’t mean you know where the story is going at all times, there can be great work found through discovery, but know your world inside and out.

Science Fiction and Fantasy are hugely popular genres. What does it take for a writer today, to write compelling and successful Science Fiction and Fantasy stories? Authority Magazine started a new series called “How To Write Compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories”. In this series we are talking to anyone who is a Science Fiction or Fantasy author, or an authority or expert on how to write compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy .

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing P. J. Flie.

P. J. Flie is an author and educator passionate about working with the next generation of artists. He holds a BFA in theatre and social science, and works in all aspects of theatre production from acting coach to director, set builder, lighting designer, and stage manager. He started writing at the age of 10, focusing on honing this craft throughout school and at college. Hailing from Canada, where he currently resides, he continues to create stories.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share a story about what first drew you to writing over other forms of storytelling?

Thank you for the opportunity of the interview, Yitzi!

When I was very young, my father would tuck me in at night, and he would tell me stories — nothing written in a storybook, but exciting, serialized adventures, that would follow the same characters for many nights, which always ended on a cliffhanger. The complex tales he wove encouraged me to begin writing down my own adventures.

You are a successful author. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Positivity — It’s a motivator that provides forward momentum. Without it, you’re stuck in one place or moment.

Determination — life is full of distractions. By finding ways to streamline the real world, I have more time to dive deep into one that is fantasy.

An overactive imagination — seriously, I am always creating stories simply sitting on the subway. Sometimes compelling ideas come to me in dreams; inspiration comes at the oddest times.

Can you tell us a bit about the interesting or exciting projects you are working on or wish to create? What are your goals for these projects?

I have a fantasy/paranormal/adventure that I wrote a little while ago. I’m definitely feeling the need to revisit that with fresh eyes. Currently, I’m working on book two of the Legacy of Seven series; I hope to have that done in the next couple of months.

Wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define sci-fi or fantasy? How is it different from speculative fiction?

I would define fantasy as a genre that is confined by the limits of imagination. Science fiction can live in this space, too, but must include technology that doesn’t exist — not yet, anyway. Now, this is a goal post that can shift. For example, hypothesizing that the Earth is round was once thought to be an insane concept, a complete fantasy that had no basis in the reality of what people could see around them. Speculative fiction, on the other hand, must feel plausible within the confines of the real world. They are fluid terms, constantly shifting because our perception of what is possible evolves over time.

It seems that despite countless changes in media and communication technologies, novels and written fiction always survive, and as the rate of change increases with technology, written sci-fi becomes more popular. Why do you think that is?

Our technology changes at such a fast rate, most of us will experience a breadth of advancements in our lifetime. Science Fiction, used to be thought of like Round Earth Theory — the crazy ramblings of lunatics. Today, I think people recognize sci-fi as falling more into that speculative realm, not impossible, just not possible at this time. We’ve seen science fiction become science fact. It gives the genre credibility that it didn’t enjoy before. Besides, our imaginations are still more powerful engines than anything technology can generate — at least, for now!

In your opinion, what are the benefits to reading sci-fi, and how do they compare to watching sci-fi on film and television?

You said it; the best part is in the comparison. For example, when someone insists on reading the book before watching the movie, they don’t want their imaginations to be influenced by someone else’s vision. It’s the fun of comparing. What did the movie do a better job creating? Which parts of the book weren’t done well on the screen?

To answer more directly, reading really does stretch the imagination, and in doing so, strengthens creative pathways in the brain. Creativity is vital in today’s world. We need to nurture that ability. Reading is an excellent way to do so.

Perhaps most simply, the author is your guide, the world you create in your mind’s eye is all your own. It provides a uniquely personalized experience.

I love to watch science fiction. It’s come such a long way. The suspension of disbelief is much easier when you have excellent special effects. Perhaps it is the realism that’s created in movies or television that also pulls the genre further into the realm of plausibility. When we experience those worlds with more than one of our senses, then we can begin to believe that that world just might exist, in some form, someday.

What authors and artists, dead or alive, inspired you to write?

My imagination was sparked by ancient myths from many different cultures. It’s so fascinating, the ancient origins and use of stories. I then moved on to read Shakespeare’s complete works. Twentieth Century examples; J.R.R. Tolkein, Harlen Ellison, Douglas Adams.

If you could ask your favourite Science Fiction and Fantasy author a question, what would it be?

I would want to know about their moments of inspiration. How did those instances come about? When and where? During a philosophical debate? One day in the park? In the middle of a shower?

We’d like to learn more about your writing. How would you describe yourself as an author? Can you please share a specific passage that you think exemplifies your style?

A vivid description that does justice to my imagination balanced with the visceral and emotional experiences of the character. While I like to ensure that I do justice to those two elements, I also keep things moving along at a good clip.

The grand courtyard of the castle didn’t feel as intimidating as it had ten days ago. Well manicured, filled with an array of colorful flowers, it offered serenity Ondreeal didn’t know how to accept.

Perched on a stone bench and wringing her hands, she watched the bustle of activity encompassing her. Several attendants arranged objects, including spears and wooden balls, around the courtyard. The attendants scurried off to the side, where they stood in a row against a wall. A couple of them glanced at her before looking away. She rose to her feet. Sir Francis excitedly rushed towards her.

Only an hour earlier, he had told her of a small demonstration for a couple of Bastion’s citizens. She agreed to try it, although now she shook with apprehension. She clasped her hands tightly, only causing the tremors to move up her arms. If her mother watched from the Path, hopefully she’d gaze down with pride. Understandably, Ondreeal not only wanted to make her mother proud, but Sir Francis too.

A warm breeze quickly carried miniature puffs of cloud over a blue sky. On two balconies above, crowds of onlookers chattered loudly. At least fifty people stood on each one, far more than she had agreed to, their eyes all fixed on Ondreeal.

Based on your own experience and success, what are the “Five Things You Need To Write Compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories?” If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  1. Strong characters — The reader needs to relate to, and be invested in the character’s journey, whatever that may be. It’s what causes us to care about what happens to those fictional people.
  2. Character growth — for a story to be compelling, the main character, at the very least, must go through change where they learn and grow throughout the story.
  3. A clear world — we need to get a clear sense of where we are, when, what the character feels, their sensory experience helps to bring that world to life.
  4. Obstacles that are not easily overcome, but are solved in a way that leads to character growth.
  5. Strong author vision — that doesn’t mean you know where the story is going at all times, there can be great work found through discovery, but know your world inside and out.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Entertainment, Business, VC funding, and Sports read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Pamela Paul — editor of the New York Times Book Review

I would love to hear her thoughts on my novel — that would be truly amazing, but also her food choices because you can tell a lot about someone by how they order lunch.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Web: www.pjflie.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/legacyofseven/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p.j.flie/

Thank you for these excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent. We wish you continued success.

About The Interviewer: Ian Benke is a multi-talented artist with a passion for written storytelling and static visual art — anything that can be printed on a page. Inspired by Mega Man, John Steinbeck, and commercials, I.B.’s science fiction writing and art explore the growing bond between technology and culture, imagining where it will lead and the people it will shape. He is the author of Future Fables and Strange Stories, the upcoming It’s Dangerous to Go Alone trilogy, and contributes to Pulp Kings. The CEO and Co-Founder of Stray Books, and an origami enthusiast, Ian is an advocate of independent, collaborative, and Canadian art. https://ibwordsandart.ca

Author P. J. Flie On How To Write Compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.