A writer like you: Rebecca McKinnon
Meet Rebecca McKinnon, author of time travel romance Beyond the Swearing Stone.
She enjoys playing with her imaginary friends and introducing them to others through her writing. She dreams of living in the middle of nowhere, but has been unable to find an acceptable location that wouldn’t require crossing an ocean.
Her newest book Beyond the Swearing Stone was published on August 6, 2019. It’s a time travel romance that follows Bri and Duncan, and their accidental marriage across six centuries.
When she isn’t writing, reading, or playing with her kids, Rebecca putters in the garden, makes giant messes in the kitchen, knits long strings of yarn into things she can actually wear, and tries to twist herself into interesting shapes by practicing yoga.
In this interview, we chat about crafting personalized details using a character’s life experiences, writing with the end in mind, defining key plot points, and slipping in writing time with a busy schedule.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always loved stories. Reading them, telling them, creating them. As a child, they occasionally took the shape of lies — because I could make up stories that were way cooler than the truth.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I decided writing “for real” would be great. I’d started, then abandoned, an adventure story. My sister (code name: Tissy Tupples) found it, sat down and read it, then yelled at me for leaving things the way I had and begged me to finish it. I never did, but I tried to make up for it by dedicating my first book to her.
Do you have any tips for writing strong characters?
My biggest tip for writing characters is use things they would reference. In Beyond the Swearing Stone, Duncan is a medieval blacksmith, so I find ways to bring his experiences into his thoughts and impressions. Clenching stomach? Compare it to being kicked by a horse who doesn’t want to be shod. Something is really, crazy difficult? Maybe it’s harder than bending cold iron. Something’s electrifying? There’s no electricity, so maybe he thinks of the power in the air just before lightning strikes.
Our experiences form us. Know what experiences your character has to lean on, then bring them out in everyday thoughts and conversations. You don’t want to overdo this, but it’s a great way to add more depth to a character.
Do you have any tips for effective outlining?
I’m not great at outlining, I’m more of a pantser. But no matter how sparse your “outline” I think it’s extremely important to start with a few things in mind. The ending, of course. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there. Besides that, I always have Key Plot Points planned.
I think of writing almost as a road trip. You already know where you’re starting and where you’re trying to go. There are dozens of ways you can get there, dozens of places you can stop along the way. If you have some stops already planned you know you’ll get to your end destination without wandering around and having to circle back. But all that in-between space? You can get off the highway and go see the world’s largest ball of twine if you feel like it, or take the winding canyon pass instead of the more direct tunnel that cuts under the mountain.
Key Plot Points give you room to move and breathe, and allow you to find the magic that happens when your characters think for themselves. They can take you places you wouldn’t have thought to go. Sometimes you have to remind them of your destination, but more often than not, they’ll give you a little nugget of gold for your plot.
Describe your typical writing routine.
Write a paragraph, or a page, or a sentence. Delete half of it. Bang my head on the keyboard. Repeat.
You wanted a bit more than that? Okay. I start by reading the last couple paragraphs I finished, just to remind myself where I am. I take a few minutes to think about which Key Plot Point I’m working toward, and how I plan to get there. What are the characters trying to do? Am I going to throw a wrench in their plans, or let them do their thing? Then I spew as many words onto the page as I can. Some days the words are hard and I hardly get any down. Other days they spill out of me and I end up with more than I’d hoped.
When I’m writing I have to kind of hide myself away so I’m not distracted by things like housework or the pantry. Whenever I feel stuck, my body decides I should really just have a little snack. So when I’m at home, I go into my office in the basement — if I decide I’m actually hungry I have to at least climb a set of stairs to get to the kitchen. I also try to write in different places. The car dealership while I’m getting my oil changed. A park (but only if it’s not crowded). And, because I’m a mom, I write in my car while I’m waiting for kids to get out of school.
What are you currently working on, and what makes you excited about it?
I’m working on a series of novellas at the moment. My working title for the series is Ankou Witness, and it’s really different from the other projects I’ve worked on. There’s a fish-out-of-water element, and a love story, and pain, and vengeance, and retribution, and self-doubt. It’s been interesting to explore how the way a person processes different emotions can lead them along different paths.
Every author has their MC change throughout the story — it’s part of what keeps us reading. Mellie changes more than any of my other characters have. She goes from poverty to wealth, from uncultured and ill-educated to knowledgeable and ready to rub shoulders with high society. She learns about pitfalls of blindly following others, and the differences (good and bad) she can make in the lives of those around her.
Where can we connect with you?
I’ve had a lovely time chatting with you today. If you or your readers have any questions about me or my books, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me!
To free the writer, let’s apply what we learned from Rebecca. Come up with a few character details based on their life experience. Or map out your plot and write towards one key plot point. Your story will turn out even better if you keep your characters and plot points in mind as you draft.