An interview with S.L. Stebel
by Patricia A.S. Hernandez
Mr. Stebel, you talk about the importance of partnering with your subconscious to write. Who gets the credit? And how does that work?
Luckily, both partners operate under a single nom de plume. But it’s not enough merely to get in touch with your inner self, you have to decipher what your heretofore silent partner’s saying to you.
I’ve developed exercises which combine many of the known techniques, including automatic writing, which are of particular relevance to writers, and demonstrates how to decipher a writer’s own text in order to get at the hidden meanings.
Why is the subconscious so important?
The so-called ‘universal’ novel is one that touches audiences everywhere. In order to `connect’ with the universal audience on a subconscious level, it seems obvious that the writer must first “connect” with his or her own subconscious.
You say in your book that ‘Writer’s block’ doesn’t exist. And yet anyone who has ever written knows what it is to be `stuck’ without a clue as to what happens next — how do you deal with that?
Writer’s shouldn’t confuse `can’t’ write with `won’t’ write. Unless the writer is catatonic, s/he’s able to say hello and goodbye or order a meal or ask where the bathroom is — which indicates there are still words in the well. By partnering with the subconscious, which holds all the answers, and applying the techniques developed in my book, any writer can solve a story problem, invent characters, identify the protagonist, and so on.
You’re noted for bringing a Zen-like intuition to the work of others. Explain how you help other writers.
First, by not making the common mistake of telling the other writer how I would write the story. Instead, I listen as a reader, and try to plunge inside the other writer’s work in order to decipher what the other writer is trying to say.
Any ideas I bring to the other writer spring from his or her work; not from my thinking, but from my exploration of the other’s subconscious. Anyone can take someone else’s work apart — the trick is to put it back together in a unique (to that writer) and powerful (because primal) way.
Many people would be surprised to learn that fiction represents 68% of books read. How do you explain the popularity of fiction?
Fiction (except on network television) can (and should) demonstrate higher truths. One good picture is worth a thousand words, so does one good insight. Intuition equates to insight. No gathering of facts can replicate truth as well as a writer’s intuition does. That, coupled with being entertained, is hard to beat.
You’ve won a reputation as a ‘double-triple-threat, that is, writerlteacher/critic and novelist, playwright, screenwriter. How easy is it to move between genres?
Easy as a buttered scone sliding down a gullet. It doesn’t matter what form fiction takes; what matters is to know that the process is a search for meaning. The techniques of various forms are mechanical, easy to master. As shown in the section of my book called A Short Easy Course in Film Writing the writer merely projects the movie s/he wants to write on the screen of his/her mind, and writes down everything people do and say. But the story elements remain the same, what’s different is creating images rather than words.
Can anyone become a writer?
If the frustrated writer understands there is an apprenticeship period, as in all occupations. Too many people believe if they’re smart and literate and only had the time they can write. I like to tell successful entrepreneurs I could be rich if I’d been willing to take time from my writing to do it. My book does provide a way to shorten the apprenticeship period by teaching how to avoid the usual pitfalls of what can otherwise –as when writers make it up as they go along — be an interminable process.
There seems to be a lot of public dissatisfaction with novels and movies lately. Why do you think that is?
Lack of story. It’s no accident Jane Austen novels are spawning a plethora of movies — she practically invented story. Sadly, today, our writers seem to believe, partly as a result of their academic training and partly because the chief reference for young writers is TV, that they should dumb down to the point where even the comedy sketches have no point. That’s why, in my book, I’ve combined subliminal impulses with classic structure to provide compelling stories. Character and plot are not separate, plot is a result of what characters with felt needs do.