Interview with Kevin Plybon4 min read

Kevin Plybon is a technical writer and author based in New York City. He taught high school math for three years, and still misses proofs to this day. He’s currently shopping his first novel, a steampunk fantasy about an immigrant engineer trying to save the city that hates her. You can find him at kevinplybon.com and on Twitter (@kevilknc). 

What was the inspiration for “Prove to Me That We’re Meant to Be”? How did the story develop/change from conception to completion?

I wrote the first draft about four years ago. It started as an exercise, thinking about what it would be like to “prove” something in real life, and what kind of story would make sense in that form. The first draft was a lot more like a proof that people might remember from Geometry class: this event leads to that event, and so on. There were some bits that were way more mathy and, in hindsight, not very interesting. When I came back to it with fresh eyes, I realized it didn’t need to be so rigid, and that having a complete narrative was much more important.

This was the first time I read a story structured as a series of proofs, and I really enjoyed the experience of engaging with it with both sides of my brain. Was it difficult crafting a narrative in this form?

Yes! It was a lot like writing fantasy, in that I had to think about how to explain elements of the story the reader. I also wanted to vary the types of proofs, so there would be a sense of surprise. Since the form was such a critical piece, I started drafting each segment by choosing a proof type, then thinking about what events might fit.

What’s it like being a technical writer as well as a fiction writer? Do you find it necessary to consciously keep the two kinds of writing separate or are there advantages in applying the craft developed from one form to the other?

One of the most prized qualities of good technical writing is clarity. Striving for clarity has had a huge and positive impact on my fiction writing. On the other hand, user guides aren’t designed to be read straight through like novels, and implication and misdirection (which kill technical documents) add great depth in fiction. So, I think it’s a matter of choosing the technique that works best for the audience.

What do you like most about technical writing and what do you find most challenging?

The best thing about technical writing is learning new things every day from experts in their field. That never gets old. The most challenging part is finding the right questions to ask. And not being afraid to admit you don’t know what the expert across the table is talking about.

What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve received as a writer and what advice would you give new writers?

If you don’t put anything on the page, there won’t be anything on the page.

What are you currently reading? What book has been most influential on your life or on you as a writer?

I’m reading A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold. A friend told me the book has an extremely tense dinner party in it, so I’m looking forward to that.

Craft-wise, the most influential book has been On Writing by Stephen King. Everyone says that, but with good reason. Story-wise, I think it has to be Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It taught me what stories can be. I still remember the first time I read about Voldemort coming out of that cauldron.

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