Tag Archives: philosophy

The Writer’s Sword

I was talking a few weeks ago with the wonderful Adrian about….something…and we somehow got onto a writer’s sword…

(I just had to look up the conversation. It was to do with whacking said wonderful person with something when he gets too big-headed about his imminent fame).

Anyway. It got both of us thinking, and I ended up coming up with this motto;

The Writer’s Sword: skill blended with ego, tempered by humility.

I’ve been thinking over the past few weeks about the balance that’s needed to be a writer. It’s a bit of an odd one – you do need all three elements listed above, and all in roughly equal measures.

Skill’s the one that is most easily learned, I think, and yet the hardest to gain. It’s no surprise that the writer’s advice is most often “write, write, write” – practise really does make perfect, or at least lets you make all the mistakes you can! And if you want to get published consistently, you have to have that skill, and use it consistently.

And this feeds into ego. You have to believe that you’re good! You also have to recognise that while other writers might be better than you, while you might not yet be perfect or a bestseller or whatever your personal vision of “A Writer” is, you’re in your own class of excellence. Only you can write how you do. Only you can see the world as you do, and translate that into words. Only you can tell the stories. You might not be as good as you want to be, but damnit, you’ve got some talent there!

But…that has to be tempered with humility. Critique can be soul-destroying, and it’s a harsh thing to have to accept that the work you thought was amazing might need polish. It’s frustrating as hell to have something come back with metaphorical red pen all over it, especially when you feel you poured yourself into it. Writing is personal and it is hard, and to put it out into the world, get it trodden on – either by your editor or your readers (or by the lack of them) can hurt. You need to be able to roll with those punches.

And then we’re back round to skill and ego. You have to have the skill to accept the critique and work what you learn back into your writing, to get better – and the ego to survive the criticism and put your work back out there!

It’s something I’ve been watching in myself over the past few years – from the original work I did on Shadows In The Light (with its…ooh, about five revisions, improving each time) and then GreenSky, over the course of ten books. I wouldn’t write Green Sky & Sparks in the same way now as I did ten years ago – but then my work now is very, very different! Even The Necromancer’s Charm is looking very different to No Man’s Land, and that’s only got two years between them.

The sword keeps getting stronger over time, the more you write, and my blade gets more and more honed for every word I write, every change I make.

What metaphors have you got for the balance that’s needed for writing?

Diversity and Interesting Characters

So, I’m trying to decide who to have as a central character for a book I’m currently planning. I need two central characters who will play off against each other, and I’m wondering what’s going to work best.
In all of this, I want diversity. I’m not doing it because I’ve got some sort of agenda, or need to be part of some in-crowd that’s shaking up the status quo. (Well, I do want to do that, but not because I want to be hip). Let’s face it, straight white males are boring. Garion’s journey in the Belgariad is interesting because of the external challenges he faces, and the growing he does – but it’s what he finds out and what he faces that makes the journey. He doesn’t have a lot of internal struggles, or angst because of who he is.
The fantasy world has been embracing its own kind of diversity recently, despite the screams of straight white males – think Mark Lawrence’s Jorg or GRRM’s Joffrey. They’re both HORRIBLE, and that internal character is what makes them interesting. And THAT, to me, is what diversity is about. It’s writing someone who is different, and who reacts differently. Who faces different struggles. I seem to be hearing the same screams of “if it’s not a straight white male I’m not reading it” – so there’s a problem with imagining loving someone who happens to have male bits when you also have male bits, but you’re quite happy living in the head of an angsty, murderous, paranoid ruler for a book? If you can imagine dragons and wizards, humans should be the easy bit!
Anyway, I’m now trying to work out what I want to do with my next characters. While I do feel like I have got a checklist, again, it’s not an agenda thing. It’s because it’s interesting, and it stretches me as a writer. I want a challenge. I want a world that isn’t the same one I’ve read a hundred times. I’ve been polling ideas with myself: what else do people not see in fantasy worlds that we have a lot of in ours? What needs showing? What would be interesting to read?
Gay couple who you don’t expect to be? Anxiety/extrovert?  Loquacious liar and true believer? Asexual and extravagent lover? Old – either 40+ or 60+. Obese? Anorexic or body-conscious? Social anxiety or agrophobia? (is that fear of going outside)? Severely disabled? A carer? Emotional or physical abuse – either as the abused, or the abuser! PTSD?  Even when I occasionally divert back to one-man-one-woman, it’s always with a twist. There might be a romance, sure…but I’m pondering a matriarchal society, just to mix up the power balance. I’m pondering underdogs and hidden secrets. I’m pondering personalities and clashes, and how the they’re-falling-in-love could be subverted.
The point of fantasy is to look at what people do when faced with a situation; that may involve a Dark Lord, or dragons, or a Quest…or may involve politics in a gritty kingdom, thieves and murderers, or magic gone wrong. It might be a twist on our world, or somewhere completely different. But it’s always people. It’s always about what the characters do when those situations hit them.
And that’s why I want to write diversity – because I can’t write the same character again and again. I want to be challenged. I want to read (and write) a different story to the one I read (and wrote) last time. I want a new world to explore, a new face to stand next to – and I want to find new and different ways of turning everything upside-down.
I want to make you love someone so different from yourself, and then break your heart.
That’s fantasy.