I know this is a science fiction
romance blog, but it's also a writers' blog and one of the greats has
gone. Terry Pratchett will always be my favourite author. I've
written quite a few blogs mentioning him, or reviewing his books and
I won't do that here. Although you might be interested in this
, which explains why I like his writing so much. But
here at Space Freighters, I'll talk about how he has influenced my
writing, things I've learned from this master wordsmith.
Nothing is sacred
TP would willingly tilt at windmills
or cock a snoot at the most sacred of cows. I laughed out loud at
Gollum's cameo appearance in Witches Abroad, and I still
chuckle at the thought of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse being
taught how to play bridge. And the send up of the dragon riders of
Pern and the idea of Conan the Barbarian as an old man and so many
other things. Wyrd Sisters is the Discworld equivalent of
Macbeth. Maskerade borrows from the Phantom of the
Opera – and sends up opera as a genre. Pyramids examines
the beliefs of ancient Egypt with hilarious results.
Lesson: Look at the world from a
different point of view. There's plenty of writing fodder out there.
The Rules of Writing are rubbish.
Don't use 'there was'. Avoid adjectives
and adverbs. Don't use three words when one is enough. Terry ignored
all these 'rules'. Move the story along, we're told. Do we really
need to know how many pigs are consumed in Ankh-Morpork every year?
Maybe not. But Terry told us anyway. And we read it, and stored that
information into our brains and we knew a little more about a city
that is a character in its own right.
Lesson: Know the 'rules' so you know when to break them.
Terry included all sorts in his novels,
and used them to hold up a warped mirror to our world. Trolls,
dwarves, vampires, zombies, boogie-men, fairies, witches, wizards.
Oh, and golems. And women. Let's not forget women. And werewolves
(sorry, Angua). Possibly the best of the books poking fun at a
monochrome (male, white) world is Men at Arms. Terry used
diversity to great effect in all his books. The interplay between
different species introduced complexity and conflict, where sworn
enemies became friends in adversity when they discovered that
everything they'd been told wasn't necessarily true. On that subject,
one of my all time favourite TP books is Thud.
Lesson: Aliens have a part to play, so
have genetically modified humans, cyborgs, IAs and anything else you
want to throw into the mix. Just make sure it's convincing.
Truth is a complicated concept
People have a habit of believing that
'now' is equivalent to 'true'. Terry had a habit of picking up a
truism like “Christmas is a happy, family time” and turning it
over to see what was underneath. The result in that instance was
Hogfather, in which he revealed the real antecedents of the
Yuletide celebrations and that red coat. Very often in his books he
ventured into the dark. The Amazing Maurice and his Educated
Rodents comes to mind, an award-winning YA story ostensibly
something like the Pied Piper but with an even darker twist. Terry
didn't like fairytales – or at least, not the modern, sugar-coated,
frilly versions. For that reason he used them often to illustrate a
point. See Witches Abroad. Terry's elves aren't the same as
Tolkien's. Or Enid Blyton's. They're more like the dark Fae of the
very old tales - not very nice at all. See Lords and Ladies.
Lesson: Pick up ideas (especially
deep-rooted ones) and turn them over to look at the bottom.
You don't need chapters
Terry often dispensed
with chapters. I'm not suggesting he didn't have structure in his
books. He did. He had cliffhangers just as we do. But instead of
ending a chapter with the hero dangling over a cliff by one foot, he
just moved on to action elsewhere, and returned to our suspended
protagonist further in the narrative.
Lesson: Just because it's always been
done doesn't mean it still has to be done.
People love series
The Discworld books are a series, but
there are series within the series. There's the Wizards series, the
Witches series, the Death series, the Moist series, and the Watch
series. Different readers have their preferences. Then there's a
handful of books which are stand-alone, even if some of the
characters from other books are used. I'd include Pyramids,
Small Gods, Interesting Times, Moving Pictures and
Monstrous Regiment. People identify with particular
characters. Death (with his companion Death of Rats) is a wonderful
character, even if he is an anthropomorphism. Granny Weatherwax,
Nanny Ogg, Sam Vimes, Angua, Carrot, Rincewind, Lord Vetinari,
Arch-chancellor Ridcully etc etc etc are all three-dimensional
individuals and all have their dedicated camp followers. They all
excite reader expectations – which is a challenge in its own right.
Terry had to ensure all those characters remained true to the
Lesson: Once you've connected with a
fan base, give them what they crave.
Real characters are complicated
I'd be hard pressed to think of many
two dimensional characters in Terry's books. Let's look at Sam Vimes,
who became a main character after having been first introduced as a
minor character in Guards, Guards. He was captain of the night
watch, a sad group of men who avoided trouble whenever possible. He
himself was a low born drunk, but as the book progressed he found
himself having to do things he never would have thought he could do.
It was endlessly entertaining, through a succession of books, to
watch Sam being thrust reluctantly into the high office he despised.
He became a reformed alcoholic, turning to cigars to stave off the
craving (although that's never stated per se). He got married to an
aristocrat and became a Duke. He reformed the Watch. And all the time
he hated the pomp and circumstance, was never happier than sloping
around the streets of his beloved city in thin-soled boots. I could
write a similar description of every main character Terry wrote into
Lesson: Real characters are complicated.
'What' is a great starter to a
Terry must have used that question so
many, many times. Such as:
“what happens to loin-clothed
barbarian heroes when they get old?” Interesting Times.
“what would happen if Death went on
vacation?” Reaper Man
“what if there was a Discworld
equivalent of Shakespeare?” Wyrd Sisters
“what if the Egyptian Gods were
questions. Lots of question to which the answer is not yes or no.
You can't please all of the people
all of the time.
Terry's books are spectacularly
successful. He's a household (almost) name around the world. But just
as there are(were) some of us hanging out to read his next shopping
list, I have friends that found him tiresome or even (heaven forbid)
boring. I even have one distant acquaintance who loathed his writing
style. (I think I unfriended this individual on Facebook.) But there
it is. Horses for courses.
Lesson: Write for yourself and the
people who like what you write. The rest can go... whatever it was
that Thorin said to Thranduil in The Desolation of Smaug.
I shall miss TP more than I can ever
say. Yes, he was “just another author” but it's sad to think
there'll never be another piece of brilliance by his hand. True, I
have my collection of hardbacks (pictured above, guarded by the Librarian) to re-read and that I will do.
leads me to TEN, which has nothing to do with writing.
When my time comes, I hope I'll be
able to welcome Death as an old friend, as Terry Pratchett
PS. I don't think he wrote those final
tweets. I cannot imagine Terry referring to himself as “Sir Terry”.
But even so, I suspect he discussed those final words with his
daughter, who certainly posted them.
Let's treat this as a wake, shall we? A celebration of a life well lived. Please share your favourite TP quote, tell us which was your favourite book, and why. If you need inspiration, this post is a collection of memes
showing his wisdom and humanity, words that will live on. But there are plenty of others, such as the opening to Wyrd Sisters
Over to you.