Advice From Authors Far Better Than I
Packing and moving involves a lot of unexpected unearthing — at some point during the process I inevitably run into one of those boxes that contains a multitude of my past work. And we’re not talking works that are merely recent. Oh, no. We’re talking fiction and poetry that goes back to high school — no, junior high — no, elementary school. Seriously. Heaps and mounds of garbage.
Newsflash: I am proof positive that you can start out as an awful writer. You do not need to be born with any kind of talent. I am cobbled together only of learned skills, and now I can proudly say that I am no longer an awful writer — I am, in fact, a deliciously mediocre one. Break out the bubbly!
Anyway, I’m tempted to post some of my earlier work here, just so you can all fling lumps of feces at it and we can all share a mighty larf, but for now — given yesterday’s post and tomorrow’s as-yet-unannounced-surprise-secret-post — I think I have something better.
See, once upon a time I’d track down advice from authors and professors I respected, and when I found it I’d print it out and tape it to my wall. I don’t do that anymore (though part of me wonders if maybe it’s a practice worth renewing, though perhaps with less “ruin-the-wall-paint”), but in the box I did find a cache of advice from other writers. This one in particular is one I like:
“I did a tremendous amount of soul searching before I approached this topic in fantasy. In the end, I did so only because fantasy needs the rocky foundation of reality to support it. Suspension of disbelief is what makes magic or dragons work within a story. If the author suspends all that is ugly and dangerous in the world in the name of protecting the hero or heroine, then the hand of the writer becomes too obvious. Suspension of disbelief is replaced with, ‘This is all pretend and we have nothing to fear. Only the bad guys get killed, and the hero will be restored to full health right after the commercial.’ We then get too many incidents of Deus ex machina. The whole plot falters as the author artificially pushes the events along. In some fantasy books, all the really bad stuff never ever happens to the characters you care about. Only minor characters are ever really in danger. That doesn’t work for me.” — Robin Hobb (aka Megan Lindholm)
I don’t really know where that quote comes from. The attribution given on the print-out is “online mgsboard,” which could only be more ambiguous if I wrote “from the Internet.”
Even still, it’s a great quote from an author that knows how to put her protagonists through the wringer. (For this reason alone I must must must recommend her Farseer Assassin’s trilogy. I think most fantasy is pat, pap, and frankly, crap. Her work is elevated to something truly great.) What she says here speaks in part to what I said earlier about “punishing your characters,” but I also like that it speaks to the authenticity of fantasy. How we need to strive for reality amidst the make-believe to make the make-believe feel less like fantasy. (Jiminy Crisps, that’s a mouthful.)
Anyway. There you go.
If you have good quotes from authors on writing advice or “the process,” feel free to drop ‘em in a comment. If I find any more good ones as I unearth more madness from my archives, I’ll post ‘em.
Keep your grapes peeled for a secret mission, tomorrow.