Writing Lessons From Reading Pratchett

November 25, 2009 at 5:05 am (fantasy, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , )


A couple of weeks ago I did a post about writing lessons I learned from reading Ann Bishop.  While I was writing that post I realised that every book I read teaches me something about writing and I started to think about some of my other favourite writers.

Terry Pratchett writes the Discworld series and they are an incredible collection of books with some of the best fantasy characters, interesting plots and settings, and a hilariously satirical look at life.  Most readers of the series agree that they prefer some books over others.  For me, I like the stories that revolve around the witches, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg.  These are two of my favourite characters.  Strangely enough neither actually appear in my favourite Pratchett story, The Truth.  One of my friends prefers the stories involving the night watch in Ank-Morpork and I find these the least interesting.

What I have I learned from reading Pratchett?

  1. Just because it is a serious situation doesn’t mean you have to take it seriously.  With the number of times the discworld has almost ceased to exist and the perils that the characters are constantly placed in, if any of it was taken seriously this would be a very dark, very depressing series to read.  Instead, the more dire the situation, the more inexplicably ridiculous the solution is likely to be and yet it makes a certain kind of sense.
  2. Creating diverse characters and developing them fully allows you to tap into diverse readership.  While I don’t like the guards so much, I read the stories because they are still well constructed characters, but I love the witches.  My friend isn’t a fan of the witches and prefers the guards.  Other people I know love the stories about Death and his grand-daughter.  We all read the same books but we are all reading for a different reason.
  3. When creating a realistic fantasy world, all five senses have to be engaged.  If you ever read any discworld novel and read a description of Ank-Morpork you would know that Pratchett is brilliant at this.  He really brings the place to life, particularly the smell.  Some of his descriptions of smell leave you literally gagging.
  4. If you aren’t Terry Pratchett, don’t try to write like Terry Pratchett.  This one I didn’t learn from Pratchett but I did learn from reading many poor imitations of his stories.  Very much like the Harry Potter phenomenon where suddenly there were dozens of knock-offs there are hundreds of want-to-be Pratchett’s.  I might learn a few things from reading Pratchett but I don’t intend to try to copy his style.  It is definitely his.

 

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7 Comments

  1. mseditrix said,

    I’m glad I found your blog! Truth is my favorite Pratchett book, too. I dream of teaching a history of mass communications class and assigning it as extra credit. Have you seen the movies made of Pratchett novels? He cameos in them and they’re surprisingly un-suck.

  2. Elizabeth Spann Craig said,

    I’ve got the books requested at the library for my son, who loves fantasy. Thanks for the tip, Cassandra!

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. Carol Kilgore said,

    Good post. I rarely read fantasy, but some of these tips apply to other genres, too. Especially about not trying to write like someone else.Also, people often have humor in dire situations. Especially those who face them every day, like law enforcement officers, ER personnel, soldiers.

  4. Fiona Skye said,

    Brilliant post! Terry Pratchett is definitely in my top three favourite writers. I’m like your friend and really love the Night Watchmen series, but I do enjoy the Witches and Death, as well. Pratchett is pure genius and I’ve learned from his writing as well. I’m glad to see that many Americans have discovered him and I encourage anyone who hasn’t read his books to read at least one. I virtually guarantee that you’ll get hooked.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      The problem is then figuring out which book to read next.

  5. SaintAsh said,

    What I love about Pratchett is that he doesn’t just stop at satire in his Discworld books. There is always some sort of serious, even disquieting message about humanity hiding under the humor. I became aware of this especially with Small Gods, and my respect for his writing grew even more.

    And come on, the Death of Rats is just awesome.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I think that is what makes Pratchett so powerful. He manages social commentry without sounding preachy because it is hidden under this bizarre and warped humour. I do like the Death of Rats but I think sometimes he isn’t used well. Frequently he is just hanging around and more part of the background then character.

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