Tag Archives: Terry Pratchett

Death of an Icon

David Bowie died last night. The timing was elegant, in line with his birthday, and a new album. Many feel that he took the time to say goodbye.

My feed has been blowing up with stories about him, memories involving him, and ways in which his music inspired my friends’ proudest moments. It’s extraordinary to see how many lives he’s touched, in so many incarnations, and in such a breadth of ways.

To be perfectly truthful, I don’t know much about Bowie beyond his participation in Labyrinth as the Goblin King. As I’m reading others’ memories, and I see how gutted they are, I’m reminded of Terry Pratchett’s death. Robin Williams’ death. I have never met either of those men, but I cried over their deaths as though they were blood.

We are more interconnected than we know.

When you witness the life of a magical being, remember how their death feels, and what feels lost. You have the same capacity for magic.

Use it now. Share it now.

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Hard Work and a Sense of Humor

Hard work and a sense of humor are things that no one can take away from you. Coincidentally, they’re also the two things that will see you through the most painful of clusterfuffles. Every writer gets to the point where they’re banging their head against their desk, trying to move things forward, and the immediate instinct is to fall deeper into despair. Heroes are resilient. Know what else is resilient?

Trampolines.

Seeing the absurd or the silly in the midst of toil makes the burden so much lighter, and will help you and your characters manage the problems that drop into your laps.

Chaos, conflict, and challenge are the life-blood of stories, and no one wants to watch you (or your characters) wither under these pressures. There will always be critics. There will always be hard choices, fear, famine, pain and heartbreak. Gallows humor grants the strength to go on, and hard work finds the way out. These are both your strongest assets, and most endearing qualities. They make each character an invaluable asset to every team, squad, club, order and cult. People like this are great fun to watch, and a joy to adventure with.

Strip away everything that your characters ever needed or cherished. If they have these two things, they will be unstoppable. So will you.

Miss Tick sniffed. “You could say this advice is priceless,” she said, “Are you listening?”
“Yes,” said Tiffany.
“Good. Now…if you trust in yourself…”
“Yes?”
“…and believe in your dreams…”
“Yes?”
“…and follow your star…” Miss Tick went on.
“Yes?”
“…you’ll still be beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy. Goodbye.”
― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men (Discworld, #30)

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Beats: Creating Harmony and Contrast in a Scene

Yesterday was a series of moments in contrast for me. It went from heartening to despair, then to hope, to annoyance in the course of a few hours.

Good
Bad
Good
Bad
Tick-tock

There are lots of spiritual paths that insist a price must be paid for good experiences, and that we must suffer through bad experiences in order to be worthy or appreciative of a good one in the end. Perhaps by experiencing joy we have a better sense of what anger does to us, and vice versa. Life, like stories, is broken up into beats.

In terms of writing, a beat is a unit of a scene. Each beat involves an exchange between characters, or characters and environment, where the action/reaction/revelation advances the story and shapes the scene.

Harmony and contrast, remember? No objects are beautiful or ugly in and of themselves, and no moment is horrible or hilarious in and of itself. A perfect moment is the culmination of everything around it – a love-child of circumstance and context.

Breaking up your tone helps each moment become clearer and more poignant. A slow, harmonious crescendo, (surprise, serenity, romance, tragedy) can sneak your readers into an emotional state; whereas conflicting beats (horror, humor, horror, humor) can make two opposite feelings play off each other for catharsis.

These contrasts are just as important as conflict in terms of moving a story along. Each beat is a chance to show off a different facet of a character or relationship. A beat can be a shout. It can be a the shift of a hand, a murder, or even silence. When you use many beats to say the same thing, your pacing slows down and focuses in on a single moment. When you use each beat for a different purpose (he said, she said, he gasped, she exploded) it ramps up your pacing to full-throttle.

And what would humans be without love?”
RARE, said Death.”
― Terry Pratchett

Darth Vader: Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Luke Skywalker: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
Darth Vader: No. I am your father.
Luke Skywalker: No… that’s not true! That’s impossible!
― George Lucas

 

AeJi du pissenlit

Birds of a Feather Sometimes Despise Each Other

sharpie

“What? You said we must bring a sharpie to class!”

Sometimes while looking for a community or mentor, you strike gold. Other times, our fellow writers can be as alienating as the most soulless corporate setting.

Toward the end of my college career, I decided to take a writing class which was far outside my major. The class was described as a place where Writers (published, fancy, mentor-types) would talk to us about writing. They would discuss the process of writing, works they’ve produced, and so forth.

Yes! I thought to myself. A writing class! I can always learn new things! O joy! O rapture!

It was not that.

On the first day of class, three-hundred would-be writers stuffed themselves into a lecture hall to listen to the prof review the syllabus. So far, so good. Certain phrases wafted up to me like sewer fumes.

“Your assignment is to fall in love with a novel this quarter [from a prescribed list].”

Oh no.

Then the prof read four poems to us. Four poems she wrote. She read them at a slow cadence, rising and falling with practiced gravity. They were… not good. She poured her lexicon down over our heads, filling our lungs with artistic sludge, and I knew I was going to suffocate. Flailing did no good. Her premise was too thin to swim through. I’m going to die, I thought. I’m going to drown in bombastic overwrought remembrances of “the parlour games of Tolstoy as a nine-year-old boy.”

We must have been darling indeed, for her to murder us on the first day.

After the intellectual water-boarding, she asked us if there are any questions.

I asked if we’re going to talk about the business side of writing. How do we find an agent? How do we get published? She said that there’s no money in poetry, and I bit back the urge to say, “I can see why!” or “that’s not what I asked you.”

She suggested asking our guest speakers those kinds of questions, and assigned us to “discover a haunting, arresting moment, and write it down in your journal. Nothing really developed, not a full idea, just the seeds of a notion.”

We also had to memorize three poems [from a prescribed list].

Continuing in the angry vein, we went on to do ice-breakers in small groups. With a partner, write your name, year, and major on an index card. On the back, write two reasons you think writing is important. I wrote:

  1. Writing is an important outlet so that you don’t pick up a tire-iron and brain someone.
  2. It is a document to prove that we were here.

Reason #1 is Lewis Black’s explanation for why there’s no such thing as bad language. Reason #2 is a line from the Assemblage 23 song, “Document.”

The only person who laughed at the tire-iron joke was my partner, and she thought my name was Whitney. My name sounds as close to “Whitney” as the name “Katie” sounds like “Azerbaijan.”

“What?” I said to my classmate.

“I don’t know! I told you I’m not good with names!” said my classmate.

“Do you prefer to be called Whitney?” asked the teacher, confused.

“No, my name is not Whitney. I have no idea where she got that from.” I said.

She also didn’t know what year I was. Or what my major was. These were one-word answers that I gave her not two minutes beforehand. They were also written down, plain as day, on the index card sitting on our desk.

Sometimes you won’t fit in. That’s ok. Don’t give up. Your people are out there.