This is an area where I'll post thoughts on writing, tropes analyses, books I've read recently, etc. It's mostly just my writing toolbox!

Writing as a conversation

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As a writer, I sometimes ask myself why I am writing. What am I hoping to achieve, knowing that there are so many beautiful, meaningful books already out there?

When I asked this question a couple of years ago to one of my writing tutors, I phrased it this way: “When there are people like Arundhati Roy writing fiction, why should I write anything?” (I had recently read The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, and had been stumped by how beautiful and harrowing it was.) To which my tutor answered, “Because Arundhati Roy could have thought the same thing, and the world would have been poorer.” Read the full post here.

High stakes, low stakes

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When writing, it is of course important to keep the reader engaged. For that reason, a question you will often hear editors ask is: “What’s at stake?” What is there to lose, what is there to gain, and why should the reader care? Stakes are what carry the story forward; they help build tension and keep the reader turning pages.

It is easy to assume that high stakes in SFF have to mean the kingdom, realm, planet or universe are at risk, and that personal stakes, such as relationships being fraught, are low stakes which will not serve the tension. Read the full post here.

Cultural worldbuilding

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There is a writing trope called “The Planet of Hats” in which each member of an SFF culture wears the same “Hat” or shares the same characteristic. All the elves are playful, all the dwarves are drunkards, all the trolls are violent, etc. This trope is usually used pejoratively, to indicate poorly crafted worldbuilding.

 

I wanted to have a think today as to how to avoid falling into that trope, and how to create rich, diverse and believable cultures, whether they live on other planets or in an alternative fantasy world. Read the full post here.

The Evil Mentor

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Ah, the mentor. They’re such a useful character in fiction. They explain the magic system to the main character – clarifying the worldbuilding for the reader – and they show off cool powers whilst teaching the main character to grow. And then, when things get tough, they die. It’s easy to find a mentor in nearly all coming-of-age stories, especially those with a complicated magic system which requires lots of exposition.

Unfortunately, because they’re so useful, and so plot-driven, mentors tend to have very similar arcs. Which is why the evil mentor trope offers such new, interesting possibilities. Read the full post here.

Animals in fiction

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Thoughts on flashbacks

​Animals are a common occurrence in literature. So much so that I will not attempt to list them all, as Wikipedia has already done so for me. (Yes, that is a non-exhaustive list of all animals in fiction. It includes famous fictional dogs, badgers and worms.) In fantasy settings, animals often have important roles. Horses, especially, tend to feature heavily, from Shadowfax galloping across Middle-earth and the warhorses jousting in A Song of Ice and Fire, to Death’s horse in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, Binky.

So today, let’s speak about animals in fiction.

Read the full post here.

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Flashbacks are not fashionable. If you’ve read any writing advice, or agents telling you what they’re looking for, a constant seems to be to avoid flashbacks. But if you change writing ground and head towards what people call ‘literary’ fiction (we can debate what, if anything, that word means another time) you find lots of flashbacks, hidden under the fancy name ‘anachrony’. In short, a story which isn’t told in the order in which it happens.

I am actually a big fan of flashbacks. Here’s why I love them: they help pace the story. Read the full post here.