Archives - 2021 Articles
Sometimes people around us can see much more clearly into our work than ourselves. When I was working on The Collarbound, I remember not really knowing, at first, what I was trying to say, exactly, why I was so absorbed with these characters. After reading a first draft, my partner said it was obvious why this story was close to my heart. “Of course you wrote it. None of these characters belong.”
And it’s true – the main characters are all uprooted, with mixed identities. In retrospect, it makes sense why I wrote a story of not-belonging. Read the full post here.
Reading an Author
I discovered Butler about a year ago, with the Xenogenesis series. It had been a long time since I’d read an author and felt the urge, the need, to read everything they’d ever written. Reading an author extensively, from their juvenilia up to their most recent works, gives the reader an understanding of how their writing changed through time, what themes they were always interested in, and helps the reader become closer to the author as you get to know them and establish a deeper connection.
Today I’d like to talk about two authors whom I feel deeply connected to: Kazuo Ishiguro and Octavia Butler. Read the full post here.
Writing is rife with tropes. Fantasy writing, especially, can sometimes feel too tropey – another Medieval setting, vaguely European, with princesses and castles and kingdoms and curses, elven fairy-like creatures, short, grumpy dwarf-like creatures, we’ve heard it all before.
Of course, some fantasy books avoid these tropes. And some, although they rely on them, use them in innovative ways. So, what is the difference between succumbing to a trope and using a trope for the story’s benefit? How can writers use tropes in a conscious way, to enhance their writing? Read the full post here.
Structural violence in fiction
In a world where a lot of inequalities are structural, the violence which damages and destroys people’s lives can be invisible to those benefitting from it, or at least invisible to the areas of society not directly exposed to it. For that reason, being able to represent this structural violence successfully in fiction is hugely important. Today, I’d like to explore how economical violence is portrayed in pieces of art, and how physical violence often becomes the only outlet to structural, economical pressures.
To discuss this, I thought I’d draw a parallel between Lullaby by Leila Slimani (novel) and Parasite by Bong Joon-ho (film). Read the full post here.
The Lancer is the name of a character who serves as a foil for the main character (MC). According to TV Tropes, the name originates from knights of lesser status who fought beside one of their superiors (wielding, surprise surprise, a lance). The Lancer is a common trope: think about the snarky, grittier, often deadpan character standing beside the hero and handing them their lines.
This character can be used in a number of interesting ways.Read the full post here.
What makes a villain likeable? Why are some villains remembered, admired, reimagined, kept dear in the heart of readers, sometimes to the point of overshadowing the main character – and why are some forgettable? Of course, up to a point, it comes down to good writing. A poorly drawn character will not stay with the reader. Antagonists are vulnerable to being poorly written, because they have a very simple role to fulfil in the story: be evil. Once they’ve been evil and been defeated, they have very little else to do.
However, we sometimes love villains, not despite their villainy, but because of it. Read the full post here.
Writing as a conversation
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.