Monday, October 10, 2016

Your Writing’s Derivative? Good. You’re Halfway There

A year or so back, there was a young German authoress who decided since there were no original stories to be told any more, she’d write a novel consisting of plagiarized bits of other peoples’ books. I’d say her philosophy backfired since I never heard of her again, but I don’t get out much. Maybe she’s plagiarized more successfully since then.

But something that’s been on the backburner since I read her story has come to the fore as I randomly picked up Terry Pratchett’s “Equal Rites” this week for a toilet read:

Pratchett’s early works were merely derivative until he found his voice. Once found, the voice made Pratchett’s reputation.

The voice is there, though putative, in Rites, in the little asides and flourishes that embellish this rather standard fantasy story of a wizard born a little girl who has to struggle to master not only her powers but the matriarchy/patriarchy that would educate her. Or not. You can see Pratchett experimenting with things. And once they come full bloom, Pratchett became Pratchett.

So what do I mean by Pratchett’s voice?

Little things, like this:

Eventually Granny crawled out from behind the table and crept as closely as she dared to the hold, which was still surrounded by a crust of lava. She jerked back as another cloud of superheated steam mushroomed up.

“They say there’s dwarf mines under the Ramptops,” she said inconsequentially. “My, but them little buggers is in for a surprise.”

She prodded the little puddle of cooling iron where the kettle had been, and added, “Shame about the fireback. It had owls on it, you know.”

This is all typical stuff, aftermath of an apprentice wizard’s experimentation with fire, until you get to the aside about the fireback. Pratchett uses that as a final wind-down to bring us back to the “normal” of the story he’s telling.

These are what makes a Pratchett story a Pratchett story. Once he saw reader reaction to the asides, they came to be his trademark, and made derivative stories told in a new way the Pratchett trademark. There’s the originality that Miss German Plagiarist says doesn’t exist anymore.

Why am I babbling about this?

Maybe to show that it’s important to master genre before matching voice? Or exploring voice through matching genre? Or extrapolating voice to genre once that strong voice is discovered? Probably a mixture of all three, but I think the third is most important. Which goes back to the old saw: Want to be a writer? Then ya gotta write. Lots.

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