>Being Terry Pratchett


I was recently drawn in to a discussion on a Livejournal conference for writers about what writers should read. Because it ties in – somewhat – with what I wrote about the week before last, I thought I would pursue that thought.
Of course for me the answer to what I should read is “everything.” At least, it’s not so much like I’ve been given a choice. As Heinlein put it – if I recall correctly in Glory Road – I have an addiction. It’s more expensive than cocaine and just as debilitating.
I have read every genre of fiction and known fiction known to man, and some that are probably not known even to women, I’ve read in the rain, I have read in the train, I’ve never read with a goat in a moat, but I’m sure it will eventually happen. By preference I read SF/F, unless I’m fried when I read mystery, or want to cheer myself up, when I read romance. When I’m stressed I become unable to read fiction – something about the emotions is too much for me – so I read history books or books on biology and paleontology. If I’m stressed AND sick (a disgusting combination) even those books become too exciting for me, and I read the sort of classification manuals and books that are so dry they could suck the moisture of the world’s oceans. When I had pneumonia I got hold of early twentieth century biology manuals and read them serially. In a pinch I read instructions for tools I don’t own and never plant to use, or the copy in the back of paint sample cards.
So to me the question of whether I should read great literature or genre or “trashy” fiction – a definition that changes with the person speaking – is meaningless. If I’m not writing, you’ll find me with something printed in my hand or, if the activity precludes it (do you know how many books I’ve ruined with floor wax?) with a book on tape going in the back.

However in this discussion people were talking about whether it was possible – or worth it – to imitate another author’s style. And whether one would write what one read.

This to me is not a null program. I mean, I think one can, and I probably could do it for a short story, as an homage. To some extent I stole “markers” of Dumas’ style for my musketeer’s series because – duh – it seemed needed. However it never occurred to me I could write like Dumas or even that this would be – at any level – desirable.

But over time? No. Even my Musketeer Mysteries are not Dumas. Nor did I make any attempt to make them so, beyond some funny touches and some general character descriptions. The world has changed and Dumas is simply not appropriate now. The characters that you can get lost in even with a trail of breadcrumbs are very much mine. As are a lot of the turns of decision that Dumas would probably be sickened by.
Bradbury was mentioned – though not Pratchett – and the mention of him made me think of Pratchett because I think those two are the writers more people have tried to imitate and failed than any other writers in fantastic fiction. And they are two writers that are impossible to imitate, which means that the literary field is strewn with the “corpses” of would be imitators.
And what is it about these two men that is so hard to imitate? Well… it’s not the style so much. Or the plots. Or even the characters. It’s their own personality that they infuse the words and the characters and the plot with. The two men – very different – are successful because they have mastered the art of creating worlds that are, in some essential way part of themselves. Take apart that link, cut that umbilical cord and all you have is an excess of words or some empty jokes.
So what does this all mean? I don’t know. With two notable exceptions – done as favors, and neither to see the light of day – I never wrote anything that didn’t have a very deep spring inside myself. Even works that started as something-to-do when nothing else was in the horizon – the mystery I just finished, done to fulfill a contract, Plain Jane done so I could do Kathryn Howard eventually – before I could finish them I made them mine.
Does this mean I’ll be as successful as Pratchett or Bradbury? Well… I lack one’s broad and generous knowledge of the world and humanity and other’s poetic grace. And for now the answer seems to be “no.” However, as I said, I’m reading everything and I’m working very hard, and someday, perhaps I can learn hot to translate the shining internal vision to words in a way that doesn’t make it dead and colorless. It will of course involve conquering the fear of that living thing beating within my mind.

It’s something to aim for.

One comment

Comments are closed.