Tricks Of The Trade

“More than half the skill of writing lies in tricking the book out of your head.” – Terry Pratchett

I’ve been reading through A Slip of the Keyboard as of late, which is a collection of Terry Pratchett’s non-fiction writing. It’s interesting to read thoughts on writing from someone whom I’ve never read before. It feels to me like there was a time when I probably would’ve devoured his entire catalog, but I somehow missed the moment and have spent a bunch of time now dancing around his books. HIs work has been very important to several of the authors I’ve been reading the last couple years, but it’s like we’ve played phone tag this whole time or something.

At any rate, A Slip of the Keyboard. It’s quite good and chock full of humor that ranges from cheeky to full-on wiseass, but it’s written by a Brit, so even at its most snarky, Terry’s writing has a certain dignity. I have no idea how the British pull this off, but I feel it borders on a superpower. Maybe it’s just me.

All right, so it’s obvious that I won’t be able to rationally get to the book in any kind of timely manner, so let’s just focus on the quote above, shall we? Fine. He’s right. Thank you for coming to my TedTalk.

More? Okay. I feel Pratchett’s ideas about writing line up neatly with what Stephen King had to say in his book On Writing – that stories are really fossils hidden inside our minds that only need us to uncover them in a careful, deliberate way. Sometimes, that involves being extraordinarily careful with a small brush and a set of fine pick tools. Other times, it involves dynamite and the type of “careful” that sometimes leads to missing fingers or toes. Don’t think that’s careful? Damned lucky, because it could’ve been the whole foot or hand, right?

In mulling this idea over, it seems to me that it’s not exactly the content of the story but the shape of the story itself that’s the fossil. It’s the skeleton that you unearth along the way on which everything else has to hang – the meat and organs and skin of the thing. And I do believe that trickery is involved at times – that not all stories want to jump out into the spotlight. Some stories seem to be extroverts and some want to sit quietly in the corner until someone draws them slowly and gently into a conversation. Neither one is righter than the other, they just are.

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