Saturday, 6 August 2011


Sir Terry Pratchett
  “My job is to make things up, and the best way to make things up is to make them out of real things…”  Terry Pratchett.
          I love Terry Pratchett’s books.  I’ve probably read them all, often several times.  One of the things I love most about his stories is their exuberant inventiveness and imagination  – yet here he is, in his note for I Shall Wear Midnight, saying that he ‘makes them up out of real things’.
          And I love him even more for saying this, because it’s exactly what I think myself.
          Diana Wynne-Jones – another writer I greatly admire – had fun in her ‘Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ with ‘made-up’ worlds populated entirely by heroes and sorcerers, who never wonder how food gets on their plates, or who rears the animals to provide the leather for their jerkins.
Diana Wynne Jones
          It’s a salutary lesson for us fantasy writers, but I doubt that Pratchett ever needed it.  His Discworld is full of farmers, blacksmiths, shop-keepers, cart-drivers and purveyors of dodgy sausages.  The Unseen University has cooks, a housekeeper and maids, besides wizards.  (A librarian too.) 
          One of his greatest creations, Granny Weatherwax – as courageous, strong and honourable as any sword-waving hero – is an old lady who spends much of her time tending to her goats and bees, and to all the aches, pains, expectant mothers and petty squabbles in her village.  Only rarely, in her spare time, does she bother to save the world.
           Pratchett never forgets that heroic fights with dragons and magic-wars don’t interest most of his Discworld population, who simply want to make a quiet living.  As a result, his comic world is far more convincing and solid than that of most ‘heroic fantasy’.
          In my own writing, I never make anything up without taking a firm grip on the closest reality I can find to it.  I have greater confidence in my creation if I can say to myself: ‘Real people really did or thought this.’  If I’m convinced by my writing, then hopefully others will be.
The Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price
          Real experience is also hard to beat.  I learned to ride while writing the Sterkarms, so I could write with more conviction about living with horses.  I’ve lived for days by candelight, so I could better describe what that was like.  I’ve scrambled and tramped over rough country, and so, when I describe my characters doing it, I know not to have them strolling over wild moorland with hands in pockets as if it was a park.
          I try hard to remember that, although adventures you read about take place weightlessly in your imagination, most of the things being described take real physical effort.  Helmets are heavy: so are swords and shields.  Longbows take effort to draw – and if the string hits your arm, it hurts – a lot!  Horses are big, solid, hot and sweaty – peat bogs can suck off your boots.  Readers can’t see, touch, hear or smell the things you describe; but given a few details, they imagine all the better.
           ‘The best way to make things up is to make them out of real things…”  Pratchett is a great writer; and this is great advice.
          Oh - and I support his campaign for assisted dying too. Not only a great writer, but a wise, compassionate man.

And he-e-e-re's Blot!

Find more Blott at
Susan Price also blogs at Kindle Authors UK
Susan Price is also one of the reviewers on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure


madwippitt said...

Wise words indeed, and two of my favourite authors ...

Love The Blot(t) - sounds like a really terrific book there, although it might be improved slightly by ditching the spaniel breeder and replacing him with a wippitt breeder instead ... remember the wisdom of TP - these small details are so important ...

Susan Price said...

I'll try to get Blot(t) to see it your way, but y'know - he's only a cat. Or chooses to manifest as one.

Book Maven said...

I love Terry Pratchett, Diana Wynne Jones, Blott and Susan Price. That's all.

madwippitt said...

Is it possible to persuade either a cat or a muse to do anything? Let alone a cat muse?
I meant to say earlier that I like your new page design. That's a very luxuriant red!

Leslie Wilson said...

Keep it with the spaniel breeder, Sue! Matilda Wilson (a cocker) thinks that is a very good idea. And Blott is soo cool, I love him. I do so agree about the provenance of food, etc, something CS Lewis seems to completely ignore, bless him. I do agree, too, about KNOWING what you write about - though I draw the line at travelling to some part of the world where I can be in an air-raid.

Anonymous said...

Haha, I actually think that Blot may be onto something with that plot (maybe more of a film than a book though..!)
I completely agree with Terry Pratchett (and you). The one thing that seems to make readers scared is when you write about something that frightens you yourself. You can't expect a reader to believe in your universe if you don't believe in it completely yourself. It makes me think again of films - when the villains can never shoot straight and the heros never have to reload their guns. So much more engaging when characters actually have to stop for a little rest and a sit-down!