Writing by Quotes – Discworld

 

Discworld

I told you the next post today was going to be good, didn’t I? Welcome to the third installment of Writing by Quotes! When I was trying to decide which work of fantasy to focus on today, I considered Warcraft. I know it’s fantasy, but I think it would be nice to focus only on written works (and their movie adaptations) rather than video games. So, today we’ll explore the whimsical world of Discworld!

Let’s just say that if complete and utter chaos was lightning, he’d be the sort to stand on a hilltop in a thunderstorm wearing wet copper armour and shouting ‘All gods are bastards’.

~ The Colour of Magic

This wonderful quote comes from the first installment in the Discworld series. It’s the first one I read and still a great read now. I love this quote because it’s very Monty Python-esque and makes me chuckle each time I read it. If we applied it to writing, I think the major piece of advice to take from it would be to think of this when you’re writing characters. Sometimes, characters do stupid things. Really stupid things. Usually it’s just a part of their personality, but other times it’ll be the author’s fault. If your character taunts gods and evil guys without a care for his safety, he should get obliterated. Be careful what your protagonist does…

Demons have existed on the Discworld for at least as long as the gods, who in many ways they closely resemble. The difference is basically the same as between terrorists and freedom fighters.

~ Eric

This same comparison can be applied to protagonists and antagonists (good ones, anyway). It’s good to paint characters in shades of grey and make the reader question who’s got the moral high ground and who hasn’t. If characters are falling a little flat and lacking depth, add a bit of uncertainty and make them question their own actions.

Death

‘You know me,’ said Rincewind. ‘Just when I’m getting a grip on something Fate comes along and jumps on my fingers.’

~ Interesting Times

A brilliant quote which explains what we as writers do to our protagonists to keep things interesting. If the goal is too easily achieved, we lose interest, don’t we? Make it difficult–make it brutal, even–and the readers will thank you for it even if your characters don’t.

Librarian

‘Look out of the window. Tell me what you see.’
‘Fog,’ said the Chief Priest.
Vetinari sighed. Sometimes the weather had no sense of narrative convenience.

~ The Truth

I have to say, I love this. It reminds us as writers that the world carries on around your characters when they’re going about their business. Things shouldn’t just work out perfectly all the time. Maybe your characters are going to have a walk under a clear, starry sky? Well, maybe that night there’s a storm and the characters have to find shelter instead. There might even be a greater opportunity for development in such a situation. Think about it.

‘In a world where we all move in curves he proceeds in a straight line. And going straight in a world of curves makes things happen.’

~ Night Watch

Why write a meandering, round-the-houses story, when you can get straight to the point and whack your reader in the face with a tonne of action, mystery and intrigue? Just imagine how much quicker you can write and how much better it could be if you head in a straight line? I’m not saying you should cut corners, but you can always stand to streamline the way you write.

Writing by Quotes – Conan the Barbarian

 

Conan Picture

I’ve been promising another Writing by Quotes article for quite some time. It seemed to be a popular feature and I’m glad to indulge you. Today, I’m going to be pulling quotes from the Conan books and films and explore how the quotes can also relate to writing. Wish me luck, here we go!

Conan: You have a name?
Tamara: Tamara Amalia Jorvi-Karashan. And yours?
Conan: Conan.
Tamara: [pause] Conan… that’s it?
Conan: How many names do I need?

~ Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Let’s start with a simple one. This quote was crying out to be included in this article. Simply put, it’s talking about names."Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-... You’ve all seen those ridiculous fantasy names before and you’ve heard all sorts of advice as to whether you should invent surnames or titles for your characters. I say, it depends on the character you’re writing. Conan is the best example of a character with only one name: Conan. It just works so well and it’s all you need.

“You cannot escape me!” he roared. “Lead me into a trap and I’ll pile the heads of your kinsmen at your feet! Hide from me and I’ll tear apart the mountains to find you! I’ll follow you to hell!”

~ The Coming of Conan (1953)

This is the attitude you need to take towards your plot as you are writing. Plots can be devious things and they can easily catch you off-guard when you least expect it. So, if your plot leads you into a trap, pile the heads of its kinsmen at its feet! If it hides from you, tear apart the mountains to find it! In other words, follow it to hell! By the way, if you’re actually running around your house screaming the above quote at your manuscript, I think you need help. Also, my name’s not James, it’s Fred and I live at 123 Fake Street… you nutcase.

King Osric: What daring! What outrageousness! What insolence! What arrogance!… I salute you.

~ Conan the Barbarian (1982)

ConanI couldn’t resist including a quote from the Arnie movies. Some loved them, others hated them. I, personally, loved them. The quote above kind of sums up those early movies. They were doing their own thing with the character of Conan. Maybe they didn’t do it the full justice it deserved, but they certainly have to be saluted for trying. The same goes for writing a novel. Many novels are written with a certain arrogance, daring or outrageousness. People may end up hating them, but if they succeed and people buy them… well, we salute them.

Wits and swords are as straws against the wisdom of the Darkness…

~ The Phoenix on the Sword (1932)

Every story has good and evil, no matter how you dress it up and tell me it’s “grey”. More often that not, the evil in a story can seem far superior, wiser and stronger. Not even a hero’s blade or a wizard’s magic seem to be able to stand against it. However, look at that quote again. What do straws do? They suck stuff up, like a vacuum cleaner. So, when the obvious means of fighting seem useless, look a little closer and see what else you can do. If the Darkness wants to try and defeat an army of deadly straws, I think we all know it’s going to lose. You can take this lesson and apply it to your plot. If the hero’s first line of attack fails, look outside the box and see what else he can do. Surprise yourself and you surprise your reader too.

Expect another of these articles very soon…

As for tomorrow’s post on Fantasy In Motion, I have something really special lined up for you. Check back tomorrow to find out what it is!

Writing by Quotes – Lord of the Rings

LOTR

So, here’s what I hope will be an interesting post (hopefully the first in a series) and something a little different. I’m going to post quotes from the Lord of the Rings and then talk a little about various aspects of writing that the quotes relate to in my mind.

A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to. ~ Gandalf

Now, Gandalf certainly speaks some sense here when it comes to writing. When I write, I think of the characters as all going about their own complicated lives as I am writing a scene for a different character. For instance, when you go into a butcher’s to buy some sausages, you are not a trigger which causes him to suddenly spring into life. Writing fiction is not like watching a play. Characters are not just there to drive the story onwards, they are living, breathing things that act independently of the story and the main character(s). So, getting back to the quote, when you are fitting together a scene, the characters arrive precisely when you mean them to. They are never late or early, at least in terms of your planning, they arrive at the moment that causes the story to progress.

From the ashes, a fire shall be woken. A light from the shadow shall spring. Renewed shall be blade that was broken. The crownless again shall be king. ~ Arwen

This is one of my favourite quotes. It perfectly describes the steps that form a good story. First we start with ashes and shadows. From this, a hero/anti-hero comes forward (fire) and brings a promise of hope and change (light). Next, he/she sets out on their mission and usually has to gather allies/power/experience to help them face the final challenge. This is like forging a broken or incomplete blade. Finally, the world is put to rights and everything is back in a (hopefully) good place.

I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve. ~ Bilbo

This is what readers might find themselves thinking if you, as a writer, fail to handle your characters well. Especially if you’re thinking of becoming the next George R. R. Martin. A badly introduced character is the same as failing to introduce someone at a party. They will mill about aimlessly, perhaps insinuating themselves into a group at some point, but they are ultimately destined to be ignored. It’s exactly the same if you create an unlikable character with no redeeming features. ‘Excuse me everyone, this is Bob and he’s a serial killer who hates parties. Enjoy!’ Make sure the reader can sympathize with some aspect of every character’s personality, or you’re setting yourself up for failure.

He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: it’s springs were at every doorstep and every path was it’s tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.” ~ Frodo

Our final quote can also apply to the way that a plot develops. I’ll twist the quote around for our purposes:

There is only one Story; it is like a great river; it’s springs are every character and every plot thread is it’s tributary. It’s a dangerous business, writing a novel. You start writing, and if you don’t have a plan, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.

What’s the message? Don’t get too caught up with a really cool idea/world before you’ve planned a basic story to go with it. It’s basic hobbit commonsense and far more hobbits survive Sauron’s onslaught than elves or men.

Next time I do this, I’ll choose a different sort of book/movie to quote from and we’ll see how that turns out. Thanks for reading.

~ James