Tuesday 2 July 2019

break it down...

As I mentioned the other day, I've been watching a series of lectures Brandon Sanderson* gave at BYU on creative writing. They're freely available on YouTube and they start here. I was aware of Sanderson, mostly because he finished off the Wheel of Time books after Robert Jordan died, but I haven't read any of his books myself. Given that I almost died of boredom about four or five books into the Wheel of Time, I doubt I'll get far enough to see how he managed to bring it all to a conclusion, but I'm reliably informed that he did a pretty good job of it.

I didn't really have any preconceptions going into the lectures. In theory, they are targeted towards would-be writers of fantasy and science-fiction -- there's one lecture entirely on building magic systems, for example. I enjoy reading in this genre very much, but I'm not sure that this will be a focus of my writing. Maybe a little, as I suppose there will be magical elements, but I don't think I'm likely to be attempting the sort of traditional high, epic fantasy of the type that Sanderson writes. Still, I'd heard that these lectures were supposed to be really good, and as I have time on my hands, I thought I'd give them a go.  I'm considering signing up for the Masterclass website for some more tutorials, including one by Neil Gaiman, but these lectures are free so seemed like a good place to start before I put my hand in my pocket.

They've been excellent.

Each one is roughly an hour long and deals with a nuts and bolts topic like plot, characters or world building. These are all obviously skills that apply to all authors, regardless of genre and I've been picking up useful tools and techniques to use later on.

I've always enjoyed writing, but I've never really thought all that much about the mechanics of writing and I haven't done a great deal of creative writing. These lectures are giving me loads of stuff to think about: an understanding of what makes a character interesting, why you need to make promises to readers and then fulfil them as you go along. Perhaps it all sounds obvious to you, but I'm loving picking up on the mechanics of writing from someone who has obviously made a very successful career out of it.

I still haven't written all that much yet, but I am starting (I think) to sharpen my creative judgment. When watching the second series of Killing Eve, I was quite quickly convinced that they'd blown it. I The first season was so good, and although I was interested enough to watch this one to the end, there was definitely something lacking from this one. As I continued to watch, I was working my way through Sanderson's lectures and trying to think a bit more about what makes a story work. You know what I realised? That Killing Eve was trying to advance the plot in what they hoped was interesting directions, but they had a fundamental problem that they hadn't done enough groundwork with the characters to earn the payoffs they were trying to show us; they hadn't done enough character development or foreshadowing to believably take the story in the direction they did.  I'll stay away from specifics for fear of spoiling it for anyone, but that was my interpretation of it, at least.

I suppose I should probably be cautious now. I have an analytical brain and I need to be careful that I don't get so tied up in the theory that this stops me writing at all.  Or perhaps, if that's the case, I should just become an editor.  Those that can, write. Those that can't, edit.  Or something.


Lest you think I'm spending all of my time listening to lectures in one ear with half an eye on the Cricket World Cup, I've managed to get out of the house today to represent my parkrun at a practice meeting of one of Nottingham's GP practices. They've become a "parkrun practice" and are looking to do a bit of social prescribing by pointing the appropriate patients in the direction of our regular, weekly community 5km. To do this properly, they want to make sure that their own team know what parkrun is, understand the benefits and what it actually feels like, so they wanted us to pop along to encourage their team to get involved. It was nice to escape from my writing dungeon for an hour or so.**

I'm not going to lie to you: a little over three weeks since my last day, today still seemed like a pretty good day not to be at work.


* looking at Sanderson's wiki page, it seems he's younger than me. Bastard.
** not actually a dungeon.

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