Monday, November 5

More Writing Advice From Jim Butcher

More Writing Advice From Jim Butcher

Serack from over at Jim Butcher's Forums emailed me with a couple of great links I'd omitted from my Jim Butcher On Writing compendium post. Thanks Serack!

Jim Butcher's Interview With The Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop

I bring this up because one of the links Sarack shared with me was to an interview conducted by the fine folks over at Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop and is one of the best interviews on the fine art of writing I've read.

This being NaNoWriMo, and this being a blog about (at least in part) how to write well--or at least how to write better--I wanted to post two of Jim Butcher's answers:

The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword

Do you have a particular method for creating characters? Or do they just spring into your head fully formed and take over from there?

It varies based on the character. Dresden himself was created really, really artificially. When I was putting the character together, I was doing so based on a worksheet in a class I was taking at University of Oklahoma called “Writing the Genre Fiction Novel.” I had been disagreeing with my teacher for a long time about how good books were put together. I’d taken her courses for several years, and finally one semester I just said, “I’m just gonna be your good little writer-zombie, and you’re going to see what terrible things happen.” That was the semester I wrote the first book of the Dresden Files.

Dresden himself was put together from Sherlock Holmes and Gandalf and others; I listed the sort of things that could be expected from Merlin, Gandalf, various wizard figures in various books. I did the same thing with the hard-boiled private-eye recurring characters and tried to draw the traits that I saw most frequently in those characters.

One of the most interesting things I realized along the way: the private eye and the wizard almost always serve the exact same purpose in the story. They’re not so much there to lay into the action scenes left and right; what really makes them vital to the story’s progress is what they can learn, and the kind of places they wind up going, whether they’re going into a metaphorical underworld like the undertown of Chicago’s mob scene, or whether they’re going into the literal underworld like Moria. The wizard/private eye characters go into these dark places to find out what they need to know. Gandalf wasn’t devastating to the Dark Lord because he showed up and beat up his minions. What made him dangerous was that he was riding around to talk to people and researching in all the libraries and finding out that the trinket that his buddy had was the One Ring.
With Harry Dresden being put together from the likes of Sherlock Holmes and Gandalf, how could we not love him? I'm guessing I'm not the only person who wants to take that course, Writing the Genre Fiction Novel!

I had an "ah-ha!" moment when I read Jim Butcher's answer. The hero, even kick-ass heroes like Gandalf and Harry Dresden, take the chances they do, explore the various 'underbellies of society', NOT primarily to get into fights and show everyone how tough they are, they go into these dark, dangerous, places because they need information. They need to find out "what they need to know". That's how, ultimately, the hero gets the upper hand.

Cause And Reaction, Reaction And Response

You wrote four unpublished novels before the first Dresden book, and they’ve remained unpublished. Where do you think those early works went astray?

“Where didn’t they go astray?” is the better question. [...]
[. . . .]
One of the very basic building blocks of writing a good story, an action scene, or a paragraph is you have to show cause and reaction, reaction and response. That’s a kind of a process that doesn’t just exist on a sentence to sentence level and a paragraph to paragraph level, but happens within the greater structure of the story. One of the things that permeates writing completely.

When a character does something in one book and it has an effect that comes out later, that’s one of the things that creates a greater sense of verisimilitude in your fantasy world. Plus, it’s great to not see characters acting in a vacuum. When they make a choice, it has an effect that comes back to haunt hem later on, and that’s one of those things that lends a greater sense of purpose to your storytelling. The reader goes, “Oh my gosh, this is an actual world,” and now they have to wonder about every choice a character makes and how that will also come into play. [Emphasis mine]
"Cause and reaction, reaction and response." I talked about that in detail in the post:  Making A Scene: Using Conflicts And Setbacks To Create Narrative Drive.


One thing I haven't blogged about yet (but should) is sequels. I think the topic deserves a post of it's own, but, briefly, Jim Butcher teaches it's the SEQUEL that that helps endear your characters to your readers. Jim writes:
[Y]ou've got to win them [your readers] over to your character's point of view. You've got to establish some kind of basic emotional connection, an empathy for your character. It needn't be deep seated agreement with everything the character says and does--but they DO need to be able to UNDERSTAND what your character is thinking and feeling, and to understand WHY they are doing whatever (probably outrageous) thing you've got them doing.
Great article! You can read the rest of Jim's advice here: Sequels.

Best of luck with NaNo! :-)

Other articles you might like:
- NaNoWriMo: A Survival Guide
- How To Write 10,000 Words A Day
- Amazon Reviews Are Disappearing

Photo credit: "Arches National Park, Moab Utah" by ianmalcm under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

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