Skip to content →

FAQ 29oct12

FAQ category.

ponyenglish asked: Would you ever want to write an episode for Doctor Who? I often think about it what it might be like.

I get asked this a surprising amount.  Here’s why I don’t think about what it might be like.  One writes for DOCTOR WHO by invitation.  To be invited, one must either be an extremely well-regarded, trained and qualified television writer known to the showrunner, or Neil Gaiman, who is a previous television writer and also Neil Gaiman.  This is because it is an very important and intensive show that doesn’t have time or money for on-the-job training or second-division writers.  So it doesn’t matter if I would ever want to write an episode of DOCTOR WHO, because I never will. 

urlnamegoeshere asked: Firstly, Transmetropolitan is my favorite book/narrative/comic by a long margin, so thanks very much to you and Mr Robertson. My question regards writing style- when I write I seem to unconsciously pattern myself on writers I like. Content and plots and ideas are all easy enough to hammer out, but finding my own voice (as inherently wanky as that sounds) is very much a struggle. How did you in about finding yours? My back-up question is what is your favorite kind of delicious baked good?

I try to avoid delicious baked goods, because I already weigh eight hundred pounds and have to wedge a unicycle under my gut just so I can move around like a normal person.

Stephen King has this adage about voice, which goes something like: “open milk always takes on the flavour of whatever else is in the fridge.”  I’m mangling that, but it gets the sense across.  His example was that if he reads too much Harlan Ellison, he starts writing like Harlan Ellison, not least because Ellison is a strong flavour.

The trick, perhaps, is to work out what it is that you like so much about your favourite writers — pick apart their work, find out how they achieve their effects — and take the things that feel most comfortable to you, and the things that you think will help you say what you want to say.  Because “voice” starts with deciding what you want to say in your fiction.  The things you really want to talk about.  What makes you angry?  What things do you want to explain your love for?  How do you see relationships working?  How should the world be?  Answer these questions for yourself — or write fiction in which you can discover these answers for yourself — using the tools that look useful from your favourite writers — and you should be on your way to finding your own voice.

Also? An imperfect trick, but one perhaps worth trying: read your own work aloud.  Does it sound like you talking, or you doing an impression of someone else?  If the latter, bring it back to the sound of you talking.


differentdoorknobs asked: I was wondering if you had any advice regarding making ideas more important. I have pages of different events + characters that I can only develop so far because, after a time, all I can add to them are "WHO CARES?" and "WHY DOES THIS MATTER?" (I’m talking about events characters will go through. "Statues come to life all around Greece" is immediately followed by "WHO GIVES A FUCK?") Does this ever happen to you? Thank you very much for your time, and sorry if you’ve answered a similar question!

Ungh.  This is a really tough one.  There are two ways, maybe, to attack this.

1) One way of doing it, and this works okay for standard dramatic storytelling, is this: what do your characters WANT?  The secondary questions are, what stops them from getting what they want, and how far are they prepared to go to get what they want?  But start with the simple first question.  What your character wants defines how we perceive and feel about them in the story.  Find one thing they want, and see how that feels to you.

2) From a certain view, stories are two things.  There’s what the story’s about, and what the story’s REALLY about.  Wells’ WAR OF THE WORLDS is about a Martian invasion of Earth.  But it’s REALLY about something else entirely.  There’s a subtext: there’s the thing Wells wrote the story toactually talk about.  What you may be encountering is having a story that’s all surface, or a story with a subtext that isn’t working out for you.  Find out what you really want to say with your fiction.  If it matters to YOU, it’ll matter to other people.

This is all a bit clumsy and off the cuff, but maybe something in there will give you something to think about.  I hope so.

Published in mobilesignals

One Comment

  1. […] Neolithic expansions of people in several parts of the world starting 10 thousand years ago. –  Warren Ellis FAQ featuring some interesting writing questions.  Such as: I was wondering if you had any advice […]

Comments are closed.