A friend recently asked me what book(s) I would “un-read” if I could, to get to discover them all over again. This is one of them: Going Postal by Terry Pratchett. (Yes, it might be time to invest in a new copy. 😉 )
As you can see, I’ve read this book a lot. A serious lot. I’m not sure exactly how many times, but it came out in 2004, and I think I first read it in 2007, and it’s probably been once every couple of years on average since then. I would love to be able to read it again with new eyes: I remember how much fun it was to get lost in the story for the first time. At the same time, it’s one of those books where you notice something new with every repeat visit.
Pratchett is one of my great writing heroes. I’ve read all of the Discworld books, most of them many times. I have a bookcase of which two shelves are nothing but Pratchett. A friend introduced me to his writing about twenty years ago now, and I quickly got hold of everything I could find. At first, I read them just because they were fabulous stories and I loved getting lost in them. When I started learning about writing craft, it became something a little different.
When I’m reading, sometimes I’m “just” reading to experience a story. Other times, I try to read like a writer. What is this author doing? What makes the story tick? I try to get inside the magic and deconstruct it a little. It never hurts to study someone else’s tricks.
I started studying writing craft around the same time I first read Going Postal, back in 2007. When I tried to read Pratchett like a writer, I gave up pretty fast. There’s just so much to it. Such a brilliantly multifaceted fictional world. So many characters, all of whom you get to know over the course of one book or several. Plotlines that are never a single line, but a bunch of them interwoven and masterfully spun out. As you read, events unfold before you can begin to figure out where they came from or how Pratchett got there: and they work, every single time.
After ten years or so of learning about writing, I got to the point where I could look at his YA series, Wee Free Men and its sequels, and start to understand what he was doing in each of those books. They were a little less complicated.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around the others. Every so often, I go on a Pratchett kick where I re-read a bunch of the Discworld books. I seem to be starting one of those now. As I read, I keep trying to get a handle on how he does what he does, how he creates these amazingly complex puzzles in such a relatively tight space…and I keep losing track of the intricate craft in the sheer delight of the storytelling. I don’t know if I’ll ever really manage to deconstruct them. I wish I could see an early draft of Going Postal, or any of them really, to compare to the published version. Maybe that would help. (It would also help a lot to know that even he had to fix things along the way!)
Meanwhile, his work is a big touchstone in my library. Though I write fantasy too, it’s very different from his, but his work always challenges me to think about how I can be more precise, more specific; how I can do multiple layers of work in a single scene; how I can bring in threads of plot and have them work together without getting lost in endless verbiage. I don’t know much about how he creates his magic, but I can see a little of it. It gives me something to aim for.
If you’re already a Pratchett fan, you probably know what the title of this post is about. 🙂 If he’s new to you, and you’re curious, read Going Postal. The answer is there, and more importantly, you’ll be glad you did.
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