Richard Harland on Writing
Home the Author Ferran Walter Eddon + Vail the Vicar
on Writing


12 Practical Suggestions

#1 Make use of what you experience yourself most intensely. For me: agoraphobia, but also the exhileration of panaromic views; fear of swarming insects, but not fear of spiders; love of green in general and especially light filtering through greenery. What I can create best for other people is what has strong emotional associations in my own life.
#2 I used to think of chapters as compartments, now I think of them as channels. I like every chapter to have an arrow in it, to anticipate ongoing developments. (Okay, cliffhangers too, but this is more than just cliffhangers!)
#3 Don't rush to unload all your best imaginings as soon as possible. Hold something in reserve for a powerful ending.
#4 Make everything wanted. When a novel's working well, each episode ought to be so intrinsically interesting and emotionally charged that you'd want to include it for its own sake alone. No episode should be merely there to move the plot along from A to B.
#5 Think long and hard about names - invented names still have to sound real. Tolkien knew about languages, and how certain combinations of syllables sound natural and necessary, others forced and arbitrary. Gene Wolfe is another master of the art of naming.
#6 Beware of special scenic conditions that aren't worth the trouble of maintaining. For example, a perpetual red light cast by a red sun (unless the story needs it). How are you going to keep it before the reader's mind, except by repeating it endlessly, tediously?
#7 Flexibility with scenic conditions is a great advantage: then you can create different moods with different states of light, cloud, rain (or whatever your world might have for light, cloud, rain).
#8 People ask, where do you get ideas, and I don't know how to answer. But I do know that some of my best ideas come from the journal in which I record my dreams. (When you make a point of recording all your dreams, it's easy to remember more and more of them.)
#9 I like fantasy that creates from the grass roots up. If you're seeing with first-time eyes, you can make even the oldest fantasy elements fresh. But if you rely on other fantasy novels to do your work for you . . .
#10 Never be too directly inspired by films, because borrowing from films looks especially second-hand. Watching a film, you don't even have to create your own pictures.
#11 Read heaps of novels - I don't know a single successful writer who doesn't. Hoping to be a writer without reading is like hoping to be a composer without listening to music. Even if you have great stories in your head, you need to learn the possibilities for telling them in words. There are no short-cut rules for pacing, angles, approach work, openings - only absorbing the million things that have already been done. When you've got those million things unconsciously there inside you, you'll soon find yourself coming up with the perfect possibilities for your own story.
#12 I believe the best kind of non-fiction reading for a fantasy author is anthropology, or the kind of history that gives you a sense of different cultures in different times. Inventing new conditions for new worlds is the easy bit - what's difficult is working out the cultural consequences. As soon as you change even a few conditions, people just can't keep on thinking like Westerners at the start of the 21st century.


Those are things I think I've learned - but every writer's different. It's amazing how many routes can lead to the same destination!

Here are some other things that are maybe even more personal - especially as regards getting over writer's block!


Developing A Writing Routine

Planning And Preparation

Writing Through The Novel





Last piece of advice: never give up, never surrender!




Developing A Writing Routine
Planning & Preparation
Writing Through The Novel





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Richard Harland.