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L.T. Suzuki

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La Mujer Que Nunca Se Maquillo
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Esta novela corta expone el sufrimiento por el abandono acompañado de amor filial en un recorrido por Nicaragua, Panama y Los Angeles, California...  
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Blogs by L.T. Suzuki

Writing Tips I Learned from Terry Brooks
11/17/2009 7:45:12 AM
What I learned over the years about writing from Terry Brooks during workshops at the Surrey International Writers Conference.
Writing Tips from Terry Brooks

After attending the Surrey International Writers Conference for a number of years, I’ve learned a great deal from many of the participating authors, agents and publishers. Some of the most valuable lessons about writing I’ve learned as it applies to the fantasy genre came from the man many refer to as the father of modern day fantasy, Terry Brooks.

One thing Mr. Brooks always made clear was that the information he was going to share with us is what works for him, warning that it might not necessarily work for the rest of us attending his workshop. With this in mind, I gleaned what information I could and here are some of the things I’ve learned from this esteemed author.

One thing Mr. Brooks said that seemed to have couple people in the workshop scratching their heads in confusion was when he said there was no such thing as an original idea.

At first, it can be a daunting task to begin writing when you consider every publisher out there, as well as their paying customers (readers), are looking for something original. But when I thought about it, stories of betrayal, murder, lust, adultery, political or religious backstabbing and more can all be found in the Bible.

As Mr. Brooks further explained: “It’s all been told before, but it’s up to the author to put a different spin and their own voice to the story to make it unique.”

So… how to begin? It all starts with a spark of an idea, whether it comes from headlines of the evening news, hearing a snippet of info from the radio or you witness a situation that piques your interest, you must first have an idea. And then you add a ‘what if’ to it. Once you work in the ‘what if’ component into the idea, you must determine if there’s enough to fill an entire book.

Establishing your idea is only the beginning. You’ll need the elements to build around it. The plot and the necessary story threads, the characters and the P.O.V. you choose to implement, plus the setting that will establish the tone of the story must all come together. Not to forget pacing; namely, how the story unfolds and the timeline it will take place in. (Does the story take place over the course of a day? A month? Longer?)

One helpful tip Mr. Brooks offered when creating characters was to make sure you determine which ones are critical (must have a purpose in the story and helps move it forward) as well as those who will become, as he called them in an earlier workshop, cannon fodder. These minor characters can be used to add tension by being expendable (someone’s gotta die and usually in a dramatic way) plus, they give the principal characters others they can interact with “unless you’re story has talking horses they can speak to” as Mr. Brooks pointed out.

He also suggested creating profiles for the main characters. Here, you can compile information not just of physical appearances to maintain consistency (you don’t want your character having brown eyes in one chapter, then hazel in another), but also to record personality traits, idiosyncrasies, personal history, etc. If you’re into epic fantasy series, this can be very helpful in keeping characters, events, timelines, etc. straight. It can spare you wasting valuable time thumbing through books, searching for passages to make sure you’ve got these details right.

When it comes to creating characters, whether heroes or villains, Mr. Brooks suggested making the effort to develop characters that are unique and to steer clear of clichés. Whether it’s a bad guy with a soft spot for cute kittens or a hero who is an expert swordsman but faints at the sight of blood, try to steer clear of the stereotypical, infallible protagonist or the bad guy who seems to be born evil. This will allow for characters that are memorable as well as unique.

He also warned against a common mistake often used by novice writers: creating a ‘shopping list’ to rattle off a character’s physical appearance and manner of dress. Instead of revealing these things all at once, Mr. Brooks recommended working these descriptions into the story itself.

Where some detest prose describing the setting in great detail, one must keep in mind that when writing fantasy, it’s important to add these descriptions when you are world-building an imaginary place set in an imaginary time. Such details help the reader form an image and can even heighten tension when the environment and/or the elements pose a threat to the protagonist. But again, keep this limited to what will add a layer of dimension to the story, helping to move it forward.

The last bit of information Mr. Brooks shared from an earlier conference workshop was on the matter of editing and has been a very real vexation in my writing life: Typos that are missed and the book gets published. What this author had to say on this subject had a profound impact on me.

When asked by a workshop attendee about what Mr. Brooks does to make sure his novels are devoid of typos, grammatical errors, etc. before it goes into print, this was his response.

Mr. Brooks said he would printout his manuscript, proofreading it repeatedly and making the corrections on his computer. He then prints it out and has his wife proofreads the work. She catches the mistakes he missed, and then he makes these corrections. Printing out this corrected version, he gives it to his editor who takes the red pen to it, catching mistakes both he and his wife missed. It is then given to the line-editor who catches the mistakes Mr. Brooks, his wife and the editor missed.

Ultimately, Mr. Brooks said there would be times typos will be missed because it is human beings doing the proofreading. He went on to say he had read novels written by best-selling authors that were published by major publishing companies and he had found typos even in these books. Most were small, but some were appalling grammatical errors he could not understand how they were missed in the editing/proofing process in the first place.

What Mr. Brooks said was very true. After scrutinizing a few novels produced by mainstream publishing companies, I found a smattering of typos that had slipped by. Some were glaring; some were only noticed because I was hunting for typos. Nevertheless, Mr. Brooks was right about typos and human error.

Terry Brooks’ final words on this subject continue to have a lasting impact on me: “A reader will forgive a few typos or a book that is not written technically perfect as long as the story is great. What the reader will not forgive is paying good money for a book that is written technically perfect, but the story isn’t great.”

Of course, this is only a summary. Over the years, there’s been so much more I’ve learned from this master writer, and often, I find that attending his workshops also confirms what I already know, so he helps to keep me on the straight and narrow when it comes to writing the next book. I do hope this sampling of Mr. Brooks’ teachings will encourage you to attend one of his workshops should he come to a writers conference in your neighborhood!


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