“Jingo” by Terry Pratchett
Note: This isn't going to be a review on a novel so much as a review on an author and myself.
I don't often take, at least immediately, someone's suggestion to read a particular book or author. I usually file these in the back of my mind for when I'm bored or am looking for something new to read. But this time I asked my friend, Daniel Golightly, what he usually reads. He told me, and I went to work finding it.
On my first trip to the library I picked up “Jingo” by Terry Pratchett. It's a novel of Discworld.
I was thoroughly pleased with it. Not only was “Jingo” a fun read, but it had the potential to be very influential on me as a writer.
I cannot claim, by any stretch of my imagination (and how far it can stretch!), that I am well read. But in my experience, though stories, plots, and characters can be vastly different from one author to another, writing style is much less flexible. I can spot Ayn Rand from Stephen King and Anne Rice from Michael Crichton, but all of these authors have a very serious, straight-forward tone and voice. You'll find nothing unusual here. And to a degree, many other far less-known authors write similarly.
Then there are authors like Terry Pratchett, who if I were to compare him with anyone it would be to the outright silliness of Piers Anthony's Xanth series.
But you know what? For as much as I like Anthony, I like more, at least after one novel, Terry Pratchett. He retains the silliness, the wit, the humor, as well as the seriousness—which makes his story not only fun, but believable. In Anthony's Xanth series I'm constantly reminded that it's just a story. Not so with Pratchett. I was there.
Pratchett made me think more than I have in years: on writing. I always read with both a reader's and editor's hat on, and I can enjoy a story even as I'm dissecting it (or perhaps because I'm dissecting it), but “Jingo,” a simple story about an island floating up from the bottom of the ocean, and the chaos it creates between two neighboring nations, has me thinking a lot about the writing process itself, specifically my style. I'm often thinking about how to write good characters, good scenes, good settings, good plots and endings, but rarely do I ever think about my style, my voice, my tone, probably because so much of what I read is already like how I write.
I'm obviously not going to start writing like Sir Pratchett. That would be foolish on several levels. But this novel is making me think things like “Hey, I could really loosen up a bit when I write.” or “Why don't I start writing with a little more wit?” “I should go ahead and take those risks that I've always wanted to take.” “I don't have to write so close to the vest.” “I can afford to be creative not just in my story, but in my style.”
To put it simply, “Jingo” is thawing the ice on the continent of my creativity. Pratchett has shown me that there are more ways to write than with a serious tone all the time—and yet still write for adults.
But there's something else about “Jingo” that's got me thinking. This time it's to do with where I fit in genre-wise. I've never really been sure where to place my own writing. I can be very serious, very deadly serious and dramatic, even sinister (think Stephen King). But often times I find myself writing with a softer touch, and my characters almost seem to take on the characteristics of YA fiction (Young Adult). They want to play, without the seriousness. They want to grow up, to face challenges, but not take the world as if it's important.
I always assumed, to write that way, adults wouldn't be interested (I was very self-conscious about this!). But I am not a YA novelist, nor do I want to be because I like the flexibility of having my characters cuss, kill someone in a bloody scene, or even explore their sexuality. I want to be myself, but who I am as a writer doesn't seem to fit into a more specific label than “fantasy.” This may also be because on one hand I see children as free-spirited, carefree, and on the other adults being oh-so-serious and facing everything in life as if it were life or death.
I also incorporate elements of many different genres, from steampunk to gothic to YA to horror to science fiction to romance. But don't go reading my stories because you're looking for one of these, because any one “thing” is drowned out by all the rest. It's like I write with the genre of no genre. Oh, how very Bruce Lee!
But, hey, Pratchett does it, and this Pratchett guy, he's famous! He's written dozens of stories. He's a knight for God's sake! Yeah, that's Sir Terry Pratchett to us peasants. And I have no idea where to place him. And it works, at least for him. So what should I do as an author? My impression after reading “Jingo” is to simply not care, and just write.
What is my overall impression of “Jingo”? Well, when I first started reading it, the story and characters almost seemed to be fit for children. But I was enjoying it, and as I dug deeper I found that “Jingo” obviously wasn't a children's story. There was cussing, sexual innuendos, violence.
I was liking the story a lot by the time I started figuring out where my mind was going on the topic of writing. It's a pretty good book. I'm definitely going to seek out more Terry Pratchett stories.
I think I'm hooked.
And I'm also going to loosen up a bit with my own writing. Pratchett shows me that there is an audience of people who can appreciate the serious mixed with the not so serious. It just has to be a good story, with interesting and likeable characters, that moves readers along.
And that's that, right? Nothin' to it!