Ink-Stained Scribe

Magical Motivation

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of the Magical Words blog. I've been following them since last winter, ever since I decided to get "serious" about my own blogging. Their blog posts (and comments, and responses to comments) provide an endless source of "aha!" moments and motivation for me. I was even lucky enough to meet a number of them at StellarCon this year, and the lovely (and awesomely bedecked in cool jewelry) Faith Hunter shuffled a copy of their book Magical Words: A Writer's Companion into my hand for review.

Wait, what? You don't know Magical Words? Well, then allow me to introduce the main characters of this blog post:

(click for exposition)

David B Coe (aka D.B. Jackson)
Faith Hunter (aka a lot of things)

It's been a few hectic months of earthquakes, tornadoes, and moving house since I got the book at StellarCon, but eking out time to read it has not proved difficult. First of all, this book comes endorsed by Orson Scott Card himself, and you can just about hear the man's sigh of relief in the printed words - he's not alone in trying to teach the sea of would-be genre authors how to write!

With Edmund Schubert's forward about "price tags" in fiction and AJ Hartley's essay on High Concept leading off the pack, I knew within a few pages that I was going to need highlighters. Yes, it's a signed book. I even got a super-special copy with the title page printed upside-down (the only one!), which we deemed the "collecter's copy", and I'm pretty sure the smudge on the top is relic of one of Misty Massey's chocolate-chip cookies. And I highlighted it!?

Hell yes, I did.

Books about writing are plentiful. Writing advice - good or bad - is easy to find, and part of what makes this book so valuable to me is that Magical Words offers advice for writing genre fiction. That isn't to say every essay has to do with creating magic systems, effectively using genre tropes, and whether the Kessel run should take the Falcon eight or nine parsecs--far from it. Most of the essays deal with skills, techniques, and problems faced by writers of all genres: character creation, motivation, and development; world-building at all depths and levels; and all manner of best-practices applicable to writing fiction that doesn't suck. Especially the bits about it being okay to suck before you're any good.

What sets Magical Words apart from other books on writing, however, is the fact that nearly every essay goes back to practical application in genre fiction. From the worlds of Jane Yellowrock, Mad Kestrel, the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, and many others, the authors of Magical Words show us how they applied the lessons to their own fiction, or how they struggled to make the discoveries they now share. Everything goes back to applying writing techniques to genre fiction. Unlike the college writing professors who sneer at the mention of magic, or the more literary books on writing that simply don't mention other genres exist, Magical Words dives joyfully into the way these tools of the craft apply to speculative fiction, and how we can harness them like dark wizards harness the power of the innocents, bending them to our will to make greater the worlds over which we reign. Fine. Bad analogy. I guess I'll have to go back and reread the essay on metaphors and similes.

Another bit about this book that I think is really great is that a good number of the comments from the original posts were lifted from the blog and printed after the essay as a sort of dialog. The discussions that arise in the comments are part of what makes the blog itself valuable, especially when one of the other authors expands, disagrees, or provides an alternate perspective on the topic. In the book, it does double duty by reinforcing the oft-cited claim: "there is no one right way". It also provides us aspiring writers a peek at the way we should be analyzing other writers' advice, which is an important skill as there is a lot of advice out there and a lot of it is conflicting.

Another benefits of reading about writing, for me anyway, is that it always inspires me to write. Something about those little "aha!" moments gives me the motivation to get over whatever hurdle I've set in my own way. The other day I was worrying about HELLHOUND and how I could make the tension more apparent, and a well-timed post on MW set me to thinking about Helena's desires, and whether any of them conflict with each other. Aha! There's that little missing screw that was holding up the entire machine. My main character's own conflicting desires should work directly against whatever is happening. If there's magic, the tension should come from her desire to escape that life and find her own humanity. If she's hanging out with her roommates, the tension should come from her desire to protect her pack and her friends, which she must do by learning the magic that makes her not belong. Those desires conflict with each other rather directly.

If you scroll back through my blog, you'll see a lot of my posts start with "So I was reading the Magical Words blog today, and..." There's a reason for that, my friends.

I encourage you to check out the Magical Words blog and add to the comments. I've never had a comment go unanswered, and part of what makes me love these guys is the fact that they give so much of their time to the readers of the blog. Now, you could sift through the years of posts and comments to find all the posts in the book, but I encourage you to buy the book. Highlight it. These guys write this blog pro bono, and a look at any one of these posts will show you how much work they put into bringing the wisdom-of-the-published to aspiring genre fiction writers like you and me.

Kids, this book is only $6 on Kindle. Shoo! Go! Purchase! You won't be sorry!

For a little taste of what the MW crew is like, check out this interview with Kalayna Price (the chick on the far right, who is often a guest-contributor to MW, and whose wardrobe rocks my face off), recorded last weekend at ConCarolinas! Yeah, I was moving that weekend, but I was there in spirit. Possibly the spirit of Edmund's shirt...

Other frequent guest contributors to the MW blog:
Lucienne Diver
Mindy Klasky

INTERACT: Are you a MW reader? What blogs or books on writing have you found helpful? Does reading about writing inspire you to write? What inspires your "aha!" moments? Have you ever networked at a convention?