How to suppress women’s writing in the age of social media

A take, of course, on  How To Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ. And not set off by anything in particular, just an aggregate of comments and a good friend being treated terribly for posting some of her fiction for free online.

She tweets and tumblrs so she must not be working.

She never tweets and tumblrs so she must she think she is too good for her fans.
Her books don’t sell so she must be a failure.
Her books do sell so she must write for the money.
She writes too much of one series. A good writer would write books set in lots of different universes. 
She should write more of the same series because that is what I like. Hope she doesn’t think I will buy her new stuff.
She talks about and answers questions about her books, why won’t she leave her fandom alone? Why is she trying to impose her views on them?
She doesn’t answer questions from her fans or listen to what they say. She must not care about them.
She sells her work for money so she must just want money.
She posted her work for free so it doesn’t really belong to her.
I like her main female character so she must be a Mary Sue that the author based on herself.
I hate her main female character so she needs to learn how to write women.
I wrote her a nasty message and she didn’t answer so she is a coward.
I wrote her a nasty message and she did answer so she is a bully.
She contradicted me when I accused her of something so I know she did it, otherwise she wouldn’t be so defensive.
She didn’t contradict me when I accused her of something so I know she did it, otherwise she would have defended herself.
She wrote it but she tried too hard to be literary so I couldn’t get into it.
She wrote it and I really enjoyed it but because of the subject matter I know it’s trash, really.

I was just wondering how you choose which POV to tell a scene from. Like why the prologue in Heavenly Fire was told from Emma’s point of view and not Sebastian’s. I enjoyed Emma’s perspective but it seems like it could have been a chance to get a look into his mind? Thanks and if you post this could you take my name off?

Name redacted from incendiary question about viewpoints. :) No, I am just teasing. This falls into the category of “Writers, why do you do the things you do?” Which I always think is interesting, because the choices we make shape our work, but — even if I explain my reasoning, you don’t have to agree with it. :)

Prologues are an interesting thing in writer-land because they actually are controversial. Some people love them. Some people hate them. The big argument against them is often that if the information in them is important, why is it not in the main body of the work — i.e. why isn’t it just “Chapter One”?

Me, I like a prologue. I find that they give an opportunity to tell an event in the world from the perspective of a character you’d never otherwise hear from — for instance, Aloysius Starkweather’s perspective in Clockwork Princess. Yes, we can be told the information later in the narrative that his granddaughter died receiving her first runes, but it’s much less visceral than experiencing it on the page, and it’s interesting to be in the head of someone whose viewpoint you’ll never get again (as in 1878, Aloysius is pretty far gone in senile dementia). Similarly, we get Valentine’s viewpoint in City of Ashes and then, as far as I know, never again. And it gives us the birth of the fear demon, which means that when Agramon shows up later, we know what it is. No one else in the book besides Valentine could have been there for that, or they would not later have been surprised about Agramon being around.

Sometimes prologues indicate a time skip, big or small (the prologue of CP where we see Will and Jem at 12, or CoLS where we see Simon two weeks before the rest of the book takes place.) Sometimes they exist to set a mood (Will’s prologue in CP.) Prologues do a lot of different jobs.

As for why I chose to tell the prologue of The Dark Artifices from Emma’s viewpoint and not Sebastian’s — I have written Sebastian’s viewpoint before, in City of Lost Souls. Mostly as a way to let people know he was Up to Something with Faeries, but not what. But the prologue from Sebastian’s point of view would have been near-impossible without revealing his involvement with the Fair Folk, given that they were with him at the time. He would have had to spend the whole prologue deliberately not thinking about 1) the faeries right next to him 2) the existence of Edom, to which he is about to return 3) his overall plans, including his visit to the Adamant Citadel.

Unreliable narrators are great, but usually they’re unreliable because they’ve bought into their own mythology about themselves. Being coy is something else — just not revealing what a character is actually thinking — and Coyness in Writing is a whole other topic. It drives my critique group nuts though; whenever anyone’s being coy with info they get yelled at.

There are important factual things we learn in the prologue about the story — that Sebastian is attacking Institutes — but even if I’d never planned to write the Dark Artifices, I’d still have told it from Emma’s point of view. To me the Blackthorns have a symbolic weight in City of Heavenly Fire. They represent the stakes of war. 

Without any representation of the people — ordinary Shadowhunters, some innocent children — that Clary and the others are trying to save, they become something blurry and distantly symbolic. We can understand that they want to save their parents, and those trapped in Edom, but when what’s at stake is saving the lives of Shadowhunters overall, putting faces and personalities to those lives matters.

(Also, in the fact that they escaped the Institute, they bring important information about what Sebastian’s doing to Idris — and they could still have done that if the prologue had been Seb’s viewpoint, but from his view they would have been a bunch of fleeing kids, nameless and undifferentiated. It would have taken all the meaning out of the scene where Emma wakes up screaming for her parents and Julian gives her Cortana. It would have taken a ton of meaning out of the end, when Helen is sent away — the meaning of her being separated from her family is greatly dulled if we don’t know her family.)

So I guess if the overall question is: how do I pick who tells a scene, which POV it’s from, usually I ask myself, Who undergoes the most change in this scene? Think about the engine that propels stories as three C’s: conflict, choice and change (ideally change brought about by choice forced by conflict.) Jace tells the scene between him and Alec, because he changes the most during it. Emma changes the most during the prologue. She makes the biggest choices, her whole life is transformed and she is changed as a person. Sebastian doesn’t change at all. So as well as me wanting to establish what the stakes of the war were, to put a face to all the lives that would need saving over the course of the book, I also wanted to show the birth of a hero, the inciting incident that makes someone who they are. The superhero origin story. :) Which I think is a fun thing to experience, whether you ever read the Dark Artifices or not. :)

fictional boys

I’m not sure if you have a boyfriend/husband but if you don’t.. Does writing about make characters such as Jace, Will, Jem, Alec, Simon and so on give you high expectations of when looking for guys? Or do you think it gives other people high expectations? Maybe their qualities are what you found in other people? — theres—always—hope 

I am married. Four year anniversary coming up. I think we get tin or paper or something. Before that I had boyfriends who I liked in varying degrees. But you know what I also had?

Crushes on boys in books.

Crushing on fictional characters of any gender is totally normal and it also doesn’t meant you want to date a person just like that. It’s totally normal whether you’re in a relationship or not in one. 

Fiction gives us a safe space to explore what we’d never want to experience in real life. Being in jail, being a pirate, being a murderer, being an epic hero, being an epic villain. Dating a bazillion types of people and getting to experience the highs and lows of love without actually having to commit yourself to anyone with an evil father, or anyone currently dying of magical drug addition. I mean, how much fun would Will be if you met him in a bar?

You: Well, hello there, tall dark and handsome.

Will: I am cursed. Cursed! 

You: I could buy you a drink.


You: This seems like potentially a lot of drama.

When we see characters, we’re seeing them in extremis, pushed to the edge of who they are by circumstance. We’re seeing them at the most exciting point of their lives, when they are most tested and most interesting. But there’s a big gap between “I love this character!” and actually wanting to marry them. I have a lognstanding crush on Mr. Darcy but have to admit he was a product of his time and probably I wouldn’t enjoy actually being married to him.

Mr Darcy: What are you doing, darling?

Me: I am writing a book.

Mr. Darcy: There is no need for such things when you have Pemberley to look after!

Me: *smashes a lamp on his head*

Do fictional men (and women) raise your standards? Maybe, but it’s not terrible to have high standards for yourself. I think it’s useful to break down what you like about a character — Will because he likes books? Simon because he’s into anime and nerdy stuff you like? Jace because he’s funny? Jem because he’s a musician? You can find all that stuff in real guys alive on the planet today. My husband is actually a musician who likes books, is funny and also a nerd.

First and foremost though if you love boys in books, find a boy that loves books. Find a boy who can love the same books as you — as I said oddly in a post about Will and Tessa, but it seems relevant here, People who know and love the same books you do have the roadmap of your soul. I believe that.

(All this stuff also applies to “girls in books” it’s just the question was about boys!)

On writing and handwriting.

Cassandra, as a reader I have supported you from the beginning. I have honestly purchased your novels and thoroughly enjoyed them all. A few months back, I preordered the signed copy of CoHF and I was absolutely thrilled; I couldn’t wait for it to come in the mail. So when it finally does, I tear open the cardboard box and what do I see? Is that a signature? Because honestly, I’m sure I’ve scribbled something nearly identical to that as a child. That. Is. Not. A. Signed. Book. I can’t believe I actually paid EXTRA just for you to carelessly scribble a LINE across the page and stamp it. That is such an insult to your readers. If you’re too busy to properly sign your books, either do less or DON’T DO IT AT ALL. Because that was simply rude, and you know it. I’ve come to the conclusion that I will not support an author that disrespects their readers in such a way. Your readers got you where you are Cassandra, and you should be bloody grateful for each and every single one of them who helped you out. Maybe you should show your gratitude a little better. — allfearbruschetta

I work very hard on my books and hope that if you buy one, you feel it’s worth the price. I am truly grateful for each and every reader, and I do truly want to treat them well. I am glad that you have enjoyed each of the books that I have worked so hard over the past seven years to produce. I hope that have given you hours of entertainment.

As for my signature, I have always written in a scrawl. Writers are actually famous for having fast, messy signatures because when you have to sign your name thousands of times in a row, you develop a fast signature. It’s not ingratitude. It’s survival. “Doing less signatures” is not just unfair on readers, it wouldn’t get you a better signature. That signature is my signature.

Jodi Picoult and Rick Riordan’s signatures look like this.



If a beautiful signature is your priority, then you will be missing out on a lot of writers I think are wonderful. Elizabeth Gilbert, for instance.



Suzanne Collins, it is well known, stamps books instead of signing because her writing hand has been so badly affected: Maybe you feel that Suzanne Collins too is ungrateful and does not deserve her readers: I can’t say I feel the same way. I know exactly what agony Suzanne Collins must have been in, because I have experienced it myself. I have often envied her the stamp, but tried to keep going on signing purely because I thought my fans would prefer signed books. It has not been because I was not in pain.

I do not get a penny of extra money for signing the books: I did it simply because I love my readers, and I wanted to give the readers who would like a signed book but do not have the opportunity to attend my signings a chance to get one.

Can I talk about those signings? I love meeting my fans — but I have had my hand swollen to twice its natural size and mottled purple, I have had the sides of my fingers bleeding, with people applying ice pads to my shoulder and wrist, and still people have asked for me to sign not just books but pieces of paper and people’s shoes, like they look at me and they literally can’t see the blood. I truly appreciate them coming out to see me. I love meeting them. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take an enormous physical toll. You say “DON’T DO IT AT ALL” and believe me, it would be much easier for me not to do it at all… but I always feel, whenever I have to not do something because otherwise my health will collapse, that I am letting people down. I never want to let anybody down.

(It never occurred to me that people would feel I had let them down because I did not have sufficiently excellent penmanship. You have opened my eyes on that front.)

Being successful as a creative artist is an amazing stroke of luck, but it is also something you have to work very hard not only to achieve but to keep. Because the City of Bones movie and doing publicity for it took up an enormous amount of time, I had to write City of Heavenly Fire on set, at night, in airports, in hotel rooms. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t see my family. Try to imagine writing a 773 page book that wraps up a long six book series on an incredibly time-crunched schedule. Imagine that you are absolutely determined it be the best book you can make it — because that’s what you actually owe your readers when you’re a writer, not good handwriting, but good writing. Imagine your schedule is so crunched your copyeditor actually quits halfway through because they don’t have enough time to finish and they are having a nervous breakdown, which you don’t find out until you get the 1,000 page manuscript back, and you have to hire another copyeditor with your own money, because you don’t want your readers getting an un-edited book (even though that happens all the time with books on crunched schedules.) Imagine you don’t sleep for weeks until you give yourself pneumonia and wind up in the hospital and check yourself out against medical advice because if you don’t, the book will be late being published and your fans will be disappointed. All these are things I did while working on City of Heavenly Fire (as well as signings thousands of pages — 20,000 in total) for people like you. 

Well, John Green signed 100,000 books, you say! He sure did — over a period of months, not in less than a week, and here are some of his signing videos, in which he refers to his signature as ‘J Scribble’ and also talks about how he, while happy to sign the books, is also overwhelmed by the sheer numbers he is facing—the showers and sleep he has to skip just to get them done, and again, not done with beautiful perfect clarity, but just done—and the occupational therapist he requires. (I did not have an occupational therapist.)

John’s signature, which I have a feeling you would also find unsatisfactory:


There are millions of readers, and only one of me. I am so happy to say that, I am so grateful for my success, but that does not mean that there isn’t tremendous pressure on me—that there aren’t more books than I can possibly sign, more people than I can possibly meet. I do my absolute utmost, because I am so grateful, but I do not know how to make myself into a robot who cannot feel pain, who does not get sick, and whose handwriting is entirely different from my natural handwriting. Writers are people — creators are people, which is something I often see forgotten. People who have messy handwriting sometimes. People who bleed, even if you can’t, or won’t, see the blood.

I am sorry that my signature was not up to your standards.
Church gets his own flower card. Because he is that awesome. Thank you Cassandra Jean!
(I shut down my ask box temporarily because I was overwhelmed with questions about CoHf but I also wanted to give people time to read it before doing all the answers. I’m thinking about opening it back up again for questions about writing and publishing if that’s something people would be interested in.)

Church gets his own flower card. Because he is that awesome. Thank you Cassandra Jean!

(I shut down my ask box temporarily because I was overwhelmed with questions about CoHf but I also wanted to give people time to read it before doing all the answers. I’m thinking about opening it back up again for questions about writing and publishing if that’s something people would be interested in.)




So, earlier this afternoon I tweeted some observations drawn from my experience as a female author in publishing, working alongside both female and male authors in publishing. The things I said were the result of YEARS of things I have witnessed. I did not, and will not, go into specifics, as that…

Please read this, because Lauren is so, so, so right about this. And over and over again, I see people say how their feelings about particular authors (male and female) are individual. But what’s disturbing is that those individual feelings seem to — over and over again — align with the same disturbing trend.

Sarah Rees Brennan adds: 

Lauren writes up in clean and simple prose things I may have already written angry and terrible poetry about:

And Jennifer Lynn Barnes has done mathematics to prove.

In the 249 books in the Times ‘best of’ lists, 76 books were written by women… and 173 written by men. (I’m no mathematician but I’m adding 2 plus 2 and getting something gross and biased is going on here.)

Lauren is right that going into specifics detracts from the larger point—but as she already said it so well I have nothing to add and as people often go into specifics to attack those people making larger points, I’m now going to go into some specifics to prove Lauren’s larger point.

Lauren mentions her book getting compared to Twilight. Twilight comparisons: they happened to every lady there for a while. 

They certainly happened to me. There’s a comparison of Twilight on the back of the UK edition of my first book—which had a boy protagonist and no real romance on account of said boy didn’t have human feelings. (But Stephenie Meyer and I both have boobs. So, CASE CLOSED!) Also like Lauren, I was asked why there wasn’t more kissing. (Had I not noticed that I was a lady?) And yet at the same time, when I *did* write girl protagonists and more romance, suddenly my writing was so much less deep. (Sexism—gets you every which way.)

For a lady, having comparisons made between your work and someone else’s means something different. Dudes are doing a homage or ‘taking their rightful place in literary canon’. Women are scolded for being ripoffs.

It got so bad for L.J. Smith there had to be public announcements made, even though it was physically impossible for her to have ripped off Twilight.

L.J. Smith has been writing books for Young Adults since the 1980s. She wrote The Vampire Diaries in 1991, which (for those who can do basic maths) works out to nearly 15 years before Stephenie Meyer’sTwilight Saga was written. So please, for the love of all that is holy, stop saying these books are copying Twilight. If they were, L.J. Smith would have had to have mastered the art of time travel, and would likely have made her fortune that way and be living a life of luxury on a tropical island.

Sounds like she might have received more than a few emails on the subject…

(I’m just going to quote here from another monster post I made a while back.

'Dudes get to write perceived-as-derivative/actually-derivative fiction all the time and it’s a HOMAGE, but girls can’t do either. People decide girls’ stuff is derivative and lousy all the time, whereas boys’ stuff is part of a literary tradition and an important conversation. This is sexist and terrible.

Neil Gaiman referenced Asimov in Neverwhere:

And G.K. Chesterton in Coraline:

And William Gibson in Neverwhere:

Yet I do not see Neil Gaiman getting chased around and called names.

I am very tired of seeing women insulted for things every dude in the world is allowed to do. It is not literary critique. It is violent misogyny.’

Still true, buds!)

More specifics: I think this particular discussion on sexism started with a debate about John Green, and John Green as a person is someone I owe a debt of gratitude to. Last summer I was the target of a lot of ugly internet stuff, which culminated of course in the usual dead-end alleys of hatred: public and private nastiness. I’m not sure which upset me more: public posts discussing how I talk too much, and how I’m pathetic, and of course how ugly I am, or the emails discussing how I should die and be raped and have my books burned. The public stuff actually seemed worse, because it’s shocking to receive that treatment from people who pretend to believe in social justice, and to see others agreeing with them in an orgy of hatred… but the private messages designed only to shock and upset me like an ugly whisper in my ear, to target me where every woman is vulnerable, were bad too. I went on meds. Last summer was the worst, guys.

John Green (who I don’t know personally at all) spoke up supportively, and it really meant a lot to me. Most male authors wouldn’t have done it. I see over and over dude authors saying that generally they support female authors, and never supporting any specific women, but always the Dudes in their Dude Club of Literary Awesomeness. So, personally I am very grateful. I think it spared me quite a lot of misogynistic horror I was in no place to cope with. 

On a non-personal level, I’m happy that John Green’s lady-led movie was a big success… not least because I want to see the next step of a lady-led lady-written movie being a big success. Let’s not dismiss Twilight or the Hunger Games, because people dismiss them too much, but let’s also have our fingers crossed for the movie of Gayle Foreman’s If I Stay, which can only be helped by the success of Fault In Our Stars. And let’s look toward the next next step—some more lady-led lady-written lady-directed movies. There still is, disgusting though it is, a prejudice in Hollywood and everywhere else against female-led films (how else do we explain the treatment of ‘teen girl’ films? Where, when there is every financial incentive and every indicator it would be a success, is our Black Widow movie?) and that cannot and should not be ignored.

John Green has become, to a sexist media, an example of ‘a dude who did it right while silly YA WIMMIN were doing it wrong’—and that’s frustrating for everyone (including Green) who is aware of all the many smart women in YA doing it right, and it means there’s pushback against him as a symbol. Also he’s popular enough now that he’s getting the hatred and pushback that people just get for being popular, and that hatred and pushback is hideous. It drove Stephenie Meyer clean off the internet. It fills me with horror and sympathy for him, as it does for her… but at the same time, I know and have seen many female authors get that kind of hatred and pushback, for having far less popularity than any man.

It is super tempting to blame an individual instead of an institution, because an individual is much easier to take down. So blaming John for sexism is easy—and blaming Lauren for jealousy is easy—but it isn’t productive.

This isn’t about any individual person. It isn’t about jealousy of anyone or hostility toward anyone or any one imperfect person’s flawed behaviour. It’s about the fact the world is not set up to let women succeed in the same way as men do, and that’s something we are all unconsciously participating in.

Here are some more specifics to prove that larger point.

How many dude writers are getting requests for topless pictures, like Maureen Johnson did?

How many dude writers are getting both treated badly because of sexism, and then treated DOUBLE badly (funny how that happens… it’s like people are trying to prove your point!) because they discussed sexism, as happened to both Eleanor Catton and Clare Wright?

ELEANOR CATTON: What is she doing, having an opinion? Why isn’t she grateful? Why doesn’t she just shut her mouth and feel something?

How many dude writers are accused of SLEEPING WITH SOMEONE FOR A ENDORSEMENT!!! as Robin McKinley was?

(Note: Robin McKinley is a genius and I would describe several of her books as practically perfect. She has not offered me any saucy favours to say this.)

(Note: George R.R. Martin has often described his early blurb from Robert Jordan as influential in his books’ success. Oddly, I have never ever seen anyone saying ‘Oh Georgy boy, you little minx, what did you do to get it?)

All the specifics, as Holly Black says, form a trend.

We need to look at what everyone is doing. We need to look at what *we* are doing. We need to look at the way the world works, and change it.


I would just add: John also stood up for me when the same malicious, lying, terrible, people came for both me and Sarah last summer. 

While it is depressing that there is a large portion of the internet that can only be prevented from hounding women with false accusations by being told to stop by a man, I appreciate John using his privilege to help us, and in general to help women writers. I have seen him accused online of molesting a dying girl on absolutely no evidence beyond “it seems like it might have happened.” Having had the same sort of illogical, baseless accusations leveled at me (that I got someone kicked out of college, for instance) I know how awful it is and feel for him. 

It is interesting that it took John reaching literally galactic levels of fame for him to start receiving the sort of criticism of his looks, his behavior, his personal friendships, that women authors receive at much lower levels of fame and fortune (I think with disgust of a Goodreads thread about how I have no actual friends, though I have no idea how total strangers on the internet … would know that … and it’s interesting how devalued women’s friendships are in public …) but anyway.

 Sarah and Lauren and Holly’s posts are all worth a close look. As Holly says, whenever individual instances of misogyny, racism, etc. appear and are pointed out, the people who feel called out say “But this isn’t about race/gender/cissexism, this is about this person in this circumstance. Really.” However, the pattern and the statistics speak for themselves.

Will you be writing another heart breaking love triangle anytime soon???


(Okay, and to be fair that means “for some value of soon.” Someday, I will write a love triangle again. I can’t say in which book series or when. But it will definitely be completely different than anything I’ve done before, so I’m excited about it.)


Hey, I would just like to say that I am a HUGE fan of your writing. Expically the Mortal Instruments. I can’t wait until City of Heavenly Fire come out. I would love it if you would write me back so please do. I had a question on how to intoduce an evil character without going into to much detail to bore the readers. so how do you do that? Especially with the Sebastian/ Jonathan scene, we just sorta KNEW that they/ he was evil.

tw: answer, for mention of rape

Well, with Sebastian he was actually introduced pretty innocuously, and there were very small things he did – arguing with Clary about whether Valentine loved Jace as a son, the way he kissed her without her permission — that indicated that he was somewhat … off.

The thing about introducing “evil” characters, is that there are a million ways to do it, because there are a million different kinds of “villains” (just check . But you have to put aside the idea that all villains/antagonists have to be like Voldemort, fundamentally evil and chortling about it. A villain is one thing: someone who wants what your protagonist/good guy doesn’twant.

Your protagonist wants to get out of prison, the villain wants to keep them in. Your character wants to save a village, the villain wants to destroy it. Or your protagonist wants to destroy the village and the villain wants to save it. (Why not? The village could be full of zombies or scientists working on releasing a mega-virus that will kill everyone or something.) 

The first thing you need to know about your protagonist is what they want. One of the first things you need to know about your villain is how what they want is diametrically opposed to what the protagonist wants. 

Also remember it is in smaller personal ways that we come to hate villains. Blowing up the world is obviously an evil goal. Killing a lot of people, also bad. But those are still things heroes sometimes do when pushed to the wall (The Doctor annihilated the Time Lords; there are plenty of other murderer-heroes as well). But you know what the Doctor doesn’t do? Under-tip waiters. Physically abuse his companions. (Okay, I’m no expert on Who and haven’t seen every episode, but it doesn’t seem like something he’d do.) If he did, we’d hate him: we hate petty actions that speak to selfishness, and we hate it when a character hurts a character we care about. Example: I didn’t mind Loki when he killed a whole bunch of people in the beginning of The Avengers, but when he killed Coulson I wanted him to fall off the planet and die, even if he was Tom Hiddleston.

Oh, shut up, Loki.

Point being: Your “evil” character wants whatever the protagonist doesn’t want, they get personal with the heroes we care about (Mortmain wanting to blow all the Shadowhunters away, abstract; Mortmain torturing Jem by stopping the yin fen trade and planning to rape Tessa, specifically hateful.) They have a believable motive (which can basically be anything, just keep it personal and believable.)

Create characters people love, give them things they want, make sure the reader wants it too (which we will, if we love the hero(ine) then make sure your villain takes it away. That’s why we hate Umbridge more than Voldemort, if you think about it.

writin’ stuff

All I want in life, is to be able to write a book/series that’s as beautifully written as The Infernal Devices. I’m currently studying to become a vet, & as much as I adore animals… I want to be an author so much more. But I can’t write an interesting sentence to save my life. I’m sure you hear it everyday, but you are amazing, & authors like you are what keep my dreams alive. — jessikweh

First: thank you.

Second: If you can’t write a sentence of surpassing lyrical beauty right now on command, don’t worry about it.

One of the most common comments about books I see is “I don’t like the writing, I’m just there for the plot/the characters/the world-building.”

The thing is, all that stuff is writing.

Creating characters: that’s writing. World-building: that’s writing. Plot: that’s writing.

Being able to write sentences that drift down gently upon the reader like beautiful crystalline snowflakes is a hell of a skill. But it is a piece of a skillset, the screwdriver in a toolkit full of tools. If you are freaked out about your sentences, concentrate on world-building or character creation for a while. Being able to create characters people care about is hard. And it is also writing. You are bringing a person to life with nothing but words on a page. You have to give them a life, a heartbeat, goals, despairs, risks, blood. That is the alchemical magic of writing, just as much as we beat on, boats against the current, drawn back ceaselessly into the past or The barefooted drummer, beating a folded newspaper with whisk-brooms in lieu of a drum, stirs the eye’s ear like a blast of brasses in a midnight street.

Beautiful prose makes us feel all sorts of feels, but characters we love make us laugh and hurt, and plot that engages makes us gasp and flip pages. The ability to create any of these things is a talent. And like the development of any talent, we learn by example. If you want to write beautiful prose, read a lot of beautiful prose. (Read poetry. Poetry is all about the distillation of language into the specific and the beautiful, and it isn’t obscure or incomprehensible, I promise. Try Elizabeth Bishop: “One Art” or “Insomnia.” )

Learn the rhythms and the echoes of prose you admire. Take a month and read only beautiful prose; you’d be surprised at the effect it has on your own work. It’s like a language immersion class. We learn to speak by hearing; we learn to write by reading.

But don’t think that stylistic loveliness is all there is to writing. (There’s nothing particularly poetic about the prose in, say, Harry Potter, which is actually one of its strengths. You can mainline plot and character because the writing is so undistracting and straightforward. That’s not a bad thing. The “I don’t like the writing but I like the plot/characters” thing is something I first saw said about Harry Potter, and even then I thought, but characters are writing.) Plot and character are the bones and skin of a story, style is like designs drawn on that skin. Work on the bones, the skin the design first, whatever makes you comfortable. Ideally, they all work together.  


You use a lot of other languages in your books and I was wondering how you did the translations? Or do you speak them?

I’m writing a book and including other languages and I was wondering if I could use Google Translate?

First: Definitely, I do not speak Mandarin, Welsh, French, and Spanish. I’m conversational in French and speak some Spanish and Italian. 

Secondly, no, Google Translate is never a good idea except if you’re trying to get a basic idea of what a website is about or something like that.

The translations in my book are done by native speakers — the French was translated by Angélique Issen who runs TMIFrance, and the Mandarin was translated by native speaker Margaret Pon, who is the mother of the lovely Cindy Pon

The phrases, and then the translations of the phrases, then go to Wolfstone Translations to be checked over. I would never do the translations myself! *— even though I’ve lived in France, literally the worst translations you can get are if you think you know a language, or if you do know a language well enough to chat in it, but you don’t know the idioms, you don’t know when things are supposed to be inaccurate because that’s how it’s colloquially spoken (“I’ve got all the feels” means nothing at all in standardized English, but all languages have expressions like it) and you don’t know how the same word is interpreted differently in different locales (“pants” in America and “pants” in England.)

You’re never going to get every single thing about a language right, and there will be native speakers who disagree with other native speakers about how language should be used. Language is a mutable thing. Consult native speakers; if you can’t, work with a reputable translation agency. Ideally do both.


* The only exception I can think of would be the Spanish in TiD, because the only person who speaks it is Gideon, who just learned it — there’s no reason his Spanish would be accurate.