Constructive Writing: Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett…the time of the 8th Prophet was imminent. (p. 9)

How do we know?

That was the reliable thing about the Church of the Great God Om. It had very punctual prophets. (p. 9)

Humour is part of what Pratchett does. He does it with characters (in people, worlds and organisations). A good writer knows that it is characters that are funny. You are not.

…there was a huge canonical structure with the High Priest at the top and Brutha very firmly at the bottom, but he (Brutha) viewed it in the same way as an amoeba might view the chain of evolution… (p. 24)

Brutha is the lowest character in Small Gods, and he must help the Great God Om who has a problem.

…while he might currently be a tortoise, Om was still a god. (p. 64)

Hmm, not a very godly shape for god. As a tortoise Om walks through the city erected to his honour. He has lost he’s believers, except for Brutha. But with so many people in the city how has Om been reduced to a tortoise?

The God was merely to be feared in the perfunctory ways of habit, but Vorbis was dreaded. (p. 57)

Vorbis holds the highest post in the Quisition, which is like the torture department of the Church. He purifies followers – sometimes before sin is committed, and Vorbis considers himself the future of the Church.

This is where Pratchett’s funny becomes something more. His Discworld novels are about society, and Small Gods is the consideration of religion.

There were one thousand, two hundred and eighty-three religious books in there now, each one – according to itself – the only book any man need ever read. It was sort of nice to see them all together, As Didactylos used to say, you had to laugh. (p. 378)

This book may once have been burned for hearsay (or heresy), as it shows religion for, in a real sense, what it is. A very funny story told with classic story elements.

Changing Status:

The Great God Om is a tortoise. Brutha is the lowest rank in the church. Both must rise to defeat Vorbis.

The Worst:

That can happen to Burtha is that he dies. The worst that can happen to Om is that nobody believes he exists.

High Stakes:

Vorbis believes in his own righteousness, and that he’s destiny is to be the next Prophet.

Believable Characters:

It is always the little details that say much. Amidst urgent dialogue here is this:

Urn looked down at his hands. He often did that when he was uncertain about anything, as if they were the only things he was sure of in the world. (p. 282)

Time Pressure:

A Prophet is coming. And so is war. And Burtha is a little lost. And Om is hungry for lettuce. And days move quickly.

Educate:

The world Pratchett has created mirrors our world. The characters and setting seem absurd, but the logic and physics – up to a point, are real. This is the strength. It makes for a great way to consider our world, especially Ethics (the capital letter is a little joke. Read the book and you’ll find it funny. Hopefully.).

 

Ps: don’t be too phased by good writing. At times this book feels like it was rushed – with words repeated and minor story lines hurriedly wrapped up. You too can write and, with a loose plan, tick off elements through a beginning, middle and end. Then edit to add elements that make the whole thing cohesive. I suspect many good books are completed such.

As it has been said, you can’t edit a blank page.

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