Writer Wisdom: Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks

Writer Wisdom: Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks

Over January I’ve been tidying my study and realised I have a LOT of books on writing. Some I’ve read (or skimmed), many I haven’t. I’ve done a Masters and PhD in creative writing as well as attending numerous classes and workshops over the years. But my preference outside of this training has been to find my writing style rather than reading what other writers say they do. Still, there’s always something to be learned when a writer talks about their process. So this year I’ve decided to work my way through these books and share the key nuggets of wisdom through reviews.

Sometimes the Magic Works

Terry Brooks is the author of the Shannara Chronicles, a popular book series (later TV series) featuring elves and humans. Compared to the Lord of the Rings, it was a bestseller from the beginning. Sometimes the Magic Works is part memoir and part writing guide. Although Brooks has been very successful, he speaks openly about book signings with few attendees. Not being a big fan, I skipped some of the anecdotes and sought out the nuggets of advice. There were some gems.

Advice on being a writer

Whilst Brooks trots out the old ‘write what you know’ adage, he also encourages you to ‘write what you observe’, advice I have also heard from John Marsden. Marsden pointed out that what you think you see and what’s actually there are two different things. For writers, paying attention is important for bringing your book to life in a way that feels real. But, as Brooks says, some of your ‘deep background’, the really detailed world building that makes it come to life, should never appear in the book.

Brooks explores ways writing allows you to think deeply. He talks about the puzzle-solving aspects of it, and how stepping from the real world into the world of imagination allows you to gain new perspective. By chronicling the human condition, he says, we can find answers to current problems in what might be. This is particularly relevant in the difficult times we face.


Some of the most useful advice about the mechanics of writing relate to characterisation. The key take out points are:

  • Characters are revealed through their words and actions, not what you as the writer say about them. They need to behave rationally and consistently – or, if they don’t, there needs to be a reason why.
  • Every character must have a reason for being in the story and their characteristics must be relevant to the story too.
  • A character needs to keep moving (physically, psychologically, or emotionally) in order to grow. Growth leads to change and transformation; they discover truths about themselves or others, or come to terms with some aspect of their lives. Without change nothing is happening.
  • The strength of your protagonist is measured by the threat of the antagonist (whether person, monster, weather, mountain, disease…). This threat might be immediate or there might be potential consequences. Facing these shows the courage, resolve and strength of your main character.

This quote from the book resonated so much. In writing the Tales of Tarya series I loved my characters and my world so much I wanted to stay with them. As I neared the end of the series I found myself writing more and more slowly.

Advice on being an author

As a recently published author I found the real gold was in the discussion of how to survive. Most books focus on ‘how to write a book’ or ‘how to get published’. But once you are published you begin a rollercoaster ride that requires real resilience. Brooks identifies important qualities that help: determination (be patient and committed), instinct (trust you know which way to go) and passion (be fearless). He encourages writers to be grateful for the chance to create magical worlds.

I loved Brooks’ idea that the point of book signings is to create a link between readers and books – and not necessarily YOUR books. He encourages authors to use these opportunities to make readers so enthusiastic about books they can’t wait to buy more. The key, he suggests, is to make a connection rather than a sale. Remain cheerful, so people remember a good experience, be thankful that organisers/publishers have taken a chance on you, and be anxious to chat, and ready to answer questions.

Inspiring last words…

Finally, I love the idea Brooks put forward that writing creates a writer’s identity. If, as he suggests, you come to be the sum of your words, then the more fantastical stories I create, the more I will evolve into a magical being!

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