What Makes Terry Pratchett So Unique

Like many of you, I love Terry Pratchett’s books. Or to be more specific, I love the worlds that Sir Terry has created for us and shares with us in his works.

My own writing is, I believe, Pratchettesque in some fundamental way. I haven’t, of course, tried to copy his style or characters. My own unique worlds and characters have sprung up in my imagination on their own. And yet there is something about his approach seems so right and yet so different from the approach of most other novelists.

In this blog I’d like to try to identify what makes Terry Pratchett so unique and find out if you agree.

You may also have had the experience of finishing all of Sir Terry’s books and looking desperately for another author who you could enjoy as much.  And failing. The closest I’ve found have been Kage Baker and Jasper Fforde and I’ve very much enjoyed their books. But it’s not Sir Terry.

What makes Terry Pratchett unique? He writes funny sci-fi/fantasy. Ever hopeful, I’ve checked out countless “funny sci-fi/fantasy” authors. Here are some ways they’ve fallen short:

  1. Poor writing skills
  2. Trying too hard to be funny
  3. Too filthy mouthed
  4. Too much sex
  5. Too much violence
  6. Storyline is not engaging
  7. Characters who are shallow or unlikeable

These pitfalls are hints but they still don’t quite capture what Pratchett has that these authors don’t. Here’s my best stab at defining the undefinable Terry Pratchett:

The world of Terry Pratchett is a kind world, an almost childlike world. It’s imaginative and sparkly. It reflects the basic goodness of life. It reflects the natural silliness of humanity. It’s cast of characters brings to life our friends, relatives, co-workers, enemies.  It does all of this in clear, accurate but natural language.

Like a child’s language, Pratchett’s doesn’t need swearing. As in a child’s world, affection doesn’t require overt sex. This is a kinder, simpler, softer and so much subtler world.

Pratchett’s world is a good world. People never really get hurt, even though some die. (DEATH himself is a little soft-hearted and sometimes wishes he could just be plain old Bill, the farmhand.) Even “bad” characters are likeable or at least pitiable, as, for example, Mr. Teatime, who in the end is a lonely victim of his own inability to feel loved.

For these reasons, even though some of his books are labeled as Young Adult, young readers can enjoy any of his books without having their young sensibilities offended. And his YA books are rich and lovable for adutls. (I wrestled with the Young Adult categorization of my book Annie Gomez and the Gigantic Foot of Doom for the same reason.)

Some might say Pratchett’s world is too naive, that Pratchett refused to grow up. I disagree. He grew up and saw through the jaded world that many of us adults live in far too much. He reminds us of the real wonder of life. He reminds us that underneath our business suits we are all earnest and ridiculous characters with our own stories to tell.

I hope that my own books are in this spirit. One reader of Death by Haggis commented how refreshing it was that even the bad guys were lovable. Readers of Annie Gomez and the Gigantic Foot of Doom have called the story “ lighthearted, whimsical and humorous” and “a lighthearted, fun read that would be good for anyone but particularly the younger audiences because there isn’t any adult language or situations.”

These comments make me happy because, like Sir Terry, I see the world as lighthearted, clean, and good.

Now that Terry Pratchett is walking into the distance with Bill the Farmhand, we can only hope that other skillful writers and storytellers who see the goodness, simplicity and humor in the world will share their visions with us.

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