“But what does that mean in the context of writing?” you may ask. “Ari…does this mean MOAR GIVEAWAYS?”
Well, I may do more giveaways (still have yet to mail the ARCs from the previous one though—I’m working on it!). BUT, in this context, a “freebie” refers to a thing that you (as a writer) understand intuitively about the process of writing. Whatever it is? You get it. You didn’t have to work for it. Maybe you’ve got a good ear for dialogue. Maybe your prose is just gorgeous without even trying. Maybe it’s description or characterization or plot or pacing.
This is contrasted, of course, with the aspects of writing that don’t come naturally to you. The things you’ve had to learn the hard way; the things that require editing and conscious effort; the things that you’re still working on. I don’t recall what that forum thread called these, so I’m gonna call them “not-so-freebies” (NSFs).
I can’t recall what I said on that forum all those years ago, but I was thinking about this randomly the other day in the midst of a conversation with another writer. Because it was on my mind, I brought it up, and the two of us ended up giving a rundown of what we thought our respective freebies and NSFs were. It was an interesting exercise! I mean, I think most writers have a pretty good sense of which things come easily to us.
Personally, I think my freebies are:
- Dialogue (all the snark, all the time)
- Characterization through behavior/dialogue
- Rhythm (I’m always very attuned to the sound of a sentence)
- Avoiding info-dumps (I’m super-sensitive to them in other people’s fiction, which helps me avoid them in my own)
And then there are the NSF (which are so much easier to pick out than the freebies):
- Worldbuilding. It’s not so much that I’m bad at it—more that I don’t enjoy it very much. At all. Unlike a lot of other folks who write speculative fiction, I struggle with caring about worldbuilding details that don’t pertain to the actual story at hand. It doesn’t mean I won’t spend time thinking about them, but it’s usually only fun for the first 20 minutes or so and then it starts to feel like a chore. I have to think long and hard about it, and I don’t get much satisfaction out of doing so.
- Plotting. Again, it’s not that my stories are boring or incoherent. I just strongly dislike planning my stories out before I write them. Often this is okay; I’ll write by the seat of my pants and the story will resolve itself all by itself. But sometimes my dislike of plotting can be problematic and plot problems just have to be hashed out through extensive editing. (Maybe I’ll manage to plot out a story before writing it. Someday. We’ll see.)
- Quality of prose. In reading, I will nearly always opt for interesting story + utilitarian prose over beautiful pose + boring story (though I freaking LOVE books that don’t make me choose). The same tendency shows up in my own writing. Once again, it’s not that I’m necessarily bad at coming up with beautiful sentences; it’s that I usually can’t be bothered to put that much thought into it.
That said, for the past two years I’ve taken creative writing courses with a well-known author who writes literary fiction. I am enormously grateful to him for being so open to/supportive of my interest in sci-fi and fantasy; never once has he disapproved of something I’ve written on the grounds of it being speculative fiction. Nevertheless, he expects us to write beautifully, and having class with him has forced me to think about my prose in a way I never would have otherwise. It’s hard. Really hard, sometimes. But having someone actually care about whether my sentences are beautiful or not has made an indelible impact on me, and my writing is all the better for it.
Of course, there are tons of aspects of writing that I haven’t listed here in either category, but that’s because they’re sort of neutral—not something I think of as easy, but not something that I think of as particularly difficult either…
…which leads me to QUESTIONS! I’m actually really curious to hear from you guys:
- If you’re a writer, what do you think your personal freebies/NSFs are?
- And for the non-writers (and any writers who want to answer)—are there particular authors whose freebies/NSFs stick out to you while reading their work? (Of course, we’ll never know for sure; only the authors could tell us if those things are really freebies or the result of good editing. But I think we can probably speculate a bit without being too far off. )