Hey writers, how many books about the craft of writing fiction are on your shelves? Mine contain 58, not that I’ve read every word of all of them. I’ve only dipped into parts of some. There are general how-to’s and more specialized ones on plot, character, dialog, scenes, point-of-view, structure, suspense, emotion and such like. There are others devoted to a specific genre like science fiction, mystery, etc. Some (maybe most) give the ambitious reader exercises to try at home. Many dissect sentences and paragraphs that achieve superior results.
And now you’re waiting for me to get to the book I hate.
First, I think it important to tell you why I reacted as I did. This one came into my life recently. That means it had some tough competition, like Nancy Kress’ BEGINNINGS, MIDDLES, & ENDS and Donald Maas’ THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION, and books covering a broader range of artistic endeavors like David Bayles and Ted Orland’s ART & FEAR. The latest one that didn’t measure up was written by a professor who is overly fond of quoting his own work. Even when he drew examples from other works, many of his examples left me indifferent. He also exuded impatience at encountering the same weaknesses again and again in succeeding classes of students taking his courses. My sympathies were with his students. Worst of all, I’m searching to come up with something–anything–I learned for my investment of time and money.
While pushing onward through his chapters, I wondered what my reaction would have been if I had read this one years ago when I was a newer writer. Would his points have impressed me before my forays into 57 other books on writing? Is my response largely because his work is more suitable for Creative Writing 101 whereas seminar material is more my speed?
Lastly, why am I telling you this? The reason is simple: As writers, we find ourselves on a seemingly never-ending quest to improve our story-telling skills. Rather than growing annoyed at a writing manual that doesn’t work for us, lets go find something more tailored to whatever it is we’d like to learn, whether that’s working in a specific genre (romance, detective stories, historical fiction, etc.) or tackling a specific format (novels, short stories, screen plays, or multi-volume series) or developing ways to write despite adversity in our lives.
Do you have a book about writing that you found particularly helpful to the point that you return to it for fresh guidance?
Here’s where you can find me this weekend:
Catch me on some upcoming panels! I plan to attend the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association’s Nebulas weekend May 20-22. I’ll be talking about alternate history such as my story, The Last Frontier, in Analog Magazine. I’ll also be part of a Q & A about SFWA’s contracts committee. It’s never too soon or too late for aspiring or published writers to come hear about what SFWA members are doing to assist other writers.
I’m also on a slew of panels May 27-30 at Balticon. Some of these will be recorded for those following from home. Topics include
- historical fiction vs. alternate history
- magic in the ancient Mediterranean
- mapping the landscape
- getting the most from writers’ associations
- gods as characters
I love all these topics and can’t decide which will be the most fun! I have at least two more appearances to announce before too long and you can watch them both on You Tube.
Some calendars say it’s yesterday (May 15) and others put it on June 1. But hey, we can celebrate twice, right? Truth be told, for me most days are dinosaur days.
Do dinosaurs still exist today? Who better to ask than 6- to 10-year-old children? In advance of National Dinosaur Day, Mattel surveyed a bunch of kids in Great Britain. A third answered yes, they still roam the Earth right now. Well naturally, lots of these kids want a T. rex as a pet. I kinda wish they’d asked those kids how many wanted to be a T. rex. How about the kids in your family? How many of them think that one day it will be possible to own or be a dinosaur?
Reminder: My monthly newsletter focused on this dinosaur survey and other topics. Please feel free to subscribe if you’d like to get the inside scoop before I blog about events. (You can always unsubscribe.)
There’s nothing like beautiful, fragrant spring flowers to lift my spirits, so I made these three arrangements. Which is your favorite? I keep changing my mind.
Frequently, when authors hear that I write for Analog Science Fiction and Fact, they say they wouldn’t try to write hard science fiction. As much as they may love this sub-genre, they are put off by the degree of difficulty they perceive.
So how does an author go about writing SF that draws heavily on physics, chemistry, astronomy, or biology? I tried tackling this question with a group of hard science fiction writers on Go Indie Now, which you can watch. Our astute moderator, Joe Compton asked a bunch of insightful questions of Sean Hillman, Jan Kotouk, Bruno Martins Soares, and me.
We explored balancing the time you need to do the research vs. the time you have available for the writing. We also shared some thoughts on how the writer moves from initial premise to a mass of specialized knowledge to an intriguing story. Joe boiled what we do down to three handy rules:
- Know your thesis.
- Do your research.
- Don’t be afraid of what you are going to discover.
Come to think of it, that’s good advice for anything you set out to write.
I tell you this now so you can get in on the ebook for a discounted pre-publication price. My story, “Etruscan Afterlife,” combines an ancient sarcophagus for two people with a mechanism for uploading the human mind and thereby escaping death. It will be in The Reinvented Heart along with stories and poems by some incredible writers such as Jane Yolen, Naomi Kritzer, Fran Wilde, Seanan McGuire, Lisa Morton, Xander Odell, and Beth Cato. Paper copies are expected to be available in May. Still undecided? Check out this review! Kudos to editors @catrambo and @@jenniferbrozek
Throughout a writer’s career, opportunities come along. It’s almost always gratifying to be asked to write something, especially when it’s unexpected. New writing-related projects hold out hope of growing an author’s readership. I don’t know a single writer who thinks they have more than enough readers. For lots of us, our first instinct is to say yes.
Some projects are no-brainers. Others are require serious thought. For me, unexpected offers have included solicitations to submit stories for themed anthologies and to work in a different genre or medium. That’s how I’ve written a screenplay, a game, and branched out from science fiction and fantasy into essays, detective fiction, alternate history, and horror. Other opportunities have involved teaching, mentoring, judging, collaborating, and presenting at an in-person or on-line event.
Here’s my advice: Be open to these offers and be careful! First do your due diligence in looking into the business proposition. Also, be sure, to stop and consider what else is on your plate. Many writers–including me–have more current projects and hoped-for future projects than time in the day. There usually isn’t a sure-fire way to decide if a shiny, new opportunity should get to shove something else aside, especially when the upstart arrives during a particularly busy period. Sure, FOMO is powerful. Nevertheless, you really don’t want to say yes, only to have to back out when the realities of over-commitment set in. Nor do you want your personal life and obligations to suffer.
Ah well, if nothing else, this is a better class of problem for a writer to have. It also illustrates that few writing careers proceed as planned or imagined. Best of luck to you!
For a short time, the stories Analog readers voted the best of 2021 are yours to read right here. I’m so honored to have The Last Frontier on this list with these fine stories. I had a great time creating an alternate timeline featuring a woman in the Apollo space program. Hope you’ll give all these stories a read!
ZOMG! Look! My novelette, “The Next Frontier,” is a finalist for the AnLab Readers’ Award! It was published in the July/August, 2021 issue of Analog. It also features a two-page interior illustration. For a short period of time, you can read it for free here. And who wouldn’t want to read alternate history about a woman astronaut in the Apollo space program?
I want to extend my gratitude to all those Analog readers who thought my story was worthy. I am deeply honored to be among such talented writers including my pals Lettie Prell and C. Stuart Hardwick. Also, my thanks go out to astute editor, Trevor Quachri for doing vital behind-the-scenes work to improve stories way more than many readers ever suspect and well as Managing Editor Emily Hockaday. Lastly, take a close look at that illustration done by Eldar Zakirov.