Archive for the ‘how to write’ Category
Saturday, October 23rd, 2010
BEST AUDIOBOOK NEWS EVER! The first two books in Roger Zelazny’s classic Amber series, Nine Princes in Amber and The Guns of Avalon, are now available as unabridged MP3 downloads.
From the audiobook intro: “This was read by Roger Zelazny himself shortly before his untimely death in 1995. The original unedited master recordings of this unique performance, long thought to have been lost or destroyed, were located in 2006, and have been digitally remastered.”
You can listen to a sample of the audio on YouTube.
You might also check out my story “Family Tree,”
which has a strong Amber influence:
Sunday, August 29th, 2010
My story “The Skull-Faced City” is among the free samples over at the newly-launched website for the zombie anthology The Living Dead 2:
||“The Skull-Faced City”
A power-mad zombie rules over a city of the dead.
This is a sequel to “The Skull-Faced Boy,” so definitely read that one first:
Wednesday, August 5th, 2009
Here’s a really good free podcast for screenwriters — the Creative Screenwriting Magazine Podcast
. Each episode features a long (one hour or so) interview with a different writer (or team). I’ve listened to about twenty of these now, and they’ve all been good. The host Jeff Goldsmith really seems to know what he’s talking about, and he asks substantive questions about writing process, breaking in, making deals, film production, etc., and the writers respond with really interesting, insightful, and often very funny answers. Stop wasting your time watching shallow interviews with airhead movie stars on late night talk shows and listen to this instead.
Friday, May 15th, 2009
Here’s another one of my favorite discussions about writing, from “Building the Mote in God’s Eye,” an essay by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle that appeared in Niven’s book N-Space, a collection of stories and essays. There’s a ton of fascinating material in this piece, but I want to focus on one particular thing. Niven and Pournelle’s collaborative novel The Mote in God’s Eye is set in a futuristic interstellar society whose government has reverted to monarchy. The authors defend the plausibility of this:
It is fashionable to view history as a linear progression: things get better, never worse … [the] proposition is that we of nineteen seventy-five are so advanced that we will never go back to the bad old days. Yet we can show you essays “proving” exactly that proposition — and written thousands of years ago. There’s a flurry of them every few centuries.
They also point out that monarchy has some practical advantages:
The leader is known from an early age to be destined to rule, and can be educated to the job. Is that preferable to education based on how to get the job? Are elected officials better at governing, or at winning elections?
But the part that relates directly to writing is this:
We had a choice in MOTE: to keep the titles as well as the structure of aristocratic empire, or abandon the titles and retain the structure only. We could have abolished “Emperor” in favor of “President,” or “Chairperson,” or “Leader” … We might have employed titles other than Duke … and Count … and Marquis. But any titles used would have been translations of whatever was current in the time of the novel, and the traditional titles had the effect of letting the reader know quickly the approximate status and some of the duties of the characters.
There’s a definite trade-off here. It feels more plausible for future (not to mention current) dictators to call themselves, say, “presidents,” but it’s clearer for a reader thrust into an unfamiliar milieu if the titles communicate the character’s actual status. Writing is full of these sorts of choices. Plausibility versus Clarity. Explanation versus Pacing. Many new writers paralyze themselves because they see writing as like solving a Rubix Cube where you have to get all the colors to match up, and they can’t seem to do it. In fact writing is usually more like trying to solve a Rubix Cube that has no solution. You get to a point, after lots and lots of work, where the colors mostly line up, but it’s not perfect, and anything you do to try to fix one problem will mess up something else, and at some point you just have to make a judgment call about whether it’s better to leave one red square among the blues or one yellow square among the whites. And you just have to trust that some readers will have the same tastes and prioritize things the same way you do, and will go along with the choices you made.
Monday, April 20th, 2009
Several of Asimov’s robot books included a foreward called “The Story Behind the Robot Novels.” This is an essay I’ve read and reread countless times. For me the key section is this:
It became very common, in the 1920s and 1930s, to picture robots as dangerous devices that invariably destroyed their creators. The moral was pointed out over and over again that “there are some things Man was not meant to know.” Even as a youngster, though, I could not bring myself to believe that if knowledge presented danger, the solution was ignorance. To me, it always seemed that the solution had to be wisdom. You did not refuse to look at danger, rather you learned how to handle it safely. After all, this has been the human challenge since a certain group of primates became human in the first place. Any technological advance can be dangerous. Fire was dangerous from the start, and so (even more so) was speech — and both are still dangerous to this day — but human beings would not be human without them.
This pro-science, pro-technology sentiment is at the heart of Asimov’s philosophical outlook, which is why it’s such a horrific travesty that Hollywood turned his brilliant short story collection I, Robot into exactly the sort of moronic robots-run-amok hysteria-fest that Asimov was responding to by writing a more intelligent and nuanced treatment of the subject in the first place. (It’s also pretty pathetic that Hollywood is still churning out material — such as the Battlestar Galactica series finale — built around the sort of notions that would strike a bright teenager living a century ago as worn-out and intellectually contemptible.)
Anyway, the other Asimov foreword I used to reread regularly was “The Story Behind Foundation,” from his book Foundation. The part that struck me as romantic and memorable was this:
I had an appointment to meet [magazine editor] Mr. Campbell to tell him the plot of a new story I was planning to write, and the catch was that I had no plot in mind, not the trace of one. I therefore tried a device I sometimes use. I opened a book at random and set up a free association, beginning with whatever I first saw. The book I had with me was a collection of the Gilbert and Sullivan plays. I happened to open it to the picture of the Fairy Queen of Iolanthe throwing herself at the feet of Private Willis. I thought of soldiers, of military empires, of the Roman Empire — of a Galactic Empire — aha! Why shouldn’t I write of the fall of the Galactic Empire and of the return of feudalism, written from the viewpoint of someone in the secure days of the Second Galactic Empire?
It occurs me now that, as much time as I spent reading and re-reading this anecdote, and as much time as I’ve spent remembering it since, I can’t say that I’ve ever actually used the technique described. I can’t say why. It certainly sounds like it should work, and obviously it worked for Asimov. Maybe I’ll try it sometime.
Sunday, April 19th, 2009
Here’s another of my favorite bits of commentary on writing. This is Larry Niven discussing the problem of writing a science fiction mystery, from the afterword to The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton:
How can the reader anticipate the author if all the rules are strange? If science fiction recognizes no limits, then … perhaps the victim was death-wished from outside a locked room, or the walls may be permeable to X-ray laser. Perhaps the alien’s motivation really is beyond human comprehension. Can the reader really rule out time travel? Invisible killers? Some new device tinkered together by a homicidal genius?
More to the point, how can I give you a fair puzzle? With great difficulty, that’s how. There’s nothing impossible about it. In a locked room mystery you can trust John Dickson Carr not to ring in a secret passageway. You can trust me too. If there’s an X-ray laser involved, I’ll tell you so. If I haven’t mentioned an invisible man, there isn’t one. If the ethics of Belt society are important, I will have gone into detail on the subject.
Sunday, April 19th, 2009
Here’s another one of my favorite paragraphs on writing. This is Orson Scott Card on writing child characters, from his introduction to Ender’s Game:
Never in my entire childhood did I feel like a child. I felt like a person all along — the same person that I am today. I never felt that I spoke childishly. I never felt that my emotions and desires were somehow less real than adult emotions and desires. And in writing Ender’s Game, I forced the audience to experience the lives on these children from that perspective — the perspective in which their feelings and decisions are just as important as any adult’s.
Saturday, April 18th, 2009
Here’s another paragraph on writing that really influenced me. This is from Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for Writers. Some of these rules I agree with more than others, but this is the one that’s really stuck with me:
Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip … Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.
Thursday, April 16th, 2009
Next up in my continuing series of paragraphs about writing that really had a big impact on me, here’s Stephen King from On Writing. Many of you I’m sure are familiar with this quote, but it definitely bears repeating:
You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read,” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life. I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there are all sorts of opportunities to dip in … Reading at meals is considered rude in polite society, but if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered anyway.
Sunday, April 12th, 2009
Here’s another little paragraph about writing that struck a chord with me, and that I’ve reread many times. This one’s not technically advice, but it kind of looks like advice if you squint. This is Gardner Dozois explaining the popularity of George R. R. Martin, from the introduction to the massive short story collection GRRM: A RRetrospective (later repackaged as Dreamsongs):
George has always been a richly romantic writer. Dry minimalism or the cooly ironic games of postmodernism so beloved by many modern writers and critics are not what you’re going to get when you open something by George R. R. Martin. What you’re going to get instead is a strongly-plotted story driven by emotional conflict and crafted by someone who’s a natural-born storyteller, a story that grabs you on the first page and refuses to let go. You’re going to get adventure, action, conflict, romance, and lust, vivid human emotion: obsessive, doomed love, stark, undying hatred, unexpected veins of rich humor … and something that’s rare even in science fiction and fantasy these days (let alone the mainstream) — a love of adventure for adventure’s sake, a delighting in the strange and colorful, bizarre plants and animals, exotic scenery, strange lands, strange customs, stranger people, backed by the inexhaustible desire to see what’s over the next hill, or waiting on the next world.