J.N. Williamson’s “How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction

First, a different kind of how-to-write book; each chapter is written by a different notable in the field – Williamson, Bradbury, Tem, Grant, Bradley, …

The variety of perspectives is interesting. I wonder if each author chose their chapter subject or were assigned it by Williamson, who served as editor.

Bradbury’s chapter, for example, is about where ideas come from and nurturing them, not specific techniques. Tem and Castle each take a turn at character but each from their own perspective.

Bradley’s “World Building in Horror, Occult, and Fantasy Writing” marks the first time I’ve seen the “world building” term outside of writers’ cons (I’m hosting a World Building panel at LitCon 2021).

Beyond chapters on technique – Plot, Character, Setting, World Building, Revision, Submission, … – How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction‘s contributors explain the whys of their suggestions. Example: William F. Nolan’s “Involving Your Reader from the Start” chapter contains several examples of opening paragraphs (I don’t agree that all of them are good). Near the end of his chapter he writes “In the no-TV, no-video, no-comics world of Charles Dickens, readers were conditioned to deal with complex, dense, often-wordy opening pages in books and stories. It was an era of leisurely reading when the pace could be slow and unhurried. Not so today. …”

In other words, writing evolves with a purpose. Yes, there are fads and they pass quickly. What survives is what out-competes others in the environment.

Amazing how evolutionary science affects everything, isn’t it?


Greetings! I’m your friendly, neighborhood Threshold Guardian. This is a protected post and requires either General Membership (free) or a Subscription (various levels). Members and Subscribers can LogIn. Non members can join. All posts are free to all members save certain posts in the My Work category. Enjoy!

Kit Reed’s “Revision”

I first read Kit Reed’s Revision (probably) four years ago. It was one of the first books I read when I decided to spend the rest of my life writing. I dogeared two pages.

I finished my second read about a week ago (as I write this). The book is a mess of dogeared pages.

It’s amazing how much more Kit Reed put into this book in four years, don’t you think?

Extra Effort Closes the Distance between You and Your Audience.

 
The entirety of the book comes down to Reed’s Rule Six: Extra Effort Closes the Distance between You and Your Audience.

Whenever you come to a moment of hesitation, unsurety, confusion, skimming, general off-ness, stop, figure out what’s not working, and fix it.

 
And Reed also provides a caution; Recognize when it’s done and let it go. There’s lots of examples of recognizing when something’s let-goable and when something isn’t. The one that hit me smack between the eyes is “Whenever you come to a moment of hesitation, unsurety, confusion, skimming, general off-ness, stop, figure out what’s not working, and fix it.”

I am training myself to do that. Too many times I’d read something and need to reread it, figure it out on the second take and decide it was okay.

NO, IT WASN’T!

Reed also offers several question lists to help you in your own revising. Early in the book Reed poses twelve questions so you can learn if you’re open to revision. Don’t know about others, I found it revealing (especially when invoking Reed’s suggestion to be strict (unforgiving) with your answers).

Another duh! list early in the book (pg 39) deals with determining if your work (and others, too, if you’re in a critique group) is ready to go out. Reed suggests writers/authors/writer-wannabes read for:

  1. Truth in action
  2. Accessibility
  3. Completeness
  4. Time scheme
  5. Point of view
  6. Length (with an eye to possible cutting)
  7. Organization
  8. And, once again, balance of showing versus telling. (Reed’s words, this, not mine)

Unsure what some of those mean? Read the book.


Greetings! I’m your friendly, neighborhood Threshold Guardian. This is a protected post and requires either General Membership (free) or a Subscription (various levels). Members and Subscribers can LogIn. Non members can join. All posts are free to all members save certain posts in the My Work category. Enjoy!

June Casagrande’s “It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences.”

“It had been being the best of times, it had been being the worst of times.”
Really?

 
This is a small, short book that will so heavily impact your writing…no, scratch that.

It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences. is a small book that will impact your writing.

Yes, much better.

If you don’t recognize the second sentence is better than the first – you may not understand why it is, but if you recognize it is – this book is a necessity.

If you do understand, you’ve probably read this book.

I didn’t write “…don’t recognize that the second sentence…” because It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences. teaches lots about when to use that. I didn’t write “…probably already read…” because it also teaches lots about flabby speech and misuse of adverbs.

And how to subordinate for effect, such as “If you…”

And lots more, all with examples.

Casagrande’s mantra is “Write for the Reader.” Writers who say they write to please themselves first miss the point (almost wrote “are missing the point”); they write for a one-reader audience (rewrote that clause three times). Write to be read. Start with one reader, get more by developing your writing. (a missing conjunction, fix it (she demonstrates how)).

 


Greetings! I’m your friendly, neighborhood Threshold Guardian. This is a protected post and requires either General Membership (free) or a Subscription (various levels). Members and Subscribers can LogIn. Non members can join. All posts are free to all members save certain posts in the My Work category. Enjoy!

World-Building – Process

What goes into creating a world and sharing it with the reader?

Aside from blood and sweat?

Research
Research everything. You may not use everything you’ve learned, but your increased subject matter expertise will come through in your writing and (probably) you’ll have more confidence in what you’re writing. One of my greatest joys is having veterans and specifically helicopter gunship captains contact me after reading The Augmented Man to ask where I served and/or where I learned to fly. Anthropologists and other social scientists constantly read my work and ask if I worked with one culture or another. Such questions let me know my research paid off; when experts talk with you as if you’re an expert, you’ve done your job convincing the reader they’re in good hands reading your work.

On the other side of this, I’ve heard authors say that when they get to a point in their writing where something occurs they don’t understand or know or aren’t sure how something happens, they write “[XXX]” (or something similar) and move on, looking things up later.

Such writing shows (in my opinion).

I’m told that my work is so tightly written that it’s tough to remove stuff without throwing everything else out of whack. It’s like Story-DNA. Sure, you can switch a genome here or there, but that one genome and its placement affect the entire story. You may change hair color from chestnut to dark brown but now you’ve got three fingers that look like toes and a penis growing out of the middle of your forehead.

I stop writing when there’s a piece of something – tech, location, language, culture, anything! – in which I feel my knowledge is lacking.

And I always feel my knowledge is lacking.

Revealing the Story’s World
Reveal as the story requires. That’s the author’s job. Don’t front load, don’t back load, definitely don’t waste the reader’s time or stretch their patience, and always keep them moving forward through the story. This is something I wrote about in World-Building – Getting Readers Interested in Your World.


Greetings! I’m your friendly, neighborhood Threshold Guardian. This is a protected post and requires either General Membership (free) or a Subscription (various levels). Members and Subscribers can LogIn. Non members can join. All posts are free to all members save certain posts in the My Work category. Enjoy!

The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing

A good worker’s trade book

The Goodreads blurb is “Some of the best advice available on how to create character, use description, create a setting and plot a short story.” The Amazon blurb is “Here’s a collection of the most helpful articles from WRITER’S DIGEST magazine covering every aspect of short story writing. Every writer, from beginner to professional, will find guidance, encouragement, and answers to such concerns as how to make characters believable, developing dialogue, writer’s block, viewpoint, the all-important use of conflict, and much more.”

Definitely some advice although not until the third section (Characterization). The first two sections read more like Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write, basically cheering sections for those unsure and/or starting out (which is to be expected. This was the handbook for the Writer’s Digest Fiction writing course).

I can believe that the separate chapters were Writer’s Digest articles. They both read as such and, from a business perspective, why solicit for something already owned?

Is it helpful? Yes. I was suprised at how much new (to me), useful information the book contained (once I got past the rah-rah sections).

There’s enough in here to keep writers developing their craft going for quite a while. I do recommend it.


Greetings! I’m your friendly, neighborhood Threshold Guardian. This is a protected post and requires either General Membership (free) or a Subscription (various levels). Members and Subscribers can LogIn. Non members can join. All posts are free to all members save certain posts in the My Work category. Enjoy!