How To Start A Science Fiction Story

How To Start A Science Fiction Story – From time to time I recommend, don’t judge, mind you, but I do recommend, and yes, there is a difference, books that I think science fiction and fantasy writers should have on their shelves. Some may be new and still in print, some (like this one) are hard to find, but all are, at least in my humble opinion, essential texts for the SF/fantasy writer, so worth seeking out.

Sprague de Camp and Catherine de Camp (Owlswick Press, 1975) at a used bookstore near my house and was surprised to find it in pristine condition, dust jacket intact. How could I miss it? It sat on my reading shelf for at least the duration of the COVID lockdown, but I finally got around to it and found it to be equal parts enlightening, encouraging, strange, offensive and charming. But let’s remember right away that this is the 1975 revised edition of a book originally published in 1953, so there’s a bit of dust on the contents, jacket or not.

How To Start A Science Fiction Story

How To Start A Science Fiction Story

The book begins with an overview of the science fiction genre, forty-six years into the present day. Most notable in this passage is de Camps’ dismissal of fantasy as a popular genre, with only a slight nod to Tolkien. It seemed strange to me when I remember the first time I read L. Sprague de Camp in his Conan Collection series, where he curated Robert E. Howard’s original stories, finishing some of Howard’s unfinished stories and writing his own. But 1975 is maybe five years before what was going to be the great fantasy renaissance at the time, so I’m not saying he was wrong that no one read fantasy, he just… wrote this in 1975.

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L. Sprague de Camp’s career began in the latter parts of the animated artistic tradition, and his love of Conan the Barbarian places him squarely in that tradition, if nothing else; list of current editors of the journal;

In 1942, one of the authors sat down at US Naval Headquarters in Manhattan, facing three officers who had gathered to interview him about his eligibility for the US Naval Reserve. These people seemed interested in the fact that he listed his occupation as “writer” on the questionnaires. However, they had difficulty expressing their concerns in words. After a moment of abuse, one said: “We want to know, M. de Camp, why are you writing?” Sprague de Camp thought and answered. They calmed down. We suppose they feared that he might say that he wrote to express his soul, or to communicate his immortal message to the world. Not that there’s anything wrong with expressing his soul or imparting an immortal message if he has other means of support. Still, most writers have to think about the bread and butter they write.

God forbid we try both. In this 1975 edition, he quite openly disparages New Wave writers such as Harlan Ellison and J. Ballard: I would like to go back in time and encourage him to think again, leaving room for Howard and Ellison, Dunsany and Ballard, or Edgar Rice and William S. Burroughs, but alas…

Speaking of the pulp tradition, de Camps cites Jack Williamson and Edmund Hamilton’s “formula” for a science fiction story, which I think makes a perfectly suitable short story:

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Three men set out to save the world. One goes mad, the other eats the objects and returns to tell the story.

When it comes to the charm offensive, as seen above, the de Campers rely on all the traditional male pronouns, and I mean

. Although there are passing references to some of today’s women writers, the whole book clearly assumes that science fiction writers are men who write stories for boys, as we see in the background of this strangely schizophrenic fandom;

How To Start A Science Fiction Story

Because many science fiction fans are teenagers, and because some young people are interested in exhibitionism and speculation, fans as a group have sometimes been disparaged as eccentrics. In fact, the average fan displays a high level of intelligence, a voracious appetite for reading, and a personality type that is often hard to get along with the average person. Fans’ interest in speculative fiction gives them a common bond they don’t often feel with ordinary people.

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Collaboration works best when partners’ contributions are equally important, and when their specific skills complement each other rather than duplicate each other. A younger writer is likely to be more prolific and accessible, while an older one is likely to be a sharper critic with a sharper eye for inconsistencies, grammatical errors, and other mistakes.

The charming but inoffensive column has lots of long bits and pieces of advice that just show how much technology has changed since 1975;

When you finally write your final draft, write with black tape on fairly fresh, white, medium-weight paper. Either make two copies or, if you can afford it, one copy of your files and a Xerox tape copy. The latter is excellent for reproduction; but a copy printed on fresh carbon paper will serve and save the writer money.

Wow, how expensive were copiers in 1975? De Camps goes on to describe his elaborate documentation system, where each story or novel is given its own index card with publication dates, when rights have been returned, reprinted, etc., and pages to record royalties. I recommend that if you find this book first, you look at the data they track, although Excel works better as the same database, just as hard disk or cloud storage reduces Xeroxing and carbon footprint. paper costs.

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Advice on writing a science fiction story or novel is a bit light. This book reads more like “how to become a sci-fi writer” than “how to write a sci-fi writer,” but it has good advice that mirrors the same advice I gave myself, like this gem from last week’s post. :

During the gatherings, people asked: “Mr. de Camp, what do you think I should become a writer too?” Strictly speaking, the correct answer to such a question is “no”. If a person does not have a strong desire to fight to become a writer, no matter what he says, if there is no doubt in his mind, he is better off avoiding this profession. He will almost certainly do better financially in some other profession for which his constitution, education, and personality are suited.

In general, de Camps advises us to write and more or less figure it out for ourselves, albeit with the head of books like theirs, more formal education, etc., and at the heart of this statement:

How To Start A Science Fiction Story

Other professionals, such as lawyers and doctors, spend years in specialized training before being qualified to practice. Why should a writer expect to master their craft any sooner?

Solution: Science Fiction Writing Rubric

There is no room to waste in a short story. The reader does not tolerate long beginnings. The reader is caught shooting the sheriff in the first paragraph. There is no room for great complications and no time for long processes such as the fundamental change of human nature. You can not develop character. at best you can identify it and show its connection to the action. You have a short story leading up to one big event told in a focused, concise manner. If you can put a snapper ending, so much the better.

Although all action sentences can be said to move, some move faster than others. The fastest movers have a simple structure of nouns and other verbs with prepositions, adverbs, and other operative words to connect them. Slow movers are full of adjectives and adverbs.

More fun as a glimpse into the world I’ve been doing since I was eleven than as a must-have guide for modern writers. Some things, like the advice to write simply and take the craft seriously, remain the same, but we can safely put aside the assumption that only men write or read science fiction, and do so with new typewriter ribbons and carbon paper. although you still have to save up for the once-luxury Xerox. Perhaps it was this expense that prompted one writer de Camps to explore other revenue streams embodied by L. With this hilarious quote from Ron Hubbard. “

About Philip Athans Philip Athans is the New York Times bestselling author of Annihilation and dozens of other books, including The Guide to Fantasy and Science Fiction and Writing Monsters. Her blog: Fantasia

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