The plan of this book is straightforward. I assume that you want to write publishable fiction, either short stories or novels. I will speak directly to you, just as if we were sitting together in my home discussing craftsmanship face to face.
First, we will talk about science fiction, its special requirements, its special satisfactions. The science fiction field is demanding, but it is the best place for new writers to begin their careers. It is vital, exciting, and offers a close and immediate interaction between readers and writers.
In the next section of the book we will talk about the four main aspects of fiction writing: character, background, conflict and plot. Four short stories of mine will serve as models to illustrate the points we discuss. There are myriads of better and more popular stories to use as examples, of course. I use four of my own because I know exactly how and why they came to be written, what problems they presented to the writer, when they were published, where they met my expectations, and where they failed.
Each of these four areas of study—character, background, conflict and plot—is divided into three parts. The section begins with the chapter "Character: Theory." After it, is the short story that serves as an example, followed by the chapter "Character: Practice," showing how the theoretical ideas were handled in the actual story. Then come chapters on background, conflict and plot: theory first, then a short story, followed by a chapter on practice using the story as an illustration.
Next will come a section specifically about writing novels. We will discuss the different demands that novels make on the writer and how successful novelists have met these challenges. We will deal with the things you need to do before you write a novel, and then the actual writing task. The next chapter, on marketing, will discuss how to go about selling your work, both novels and short fiction.
Finally, there will be a wrap-up section in which we discuss ideas, style, and a few other things. WHAT THIS BOOK IS NOT
This book is not an exhaustive text on the techniques of writing. I assume that you know how to construct an English sentence and how to put sentences together into readable paragraphs. We will not spend a chapter, or even a few pages, discussing the importance of using strong verbs or the active versus the passive voice or the proper use of adjectives and adverbs. All these things you should have acquired in high school English classes. If you don't understand them now, go back and learn them before going any further.
There are many graduates of high school and college courses in creative writing who have been taught how to write lovely paragraphs, but who have never learned how to construct a story. Creative writing courses hardly ever teach story construction. This book deals with construction techniques. It is intended as a practical guide for those who want to write commercial fiction and sell it to magazine and book editors.
We will concentrate on the craft of writing, on the techniques of telling a story in print. Some critics may consider this too simple, too mechanistic, for aspiring writers to care about. But, as I said earlier, it is the poor craftsmanship of most stories that prevents them from being published.
Good story-writing certainly has a mechanical side to it. You cannot get readers interested in a wandering, pointless tale any more than you can get someone to buy a house that has no roof.
Since the time when storytelling began, probably back in the Ice Ages, people have developed workable, usable, successful techniques for telling their tales. Storytellers use those techniques today, whether they are sitting around a campfire or in a Hollywood office. The techniques have changed very little over the centuries because the human brain has not changed. We still receive information and assimilate it in our minds in the same way our ancestors did. Our basic neural wiring has not changed, so the techniques of storytelling, of putting information into that human neural wiring, are basically unchanged.
Homer used these techniques. So did Goethe and Shakespeare.
And so will you, if and when you become a successful storyteller. I hope this book will help you along that path.
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