I remember squabbling with a friend at fourteen over video games. I told him that someday every video game would be, at its core, a role-playing game. I argued that it was the natural evolution of the platform. (We didn’t use terms like “evolution” and “platform,” but you get the idea.) He disagreed. Here we are, decades later and everything from shooters to sports games to driving sims has role-playing elements. This quote from Ballard reminds me of that argument. As humanity continues to progress, what was once science fiction is now just modern life. The lines between science fiction and today’s reality have blurred. We’re seeing that blurring within fiction as well.
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
Sorry for the lack of updates. I’ve been quite busy deep in the manuscript mines these past weeks. That said, I have seen progress (yay!), and the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is shining brighter. I’ll have more to share soon.
Over the last week, I saw a couple of authors share tips for writing and for whatever reason, they each chose eight as their number. I know there are others who go with more or less, some of which I’ve even highlighted on this blog (Elmore Leonard, Dave Farland, Heinlein.) I wondered if this was a thing, so I did a little Googling. I found quite a few sets so I figured it’d be fun to gather them up and share them here.
A note before we begin: take everything with a grain of salt. Glean what you can; ignore what doesn’t resonate. What works for one author doesn’t always work for someone else. There is no right path to writing. Be willing to try anything, and figure out your process along the way. It’s easy to get frustrated, but learn to enjoy the discovery, uncovering how you work is part of the fun. So, that said, let’s jump in!
If there were a “big eight,” it’d probably be these eight. (I’d theorize that it was Vonnegut who set the precedent.) He doesn’t hold back, and his “rules” clearly serve as guidelines for his razor-sharp prose.
My Favorite: “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”
This set wasn’t assembled by O’Connor but rather gleaned from her work. However, it’s a fascinating insight into the way she worked and why her stories still resonate.
My Favorite: “I suppose I am not very severe criticizing other people’s manuscripts for several reasons, but first being that I don’t concern myself overly with meaning. This may be odd as I certainly believe a story has to have meaning, but the meaning in a story can’t be paraphrased and if it’s there it’s there, almost more as a physical than an intellectual fact.”
There is a bit of an my-way-or-the-highway style to these “Do’s and Don’ts,” but there are some good approaches within them as well. And one cannot argue with Grisham’s results, but as always do what works for you—write to serve the story.
My Favorite: “Don’t — Keep A Thesaurus Within Reaching Distance”
Gaiman’s rules are as varied and profound as his own work. But they also come from a place of kindness and empathy. Very much worth a read.
My Favorite: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
This collection was gleaned from Rowling’s various quotes, and she offers some good advice for those struggling through the difficulties of creation.
My Favorite: “I always advise children who ask me for tips on being a writer to read as much as they possibly can. Jane Austen gave a young friend the same advice, so I’m in good company there.”
But wait… even after you read those rules, I should stress that Rowling didn’t assemble these herself. Like O’Connor above, someone else gathered them from various quotes of hers. However, unlike O’Connor, Rowling was able to hit up Twitter and explain her approach.
All nonsense. I’m with W. Somerset Maugham: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” pic.twitter.com/V8JSHteiHz
While the post is absolutely a collection of things she said, they aren’t hard and fast “rules”—think of them as tips or approaches. As I mentioned above, there are no rules specific to everyone and Rowling would agree. You can read more of her thoughts on writing (pulled from Twitter), right over here.
Personally, I’ve never been interested in writing short stories. But they are a staple of science fiction and fantasy. These eight little rules are a wonderful approach and would be effective for any fiction long or short.
Lewis’s tips are very similar to most modern writing advice. Just replace the “radio” with “internet” and magazines with the “internet.” Basically, replace the internet with books, people! Get rid of the internet!
My Favorite: “Read good books and avoid most magazines.”
So that’s it! Perhaps yo—
Wait, though… if the J. K. Rowling’s “rules” weren’t really hers, right? I mean she said them, sure, but they weren’t her rules per say. (The same argument could be made for O’Conner and Lewis, but they’re not around to tell us any different.) That means I owe you someone else! So, here’s eight different rules from eight different authors—they also happened to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
As you’d expect, there’s a ton of good advice on this list. One thing I’ve noticed as you read more and more of these is that the tips and rules seem to the echo the others—almost as if each set is constructed of similar material but reflected by an inner mirror within each writer.
My Favorite: Alice Munroe’s “Work stories out in your head when you can’t write.”
So, there are eight writing tips from eight different writers writing tips from sixteen different writers! A lot of good stuff, and plenty of interesting strategies. Hopefully, you find something that works for you. I listed my favorites, but I am sure you have your own as well. What stood out to you? Anything you disagree with? Do you have your own list of eight? Leave a comment and let me know!
Want to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information. SIGN UP TODAY →
“When people dis fantasy—mainstream readers and SF readers alike—they are almost always talking about one sub-genre of fantastic literature. They are talking about Tolkien, and Tolkien’s innumerable heirs. Call it ‘epic’, or ‘high’, or ‘genre’ fantasy, this is what fantasy has come to mean. Which is misleading as well as unfortunate.
Tolkien is the wen on the arse of fantasy literature. His oeuvre is massive and contagious—you can’t ignore it, so don’t even try. The best you can do is consciously try to lance the boil. And there’s a lot to dislike—his cod-Wagnerian pomposity, his boys-own-adventure glorying in war, his small-minded and reactionary love for hierarchical status-quos, his belief in absolute morality that blurs moral and political complexity. Tolkien’s clichés—elves ‘n’ dwarfs ‘n’ magic rings—have spread like viruses. He wrote that the function of fantasy was ‘consolation’, thereby making it an article of policy that a fantasy writer should mollycoddle the reader.
Of course I’m not saying that any fan of Tolkien is no friend of mine—that would cut my social circle considerably. Nor would I claim that it’s impossible to write a good fantasy book with elves and dwarfs in it—Michael Swanwick’s superb IRON DRAGON’S DAUGHTER gives the lie to that. But given that the pleasure of fantasy is supposed to be in its limitless creativity, why not try to come up with some different themes, as well as unconventional monsters? Why not use fantasy to challenge social and aesthetic lies?
Thankfully, the alternative tradition of fantasy has never died. And it’s getting stronger. Chris Wooding, Michael Swanwick, Mary Gentle, Paul di Filippo, Jeff VanderMeer, and many others, are all producing works based on fantasy’s radicalism. Where traditional fantasy has been rural and bucolic, this is often urban, and frequently brutal. Characters are more than cardboard cutouts, and they’re not defined by race or sex. Things are gritty and tricky, just as in real life. This is fantasy not as comfort-food, but as challenge.
The critic Gabe Chouinard has said that we’re entering a new period, a renaissance in the creative radicalism of fantasy that hasn’t been seen since the New Wave of the sixties and seventies, and in echo of which he has christened the Next Wave. I don’t know if he’s right, but I’m excited. This is a radical literature. It’s the literature we most deserve.”
My work has frequently been described as “difficult to categorize”—and while I label the Bell Forging Cycle as urban fantasy for simplicity, it’s no secret that its more accurate description is much more complicated. I revel in this, genre classification is boring at best and writing dangerous or challenging fiction within the “Next Wave” the “New Weird” or whatever we want to call it is exactly where I want to be as a writer.
“As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”