How to write...


Oct 11, 2007
Johannesburg, SA
Has anyone read his instructional books on how to write sf and fantasy and characters and viewpoints? Are they good do they give any good pointers and guides?
I've read a couple books on writing, nothign specific dealing with SF. Largely they basically say just got off your butt and write. Apparently many people waste a lot of time reading books, as I do, and don't actually write anything. If you read any sort of book or even watch a movie here or there, your brain should naturally understand basic story structure. Just start writing. Whether you want to out line it or not is up to you.
I have the Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. It's not bad. I also have similar books by Christopher Evans, Lisa Tuttle, Brian Stableford and Bob Shaw. The best advice from any of them is from Shaw's: the only qualification for writing science fiction is to have read lots of science fiction. Having said that, it's worth getting at least one book on the subject, if only to learn what the common mistakes and pitfalls are.
I have the Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. It's not bad. I also have similar books by Christopher Evans, Lisa Tuttle, Brian Stableford and Bob Shaw. The best advice from any of them is from Shaw's: the only qualification for writing science fiction is to have read lots of science fiction. Having said that, it's worth getting at least one book on the subject, if only to learn what the common mistakes and pitfalls are.

Funny, I once read that Michael Moorcock recommends that sf/fantasy writers not read much in the genre because it will put them at risk of falling into genre conventions. He says he reads mostly other genres.

That aside, I've read How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy and have it on my bookshelf. It's been a while, but I thought it was good, and I think it won a nonfiction Nebula or Hugo award or something, too.
I have not read either - but I have heard Stephen Kings book on the same topic is better
I seem to remember flipping through a copy at a library at some point. *looks at picture of cover...* Yup. But I don't remember it. I've just stuck it on reserve at our library, so hopefully I'll have a better response in a few days.

He's also got some good articles up on his website about the basics of writing.

I actually lean a little toward Moorcock on the issue of reading a lot of the genre you write in. A writer ought to keep tabs on what's been done, but it's also very important to read outside the genre to get a good crossflow of inspiration.
I keep thinking that I need to read more. I also need to keep my notes on my inspirations in order. Personally, I want a book on writing fantasy; perhaps it would stimulate my rubbish writing. I plan to write some rubbish to get some impulses out of the way and then look at the results for help on then writing something good.
If you don't read other SFF books, you risk rehashing a well-worn idea that you believed very original.

Moorcock started writing at the end of the 50s. There have been lots of novels since, including his; lots of ideas have been exploited to death.

And books about writing are useful: the more you know the techniques, they more you can consciously transgress them to obtain a particular effect.
In fact, the art of writing has its own rules (like cinema, graphic novels, and music); an experienced author can twist these rules without looking like a dilettante.

But that's okay if most aspiring writers don't know zilch about their own art and can't write professionally. It helps the 5% who know to surf upon the slush.

Knowing the rules and writing the proverbial one million words is what we need to learn the art. Like in every art, professionalism is theory plus practice.

To answer the question, the book by Orson Scott Card is interesting.
The most interesting thing about books on writing, to me, is how much they contradict one another's rules. One will lay down a few absolute rules and another will lay down another set that transgresses the first one's rules, and so on. One will tell you that outlining is essential, and another will tell you it hinders writing.

Mostly, I think the utility of books on writing is that they make you think about how to write and the techniques available. A good idea is to read a number of them and pick which parts make the most sense for your own way of life.

I remember reading one book (I can't remember which one) that said that one thing every writer must absolutely have is a set period of time each day set aside for writing when they can close themselves in a room and just write. Well, I have a small apartment and two very young kids. That's not going to happen. My life is too chaotic. But that doesn't mean that writing is impossible. Some people thrive on chaos.
Well, I'm wading through it. I like his illustration of how his ideas form, and his comment in the first part of the book about SF&F being a ghetto that's bigger on the inside than the outside. It's giving me some pause for thought on where I want to be classed eventually; in the general fiction or the SF&F section...

As to reading outside the genre versus reading inside it- he says you ought to read to help avoid the cliches, but at the same time, if you look at his biography, he's also well-read outside the genre himself. So there's a balance needed.

Any thoughts on his loose definition of SF as being about the "nuts and bolts", about the mechanics of space & space travel, essentially...?
Strangely enough, I've read (and own) OSC's How to Write SF&F book but have never had the opportunity to read his novels :p

However, recently I've managed to lay my hands on a 2nd hand copy of Speaker for the Dead. However, without Ender's Game, I'm not sure whether I should go on and read it?

- Dreir -
You should. Speaker for the Dead is about 80 times better than Ender's Game and Ender's Game is a fine, fine novel. Speaker for the Dead is just awesome. You'll get it. Card is a writer with chops so you can read on without risking being lost.

Then again, I read them back to back. So maybe I am underestimating how intertwined they are. However, Speaker is just so good that I recommend jumping right in.
Thanks, Kes.. I have, in fact, read and finished the book, mainly because I found that in the introduction, OSC himself says that you can safely read it without knowing anything about EG.

I just finished it about 2 days ago (in about 4 days. I know, that seems a long time, but reading time has been at a premium and if I didn't care about having to wake up and go to work the next day, I would've probably finished it in 1 night). And yes, it was completely safe to read on its own. At no point was I scratching my head in confusion. And it's a damn good read, too, gripping from the first page to last. Now I hope I can find EG somewhere.. even if it's only 1/80th as good, it'd still be worth getting.. :)

- Dreir -
Oh yeah, it's worth reading. Oddly enough I found that, while I read it through and had some good moments, Xenocide isn't nearly as exciting as Speaker. I couldn't finish Children of the Mind.

I'm reading Hart's Hope right now, which I believe is out of print. I found a copy at a 2nd Hand store. It's good. It is very, very different in its storytelling style.
I remember reading something about creating a sculpture of a rabbit that said something along the lines of 'remove all the pieces of stone that don't add to the general impression of rabbitry'. Assuming you can write coherent prose of some sort, I think it's more about knowing what not to do rather than the opposite. Along those lines, I found "How Not To Write A Novel" (I can't post a link being a newb an' all) a very useful book.
I just read his book on writing science fiction and fantasy. It was very helpful and I would recommend it highly. Also, being an old book you should be able to pick it up quite cheap. I got mine for 2.98 on Amazon (Including postage and packaging).
The "How To Write SF and Fantasy" was my first introduction to Orson Scott Card. I had heard of "Ender's Game" but had never picked it up. I thought Card's insights into SF and Fantasy writing were well set out and he spoke to you with strait talk. Not just the good stuff, but telling you there are ups and downs to writing. I would definitely pick up an Orson Scott Card title now. It is quite a coincidence, I had this book on my shelf for over ten years meaning to read it and never before reading any of his work. Then after reading his "How To" book, within a week I got to introduce the subject of Card to my wife for a promotion she was working on about writers and then finding his website and finding out Enders Game was being made into a movie. I look forward to learning more of his work.
I recently finished reading How To Write SF and Fantasy and it was very useful. Trouble is that now I have a backlog of sci-fi books to try reading since i'm taking his "read all the sci-fi you can" advice to heart.

Also does this forum have people who act as wise readers?
If by "wise readers" you mean people who can help you with your writing, then yes.

We have a thriving Aspiring Writers section with a General Writing Discussion forum which contains threads on all kinds of writing topics -- plenty of good advice for any would-be authors. We also have a Critiques section where members can post a short extract (up to 1500 words) of their unpublished work to get feedback on it. However, that is only open to members with 30 counted posts, so it's not available to you yet.

Have a look around, join in threads, and get to know us. And have a look at the Writing Challenges section -- we have monthly and quarterly competitions for very short fiction, which is good for exercising the writing muscles.