Sunday, January 20, 2013

Well, duh

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy
Orson Scott Card
Non-fiction 140 pages
Writer's Digest Books, 2001

 Ever read something so obvious that you go, “Well, duh?” Maybe you reacted that way because the information was so right, so intuitive, and so self-evident that you thought you already knew it. Perhaps you did, or perhaps the information arrived so naturally that you failed to realize you received a lesson. That’s how this book works.

Card begins with an explanation of what constitutes science fiction or fantasy, and the differences between the two genres. On the surface, it seems obvious, but there’s more to it when you look a little deeper. Readers may not care what genre they’re reading, but it’s important for authors to know what genre they’re writing. This is especially true now that mixed genres are becoming popular. However, mixing genres is not the same as muddling genres. Muddling results in genre pollution. For example, I can’t think of anything vaguely scientific about zombies, yet there they are muddling up the science fiction genre.

Authors also need to know the difference between genres in order to set, and follow, the rules pertaining to the worlds they create and write about. Knowing how starships travel, or how magic is worked, brings credibility to stories, even if the information is never mentioned in the story. This principal applies to other elements of a story as well. When an author knows his character’s background, the history of the story’s milieu, etc., then his story is more believable, even if this information is not shared with readers.

There are four story types, Card maintains. These are: milieu, idea, character, and event types. Authors need to know the differences between each type, and must be certain that the type they start a story with, is the same as the type with which it ends. Otherwise readers are baffled and disappointed.
Story worlds should be built with exposition techniques that don’t interrupt story action. Card uses another author’s story to explain how effective and unobtrusive exposition is accomplished.

The final quarter of the book addresses a writer’s lifestyle and business practices. Although Card offers good advice, similar advice is available in other writing how-to books. Some of the information is outdated and fails to address the rapid changes occurring in the publishing industry. But don’t let that stop you from reading an otherwise excellent book.

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