Saturday, November 27, 2010

Writing Advice

Gene Wolfe, fabulous and almost-legendary SF writer who just won a World Fantasy Award for his story collection, has an interesting interview at Black Gate ( Among other things, he offers his top five pieces of writing advice to aspiring authors. Here they are:

1.) Get up early and write.
2.) Read what you’re trying to write, for Godsakes! (Don’t read enormous fantasy series if you’re trying to write short stories.)
3.) Remember that it is characterizing that puts your story heads and shoulders over the others in the slush pile.
4.) You do not characterize by telling the reader about the character. You do it by showing the character thinking, speaking and acting in a characteristic way. You simply show it and shut up.
5.)Do not start a story unless you have an ending in mind. You can change the story’s ending if you wish, but you should always have a destination.

I heartily agree with 3 1/2 of these. Before I say which ones on my next blog, and why, anybody want to guess what I'm not agreeing with?


Dale Emery said...

My guess: You don't agree with #5. As for #2, you agree that it's good to read what you write, and also good to read outside of what you write.

I agree with #1, but only if "early" means "before noon."

Joe Iriarte said...

You don't agree with number 5, and you only half agree with number 1: you think people need to find the time to write that works for them, and stick to it, but you don't think it needs to be early. Some people are more creative late.

You agree with 3 and 4, given that you wrote a book on creating good characters.

How'd I do? :)

Joe Iriarte said...

Aw nuts, I forgot to check the follow-up box again!

A.R.Yngve said...

I might add, in the case of SF, this advice about "credible" characterization:

Since we are shaped by the world around us (arguably), the characters should reflect the fictional world they live in. This should help you (as a writer) to "build" credible characters:

- What experiences and environments have shaped them?

- What is the environment "urging" them to do/not do?

- What in the characters' makeup is in conflict with the fictional environment? What is not?

MikeP said...

You don't agree with #1 and #5, and you half agree with #4, but I'd say #2 is my runner up for half agreeing.

Oz said...

I know you don't agree with #5 because you said your process was like driving with the high beams at can only see a little way ahead of where you are. (See? We listen.)


Brendan said...

I going to choose with 1 and half of 2(just to be a bit different).

Phoebe said...

I'm going to guess you disagree with #5.

Me, I take issue with waking up early. I'm not creatively functional before 11 a.m. or so, much less in those gray pre-dawn hours when other writers write. I recently decided to try to get up an hour early for a few weeks to see if it helped with my writing output, as I ended up writing less. I'm a late night writer. Shouldn't be anything wrong with that!

EFKelley said...

Number 5 for sure. Probably number 2 about always reading what you're writing, though this is certainly a habit of mine. Hence my 'Forsooth, y'all' comment on Facebook.

TheOFloinn said...

In line with #4,

Nancy yawns and squints her eyes in the blinding afternoon light slashing through the venetian blinds. "Well, there goes #1 all shot to hell," she thinks.

After a while she enters her palatial writing office, festooned with the awards and certificates that have been heaped upon her in an illustrious career. She spends what remains of the afternoon on a closely written tight characterization of a biotechnician who... Well, she doesn't quite know yet. The story went in a different direction than she had originally supposed. The characters had come alive and had taken the story out of her hands. Ah, she thinks. That would be #5. Hard to disagree with a rule that actually has it both ways.

Afterward, she relaxes with the 12-volume Ringquest in Elfland epic; but as she does she realized that the cadences and pacing of the story cycle jangle with the short, hard SF story she is attempting. Like a newly-dug channel, it takes her thoughts down a new direction. "A change of pace between your reading and your writing is all well and good; but not if I wind up turning my shorts into epics. I only half-agree with #2."

Joe Iriarte said...


Brilliant! :D

ed124c said...

After reading The Offloinn's post, I don't need the 5 rules anymore, because I could never write anywhere near as well as TO. And since I am giving up so quickly, I guess I am not writer material in the first place.

TheOFloinn said...

And since I am giving up so quickly, I guess I am not writer material in the first place.

"Never give up, never surrender!"
-- Commander Peter Quincy Taggart, Galaxy Quest

Nancy Kress said...

Joe is right, Mike Flynn is dead wrong but incredibly entertaining. I disagree with Gene's Rule #5 because I seldom -- actually, never -- know the endings to stories or novels when I begin them. They grow organically, like corn. Or stinkweed.

I partially agree with #1. If you're a morning person, haul yourself out of bed and write. But if you're one of those people who can't remember your name until noon, then write at night. The important things are to (1)work with your biological rhythm, and (2) clear out the schedule at some good point to MAKE time for writing.

Gene Wolfe and I are both morning people. I am writing this way too early, and somehow it gets even earlier as I grow even older.

Joe Iriarte said...

Aw yeah--I win the internets! :D