Double-dipping to the max
Childproofing for grandkids

How to write stuff

A friend has been telling me I should write sci-fi stories.

I do admit I’ve been an avid reader of science fiction since my teens in a small town in Northern Ontario, haunting the new books shelf of our tiny library on Duncan Avenue, waiting for each new acquisition. They were on a 7 day limit – not a problem for a speed reader. Back then my obsession focus started as a way to escape the boredom of life as a smart kid in a school of jocks, but now it’s just because I enjoy the genre. In addition, I do seem literate at times, hence my friend’s prompt of "you could write science fiction, you’d be good at it".

I admit I do appreciate a well written book, so if I did somehow manage to produce a good one I’m sure I’d recognize it after the fact. However, I wasn’t sure how I would get from good intentions to a finished manuscript.

In the meantime, I knew that she too churns through sci-fi books, and can string some good phrases together, so while musing on my own talents I tossed the suggestion back to her and went looking for a "how to write" book for her birthday.

Turns out there were dozens of choices in that section of Chapters, covering areas like how to write novels, poetry, essays, plays, term papers, and advertising copy. I browsed the selections, talked to the clerk, chatted with other would-be writers – all things you can’t do via online shopping by the way. Anyways, I didn’t find anything specifically on sci-fi but I’m sure it’s there on the shelf somewhere, I know there are lots of references online.

I settled on "Now Write", edited by Sherry Ellis. It’s a collection of fiction writing exercises from 86 writers, divided into topics such as getting started, dialogue, character development, and revising. Looked like a great choice, so much so that I ran into the common problem with buying a present for a friend with similar tastes, that it can be hard to let go of the present and actually give it up to them. So, I bought my own copy too.

The temptation for me is to read the whole book and procrastinate the actual writing, so I compromised and skimmed a bit. The exercises vary in complexity and detail, but all will help I’m sure.One writer, Alice Mattison, helps her students get started with the line "Two people came out of a building". Before they know it, the students have started speculating and adding detail and context. What do these two look like, does one wear a hat, were they arguing, is it summer, did they keep on walking, are they old friends, what happened before? She cautions against deciding everything too quickly, advising them to observe these two people and the scene and let the details develop gradually.

Another author, Rachel Basch, encourages character development by suggesting her students think of containers. Think of their character’s wallet, or bedside table drawer, or purse, or medicine cabinet, then look through it and list everything they find in there. A great way to add some depth to the character.

 Next step is "now write", to just do it. The book is set up to be done from start to finish, each area built on the previous one, so that will be my plan.I may even put some of my writing attempts online here, along with what the exercise was. I’m not sure if I’ll tackle sci-fi right away though, while a feature of it is the flexibility of being able to create everything from scratch – planet type, society, races, history – that can also be a curse of complexity and bog you down in planning and design.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Check out "Notes to a Science Fiction Writer" by Ben Bova


Thx - looks like a good one. I found an abstract here -

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)