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Writing fantasy & sf | Reviews

Writing fantasy and science fiction

2nd Edition

Lisa Tuttle

A & C BlackClick for A & C Black Publishers Publishers References listing, 2005

185 pages £11.99

 

Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction

'There is a common misconception that writing science fiction or fantasy is simple, easier than writing other kinds of fiction.'

 

 

'However, for those who do ‘get’ it, science fiction and fantasy provide genuinely exciting reading, and fascinating challenges for people who want to write it.'

 

 

'Both genres tend to be plot-driven and writers are always looking for a good idea or a fresh approach to a familiar situation.'

 

 

 

 

'In all, this is an excellent guide for anyone interested in writing and publishing science fiction and fantasy. Lisa Tuttle knows the genres and the industry incredibly well and draws on her own wealth of experience to provide exactly the right kind of information and advice for the budding writer..'

There is a common misconception that writing science fiction or fantasy is simple, easier than writing other kinds of fiction. This view of things tends to come from people who haven’t read much if anything in either genre but who’ve noticed just how much sf and fantasy there is on the shelves, and who’ve seen a few films. Throw in a few rocket ships or a sprinkling of elves, that all-important quest, and the job is done, surely. I mean, just how difficult can this be?

More difficult than you might imagine, if that’s the approach you plan to adopt, for make no mistake, writing sf and fantasy is just like writing any other kind of fiction. As Lisa Tuttle notes in the introduction to this writing guide, not only are the skills an sf or fantasy writer needs the same as those required by any other form of fiction, both genres generate a constant awareness in reader and writer that the reality they’re engaged with is very different to their own, which requires a different kind of attention in reading and writing. For some readers, it’s an impossible task – witness the monotonous regularity with which mainstream newspaper reviewers unhelpfully say ‘I don’t get this’ – and, sadly, for some writers too, as mentioned above. However, for those who do ‘get’ it, science fiction and fantasy provide genuinely exciting reading, and fascinating challenges for people who want to write it.

Most successful writers of fantasy and sf have read a good deal of it already, and Tuttle stresses that this is key to understanding how the genres work. If you don’t usually read sf or fantasy, it is probably worth asking yourself why you want to write it. Successful writers know, for example, that science fiction is usually driven by the question, ‘what if?’, and that all the good ideas in the world will not save a science fiction novel if it’s poorly plotted and if the characterisation is weak or non-existent. They know too that fantasy asks the same questions in a different way, looking for emotional truths in recurring mythic patterns. SF writers tend to want originality while fantasy writers look more towards grounding their work in tradition. Both genres tend to be plot-driven and writers are always looking for a good idea or a fresh approach to a familiar situation.

Having described the distinctive features of each genre, Tuttle then focuses on a number of writing issues which, if not peculiar to sf and fantasy, are nevertheless often unusually problematic for writers new to the genres, including world-building (surprisingly often writers pay rather too much attention to this) and characterisation (writers too often pay insufficient attention to this, believing the ideas will carry the novel; generally, they don’t) and addresses such knotty matters as research. Many people suppose that it’s impossible to write science fiction without being a scientist one’s self. While it’s true that many sf writers are scientists, just as many, if not more, are watching the world around them, reading New Scientist and asking ‘what if …?’ In the same way, fantasy writers may be reading collections of old folktales but wondering how these might apply to the world in which they live. Again, ‘what if …’

While the guide covers a certain amount of familiar territory – use of language, rewriting, formatting a manuscript, finding an agent – it also includes such useful features as advice from editors about what they’re looking for in sf and fantasy novels, and in particular, it discusses the short story, the quintessential sf and fantasy writing form, and still very popular among readers and writers.

In all, this is an excellent guide for anyone interested in writing and publishing science fiction and fantasy. Lisa Tuttle knows the genres and the industry incredibly well and draws on her own wealth of experience to provide exactly the right kind of information and advice for the budding writer.

 

© Maureen Kincaid SpellerMaureen Kincaid Speller a reviewer, writer, editor and former librarian, is our book reviewer and also works for WritersServices as a freelance editor. 2006

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List price: £15.99
Publisher: A&C Black
2005-05-01
Paperback
Sales rank: 824,273