A Piece of The Secret to Professional Writing—Revealed!
The secret that separates pro fiction from beginners', and how to capitalize on it.
In this landmark work, long time Critters Writers' Workshop member Robert Qualkinbush has analyzed the openings of over 1,400(!) speculative fiction pieces -- science fiction and fantasy -- from both professionals and new writers. He's found what makes pro selling stories work. As the title says, this 100 page book is filled with tons of examples that show you how to improve your openings so they'll sell your story.
2nd edition - revised and nearly doubled in size, with an extensive analysis of opening hooks!
If you want to be a professional writer, you have to read this.
"if you're at all concerned about story openings, you'd be nuts not to read what Qualkinbush has to say." --Wil McCarthy, author of BLOOM and THE COLLAPSIUM
This book does exactly what it claims to do - explains how to write a decent speculative fiction opening.
As the author clearly illustrates, speculative fiction has some real differences from fiction where we can easily assume a setting and other various features of the world. For this reason, the first few lines *must* help the readers figure out the basic things they need to know in order to get on with enjoying the story. This sounds simple (although I suspect in practice that it's a *lot* harder), but it's well illustrated with close to a hundred examples from spec fiction stories, explaining why and how they work.
As a warning, the book does absolutely *no* more than this. There's nothing on story structure or characterization. There's no conversation on writing style or quality. It's pretty much just about, "How to I write the first paragraph of a story so that someone might read farther?" (It's also fairly short - which I think is a good thing - much longer would have felt kind of drone-y.) But that's an important skill that I'd recommend to any writer, so would definitely recommend that those trying to write speculative fiction read this.
It is very true the spec fic reader is different to the traditional audience, we are willing and even expect to wait for information. As someone who also writes spec fic, I got a dose of this first hand from a proofreader a few months ago. After subsisting on a steady diet of Stephen King, my high fantasy piece did not sit well with them. I had written what I considered an intriguing introduction that left the reader with questions about the world so they would want to read on. The conversation with the reader went like this:
READER: It's well written, but you didn't explain things, how am I supposed to know what a such and such is? All you've said is that it is dead, and even dead it’s frightening. ME: Yeah, exactly, read on and you will find out. READER: Oh no, I need to know what it is now so things make sense. ME: But then I'd be info dumping. There is enough info to tell you the world is different, there is magic and sometimes that magic has been used to make scary beasts people have stopped believing are real. READER: You don't explain why they have stopped believing they are real. ME: But then I would be info dumping...read on and you will find out.
You get the idea. Against my gut instinct, I tried to rewrite with explanation. It was horrible and lost all sense of mystery and the feeling of stepping into a world as yet unknown. I realised the proofreader's reading world was completely different to my reading and writing world. And that is what I love about spec fic. It is special, it sucks in both reader and writer on a certain wavelength in a harmonious but difficult balance of tantalising truths that build the world block by block as you go. Each page, each scene adds a touch more to generate those movie-like imaginings as we read on and on.
This short book does a marvellous job of dissecting spec fic to see what makes it tick. It was a delight to read, with wide research and good examples. It helped me understand some concepts behind the way I write like I do as I seem to employ methodologies instinctively, which to me is wonderful. I've always been drawn to spec fic and to realise the style comes naturally to me explains a lot about me. To me anyway!
I also took the advice of the author and headed over to Hatrack River Writers Workshop associated with Orson Scott Card’s web site. I had a quick browse around the Fragments Forum where you can post the first thirteen lines of a short story for critiquing (thirteen lines because that is what should grab a reader and to protect your publication rights). The warning was that some comments can be blunt. Oh yes indeed they were, but that is good, last thing you need when someone is giving you feedback is simply a “Yay, more!!” If that is what you are after, write fan fiction. I was impressed with the forum and will probably sign up.
I thoroughly recommend this book.
I'd also like to say bought this directly from the publisher (ReAnimus Press). They have a great attitude to ebooks, believing books should be able to be read on any platform. A single purchase enabled me to download copies I could use on multiple devices, I wasn't stuck with 'you must read this on a kindle or a kindle app'. Kudos.
I've attempted to read this several times without success until now. I found it a little difficult to understand without a bit more writing knowledge. There are some nuggets here that might be useful to writers, but it will take some experimentation.
I love numbers. Give me numbers and results and I know I'm looking at something that works. The problem is, it's only the first chapter that really gives this information. The rest isn't as readable. But that first chapter is really, really good if you like analysis.
One of the most valuable books I've read recently on writing speculative fiction is "How To Improve Your Speculative Fiction Openings" by Robert Qualkinbush. I got in on Kindle when it was first released by Reanimus Press which is run by Andrew Burt of Critters, an online critique group for writers of speculative fiction, but it is now available in print on Amazon.
Qualkinbush analyzes 1400 professionally published short story openings and came up with some interesting trends. First he discovered that 85% of story openings by professionals start with “situational” information or “telling” rather than a scene. He emphasizes how important it is for spec fiction writers to orient their readers to the type of story they are telling in the first paragraph, especially the identity of the POV character.
He also discusses the concept of abeyance—the face that spec fiction readers are willing to figure out, or learn later, unfamiliar concepts that are dropped into the text. The real challenge for writers is where and how to start, and the author suggests starting with the “heart” of the story, which he suggests is determined by the ending. He offers many detailed examples of his conclusions from the stories he surveyed and although this book is very specific and covers only how to organize and start a speculative fiction story, it is packed with useful data. If you've ever struggled between "Showing" and "Telling" for your opening, this is the book for you.
Most of the book contains advice I've read in varying language from many sources. However there is one piece of information on openings that is taken from a survey of professional examples that makes this book worth it. It reads quickly and provides graphs and tables to help you apply the information to your own work based on the speculative concepts you need to express.