Writing for science fiction and fantasy audiences can be the most exciting writing you've ever done. Your readers are curious and want you to take them beyond ""The Fields We Know,"" to help them explore the infinite boundaries of the worlds you create.
Here, science fiction great Orson Scott Card shares his expertise in these genres. You'll learn:
- What is and isn't science fiction and fantasy, and by whose standards -- and where your work fits in. - How to build, populate, and dramatize a credible, inviting world your readers will want to explore. - How to use the MICE quotient -- milieu, idea, character, event -- to structure a successful story. - Where the markets are and how to reach them to get published.
The knowledge and skills you gain through this book will help you effectively lead your readers into the strangeness you create -- one tantalizing step at a time.
Orson Scott Card is the author of the novels Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, and Speaker for the Dead, which are widely read by adults and younger readers, and are increasingly used in schools.
Besides these and other science fiction novels, Card writes contemporary fantasy (Magic Street, Enchantment, Lost Boys), biblical novels (Stone Tables, Rachel and Leah), the American frontier fantasy series The Tales of Alvin Maker (beginning with Seventh Son), poetry (An Open Book), and many plays and scripts.
Card was born in Washington and grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He served a mission for the LDS Church in Brazil in the early 1970s. Besides his writing, he teaches occasional classes and workshops and directs plays. He recently began a long-term position as a professor of writing and literature at Southern Virginia University.
Card currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine Allen Card, and their youngest child, Zina Margaret.
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy provides a brief yet informative education on what tools can be utilized to construct compelling speculative fiction.
This book is dedicated specifically to the information writers of speculative fiction need to know: world creation, alien societies, rules of magic, and imagining possible futures (readers who wish to learn about characterization, point of view, plotting, style, or dialogue are referred by the author to his other published works on writing).
Though the book identifies itself as a writing guide for science fiction and fantasy, much of the book is dedicated to exploring science fiction, examining various methods for writing about time travel and space exploration. Nonetheless, this book is a valuable resource for writers of fantasy.
Excellent advice is given in the form of the author's beliefs:
I believe, when it comes to storytelling - and making up maps of imaginary lands is a kid of storytelling - that mistakes are often the beginning of the best ideas.
I firmly believe a good storyteller's education never ends, because to tell stories perfectly you have to know everything about everything. Naturally, none of us actually achieves such complete knowledge - but we should live as if we were trying to do so.
The book closes with a chapter on the business of writing, highlighting the same stark prospects of being published as nearly every writing guidebook does, but the author ends on a positive note and encourages writers to get back to work. [Note: this book was first published in 1990, so some of the information in this chapter is a bit dated.]
Storytelling is important. You really do have an effect on the world, and it matters that you write your tales and have them published.
Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy (HTWSF&F) is published by Writer's Digest Books, which means it's sparse, focused purely on the topic and has an average price tag. These are not necessarily good things.
The book is about a 138 pages minus the index, implying that in 138 pages the beginning writer is expected to walk away with enough information on how to write speculative fiction. Hogwash. In addition to this, of the 5 chapters, only 3 are HTWSF&F, and of these 3, only 2 are specifically ideas and tips about SF&F. So in reality, we're talking of 52 pages only.
Chapter 1 'The Infinite Boundary' is basically about what constitutes speculative fiction and, in speculative fiction, what's what - horror, fantasy, SF etc
Chapter 2 'World Creation' is the beginning of HTWSF&F and the most extensive chapter in the book, yet it is in no way comprehensive since any single topic briefly discussed here could, in principle, be written about as a whole chapter in its own right. It's basically about world building, mentioning lot's of things like time travel, rules for magic, inventing the history etc but it never really goes into depth on how to do these... wait a minute, what was the title of the book again?
Chapter 3 'Story Construction' is an all-too-short chapter, which frankly speaking, could be dropped into any writing book. The only thing different that Card does here, is to use examples from speculative fiction. The most relevant piece of information is what Card introduces as the MICE quotient, which all stories have a bit of - milieu, idea, character, event - but one will be prominent and the writer should know which one it is.
Chapter 4 'Writing Well' only talks about 'Exposition' for 12 pages and 'Language' for 4 pages. There is little here that is new and the material on exposition is broad based.
Chapter 5 'The Life and Business of Writing' has nothing to do with HWTSF&F with the exception of naming markets where speculative fiction is sold, and this material is completely outdated! In an age where the publishing market changes on a month by month basis, and the internet has brought about a revolution in self-publishing, one can skip this chapter entirely and just Google or reference a market guide to know where to send in stories.
So there you have it - a book titled HTWSF&F justified mainly by using examples from speculative fiction, because in reality only about 10% of the information here is really on SF&F when you exclude references to these genres. The book should have been more aptly titled The Do's and Don't's of Speculative Fiction.
The only reason this received 2 stars rather than 1 is because what Card expresses in writing, he does so clearly. Then again, this book could have been summed up in one large A5 mind-map and that would have probably been more effective.
I had this friend, Phoebe, who believed in faeries. In order to receive advice from her fairy godmother, she completed a daily tarot reading and wrote her analysis into a journal. This was a habit she’d kept up for YEARS. Buncha damn nonsense, I thought.
Then I had a tarot reading of my own.
On one hand, I was right. It possessed no prophetic power. It didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. There was no fairy godmother.
But on a different hand, I was wrong. It was actually quite useful. In the process of analyzing what was essentially a randomized selection of cards, I was forced to think about my desires and troubles in a new way. The reading derailed my thinking in a positive way. And it provides a fun little exercise in meditating upon your life.
I lead with this short anecdote because I believe how-to writing books serve a similar function. None will contain some magical piece of advice that you’ll read and BAM! suddenly you can whip up stories like a boss! Such a magical how-to writing manual doesn’t exist. And if it did, I’m quite sure there’d be some horrible string attached where like you have to sign a pact with the devil and can only write using the blood of people you love, so at night you secretly take blood from your lover. She eventually comes to believe in vampires and festoons garlic around your house, the smell of which drives you mad and makes it harder for you to write and so you must draw more blood from your lover. You tell yourself, just one month of this and then the book will be done and you’ll make a gazillion dollars and you’ll take her somewhere nice, to her dream vacation spot in Rome. You finish the book. And it does make a ton of money. But only a tenth of a gazillion and it’s not enough. I mean, you were KILLING YOUR LOVER for that. It had to be the greatest book in the world. So you begin on your next one and…
Uh wait where was I?
Oh right, how-to writing books. Point is, any how-to writing book is like my friend Phoebe’s tarot readings. They primarily serve as an external framework on which you can hang and organize your own thoughts about writing. Here are mine, about the various sections in Orson Scott Card’s How To Write SF & Fantasy. Hopefully they will give some good ideas!
Part 1. The Infinite Boundary
Probably the biggest takeaway in terms of actual writing advice is that readers prefer a balance of novelty and familiarity.
Which of course is true of everything, not just writing. If we meet a new person who’s DIFFERENT from those we know, we’re attracted. If we see a store that looks DIFFERENT, our interest is piqued. Failure to be different will result in boredom. On the other hand, if something is TOO different, we feel frightened or alienated. Suppose this new person REALLY likes trampolines. As in unheathily obsessed. As in, he spends 6 hours a day jumping on a trampoline. Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy. Six hours. Okay, little too weird. Not so attractive after all. Or maybe when we walk into the store, we find they accept neither cash nor credit. They only take pinecones. Uhhhh... 180! Out the store. Bye bye.
True. Also useless. It’s more or less equivalent to saying, “Write awesome stuff!” Yeah, well, duh.
Part 2. World Creation
There’s a lot in here about where ideas come from. I’m just going to go out on a limb and say that if you want to write speculative fiction and have trouble coming up with ideas, you shouldn’t be writing speculative fiction. As Ray Bradbury once said, spec fic is the “fiction of ideas.”
Perhaps of greater use is Card’s discussion of the ‘idea net.’ He says that it consists of three questions: “Why?” “How?” and “To What Result?” He doesn’t talk much about the latter two questions (kinda ignores em actually – which I think is best) but he delves deeper into the WHY. He says that the WHY is always two questions, split between first cause and final cause.
The first cause is basic plot. It's simple cause & effect. Example: My protagonist hits a car that’s backing out of a parking space. The driver – a huge man – gets out and stalks toward him, enraged. Okay that’s the first cause. It’s a reaction to an event that happened and is easy to write. I'd think of it as the "skeleton" of the plot.
But then there’s the final cause, the INTENT, and the exploration of this is what separates mundane writing from good writing. It's the "heart" of the plot - the motive force animating the skeleton. Why is the huge man getting out? Cause he wants to beat the protagonist up. Why does he want to do that? Because his wife is in the hospital with cancer, and she’s dying, and he feels so damn impotent. He suspects she has cancer because they live downstream from the chemical factory where he works. But here, here is a chance to take back control in at least one corner of his life. So he's going to beat my protagonist up.
This WHY exploration is analogous to understanding a character’s desire. As Vonnegut stated in his rules: “Every character should want something, even if it’s just a glass of water.” In fact, that’s exactly how I brainstorm characters. For every character in every scene, I’ll jot down what they desire. In particular, it’s a good to have opposing desires. There’s something to be said for three characters in a snowstorm, hungry and cold, trying not to die. There’s something a lot more to be said for those three characters in the same situation and there being exactly ONE sleeping bag.
Part 3. Story Construction
Probably the best section in the book. The most useful anyway.
In his exploration of where a story begins and ends, Card offers four archetypes of stories:
Milieu – This is a story in which the setting, culture, or technology is the primary interest. This story begins when a stranger enters the world and ends when the stranger leaves (or decides to stay). Jurassic Park is a milieu story. The characters and their stories are an excuse to see dinosaurs do cool stuff. Like when they talk about the bug in the amber and getting DNA out? Yeah that serves no purpose but to build the setting. Matrix is a milieu story. Indeed, most sci-fi blockbusters are milieus. The characters exist just to show some cool special effects – to explore the fantastical world.
Idea – This is the story of a mystery. It begins when a question is asked, e.g. who dunnit? and ends when the question is answered. Obviously mysteries & detective fiction are Idea stories, but so are any in which a GIANT question looms over the story. I’m not a huge fan of these types of stories. The question ends up having to do too much of the heavy lifting – see my review of Speak.
Character – This is the story of, well, a character arc. The story begins when a character’s life becomes so unbearable that he/she can no longer deal and begins the process of making a change. It ends when the character either makes that change or fails and returns to how things were. Card makes the interesting point that not all stories must have full characterization. He gives the example of Indiana Jones – does he undergo a dynamic change? Not really.
Event – This is the story of order vs. chaos. A better word than ‘event’ might well be ‘epic.’ Basically, something has gone wrong in the universe and is not the way it should be. The lord Sauron has returned. Helen has been abducted by the Trojans. The white walkers are rising beyond the Wall. The Sith have returned and are seeking to undermine the galactic senate. This story begins when the main character gets involved in the disturbance and ends when the world is returned to a new order, to an old order, or falls into chaos.
These are interesting categories, to be sure, but how useful are they? Just for the hell of it, I went through six or seven issues of Asimov’s & F&SF keeping the MICE quotient in mind. What I discovered is that the easier a story fit into one of these categories, the less I liked it. Instead every story I loved was a blend. For example, a character is so unhappy with his life that he embarks on a strange and dangerous journey into new realms and comes out changed. In other words, impossible to decide whether it’s milieu or character.
This is especially true of novels. Consider Game of Thrones. Yes, this is clearly an event story – the rise of the white walkers. This series will certainly end when order or chaos is established one way or another (or GRRM dies). But it’s milieu too. So many characters are constantly entering new lands. Jon Snow goes to the wall – and then beyond the wall. Tyrion crosses the sea. Even the Starks going down to King’s Landing for the first time is milieu. And every character has a pretty clear arc that deals with being unhappy about their situation in life. Arya hates being a powerless girl so she becomes an assassin. Jon hates being a bastard so he seeks the honor and purpose of being a man of the Night’s Watch. etc.
Or how about Harry Potter?!
He’s definitely a stranger. One of the great joys in the HP series is discovering all the awesome stuff in the magical world. The story begins with his invitation to Hogwarts. It ends when the school year is over, and he returns to his mundane life. So milieu right?
But the precipitating story arises because HP hates his mundane life! He can't stand the Dursleys. He sees Hogwarts as a means to free himself of it. So it’s a character story right?
But the greater overall structure is the return of Voldemort! The story begins when Harry receives the Hogwarts invitation which signals his involvement in the epic struggle of good wizards vs. bad wizards. The books end with the destruction of Voldemort. So… event story?
See what I mean?
I do think MICE is quite useful for making sense of story structure, but I think it very rare that any story clearly hews to one category or the other. In my experience, every successful spec fic story needs to at least contain milieu and character arcs.
Part 4. Writing Well
This is a rather short section in which Card does a line-by-line analysis of good writing. His analysis is clear and interesting…
…but it’s unlikely to help you write well. You can’t micro-manage a story on that level. It’s too stressful. It slows down the flow of ideas to the point that the resulting prose feels cold and lifeless, even if it may be mechanically sound. You just have to read and edit and read and edit until good prose flow is second-hand.
With that said, a refresher never hurt anyone. His discussion of metaphor (and how it’s dangerous in speculative fiction) was interesting, as I’d never quite considered the potential pitfalls. Card says that, given the exotic nature of spec fic, writers must be careful with metaphors or else readers might think they are literal.
The last section is very dated, though it did have a nice cheerleader vibe to it. Not much to say about it, though, hence why it doesn't have its own section here!
In short, will this book make you a better spec-fic writer? Well… The thing about teaching anything, writing included, is that if you teach REALLY well, then what you’re teaching seems retroactively obvious. In fact, it’ll seem so commonsensical that your students will think they haven’t even learned anything at all.
This happens to me all the time when I teach. It’s dangerous. It causes the students to fail to mentally encode the lessons.
Thus to get the most out of this book (or any writing book or any education at all), you’re going to have to do like my friend Phoebe did with her tarot readings. It’s not about the tarot, but her analysis of it. You gotta spend the time thinking about it and taking notes. So, yes, I concluded that MICE isn’t actually very useful – but the process of making that decision WAS fruitful.
If you put in the thinking time, then yes this should make you a better spec-fic writer. Won’t necessarily make you a good one, of course. But better? Yeah.
Short but most definitely sweet. This provides a brief insight into the world of speculative fiction from one of its reigning masters. It begins with an introduction into the science fiction and fantasy genres before continuing with pointers to help in your own successful penmanship of them. I had feared this to contain a repeat of information found in any other conventional 'how to write' manual and was pleasantly surprised to find a good variation from the expected.
Whilst I did find that this was skewed in the favour of science fiction information, this was still a helpful tool for any wannabe fantasy writer, such as myself. There were also times where the information could not still be helpful to a modern-day reader, due this book being almost three decades old, but the majority of this can still be classified as a good instructional tool for any speculative fiction writer's arsenal.
Hazy Shade of a Review: I remember reading this after leaving school with a journalism degree, putting a couple years of newspaper writing behind me and realizing I wanted to try something - anything - else. I remember thinking Card's advice sounded like good stuff. Hells if I can remember anything specific though. Still and all, the feeling I came away with, and what I still retain, is that this was a quality book, which I'd read again if I had the time and could find the dang thing again. I know it's around here somewhere...
I remember liking it, feeling that Card had made tangible many of the elements of good fantasy that I admired in favorite genre books, but couldn't clearly "see" because the authors were too adroit to let readers glimpse the scaffolds.
There have been dozens of how-to books on the topic of science fiction writing, and it seems to me to be self-evident that the ones from the most successful science fiction writers would be the most valuable. Card is certainly among the most successful, and I enjoyed reading his tips and suggestions, particularly where he used examples from his own writing experience. Much of the material is now quite outdated on the topics of the market and the state of the field, of course, but the mechanics of story construction have surely stayed the same from the birth of storytelling. It's a short book, but seems comprehensive, and I found it interesting to compare it to other sf writing references I've read such as L. Sprague de Camp's SF Handbook.
Firstly, I would like to point out the reason as to why I picked up this book: I would like to one day become a published FANTASY AUTHOR. Therefore, my review will be from the perspective of a wannabe Fantasy Author.
Well Orson Scott Card is certainly a good writer. No one can really say otherwise. He was the first person ever to win both the Hugo and Nebula for the same book and is one of the best selling writers in the world today. In more recent times he has become a bit of a hated figure for certain views he holds and perhaps upon learning about them, your views of his work's content will change - however, if you can separate man and work - he is a damned good author whose quality of writing you should aspire to.
Just because the man is a great author though, doesn't make him a great teacher though... does it? Well... not always, but I believe you will find Mr Card fairly credible. He has been a lecturer and also held numerous panels over the years and it really shows. He puts across his points very well, doesn't give too many tedious examples and gladly he doesn't comment too much on his own work. I think when you pick up a writing book and people simply use their own examples it can feel very, very like they are trying to market themselves and get you to a point where you feel like rolling your eyes. The examples he uses are very good and kept to the minimum - awesome!
I will now go into a summary of the content:
Chapter One, The Infinite Boundary Basically this chapter explains to you what 'Science Fiction' is and what 'Fantasy' is. I think perhaps the book shows it's age here, because where as people may not have known the difference in 1984 when it was first published, now most people know the difference. Already we begin to see a huge emphasis on Sci-Fi and Fantasy kind of gets shunned to the side. There is also a big discussion on magazines and anthologies that pretty much don't exist in the same way anymore. Really, a chapter worth skimming over and although it was enjoyable as a reader, as a fantasy author it was I am sad to say useless to me.
Chapter 2, World Creation. The general point of the chapter was that: 'you need to really think about how x happens'. For example; If you say this species climbs walls very well - why? What caused them to evolve this way?. Basically every action has a reaction and if you are writing about reactions (which in Sci-Fi and Fantasy you are) you need to explain the original action. Everything has to have rules and you should take time thinking about them. However, there is again a massive, massive emphasis on Sci-Fi. We get a lengthy discussion on building alien worlds, traveling across space or time and just about a page on magic systems. I felt the discussion on how spaceships can cross space was very good and very scientific - but again, useless to me.
Chapter 3, Story Construction Orson Scott Card tells us about the 4 different types of story. Basically whether your story is based on characters, events, worlds or ideas. It is a pretty good theory and one that will perhaps even make you sad in that any novel you can think of will fit one of the four - however, is it really helpful? I guess to an extent it is useful to know which one your story fits into, but there isn't much discussion as to how the writer needs to adapt their style depending on which they are writing.
Chapter 4, Writing Well This was one of the better chapters. We are treated to some good examples on how to subtly explain a world to our readers (as writers) and also some basic rules that you should follow as a writer. I found this chapter to be one of the better ones because although it was again Sci-Fi orientated, the rules all seemed to work for Fantasy too.
Chapter 5, The Life and Business of Writing This chapter could probably have been left out of the book post 2000. The chapter talks about extinct markets and sums of money that are no longer relevant. I guess some people might enjoy the pep talk, but for me I don't feel I need to know how to live as a writer in 1984 - things have changed so, so much in 25 years that it just sounded redundant.
So, although I have kind of slated the book here - it is worth a read. It is certainly aimed at Sci-Fi authors and I do wonder why the word 'Fantasy' is even mentioned upon the cover. However, if fantasy writers are willing to read it and modify Orson Scott Card's rules and thoughts on Sci-Fi and bend them slightly to Fantasy the book could help you out. I think coming away from this book, the most important thing I took away from it was that 'everything I write about has happened for a reason'. I therefore need to work out what that reason is, so that what I am writing about is credible. More importantly though, I need to know how much of that reason I should explain to the reader (i.e. how much is relevant and necessary in order to enjoy the story).
A good book, but not a great book. Mostly filled with okay advice, some good stories, some very outdated chapters, and a few golden nuggets (MICE in particular is excellent, as is most of Chapter 3: Story Construction). It’s a little clunky to read sometimes, especially when compared to the ultra-silky non-fiction of Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, but never impossible to read. I would think this book would best be used a reference book on the occasion that you find yourself in a science fiction/fantasy writing conundrum.
Most likely will be most useful to writers who have already spent some time hacking away at a novel. But if you’re a brand new writer, then hold off on this one, and go find a different how-to book to get you started and pumped up. My favorite how-to write book is still, by far, On Writing.
This is kind of a tale of two books. The volume is only 137 pages long, and nearly half of it is useless. Chapters 1 and 5 (there are only five chapters) deal heavily with the state of the sci/fi-fantasy publishing industry, but a LOT has changed in the past dozen years. Hence you get gems like this one on page 113: "For your first novel, you don't need an agent unless you've got a contract offer from a publisher."
So unless you're interested in literary history, all you need is the end of chapter 5 where Card elegantly describes the importance of certain habits and mindsets of writing. Those are timeless.
Chapter two is on world-building, which you would think would be enlightening, but Card spends most of his time focused on a few specific tropes. So unless you're interested in time travel or warp speed, the bulk of the chapter can be summed up in a sentence: Really map out all sequelae of any new technology or magic, so that you know deeply what it does and how it influences culture. Good advice, but repetitive.
So that leaves a chapter on story and plot, and another on micro-edits like diction and titrating exposition. These are wonderful, chock full of ideas that are both helpful and inspiring. I gained four or five really helpful pieces of advice. Four stars for that? Yeah, I'd say so. Giving advice on craft to unknown strangers is tough, and so a handful of takeaways that truly improve writing is at least par for the course, maybe even a birdie.
A fantastic (pun intended) resource for storytellers of all kinds, especially those writing speculative fiction. As you would expect, some of the market advice is dated, but the principles of storytelling are as true as ever.
I asked myself, "Why is this book going on for pages about the different types of FTL travel?" Oh, right, this was written before Wikipedia. The information here is interesting, but the audience this book was written for was 30 years ago.
If you're looking for SFF writing advice, check out Brandon Sanderson's Youtube channel.
¿Les gustan los libros de escritura? ¿Les interesaría asistir a cursos de estos géneros?
📙 Cómo Escribir Ciencia-ficción y Fantasía: Este libro tiene el objetivo de convertirse en un manual de ítems para aplicar al momento de escribir, a la vez de ayudar a conocer los propios procesos de escritura de cada une y alentar a convertirte en quien soñas ser. Tiene cinco capítulos que comprenden: 1. La frontera infinita (entre los distintos géneros); 2. Creación de mundos; 3. Construcción de la historia; 4. Escribir bien; 5. La vida y el negocio del escritor. Luego hay un complemento de una serie de entrevistas a diferentes autores que aportan sus miradas.
🗣 Opinión: Este libro tiene cosas muy buenas que son sumamente aprovechables. La mirada que aporta Orson S. Card es diferente. Como todo escritor que escribe una obra de este tipo, parece imposible despegarse de una mirada de su propio camino, aunque aporta elementos generales. Uno siempre escribe desde la propia experiencia. El capítulo que más me gustó es el tercero, da unos tips que son espectaculares. Una conclusión que da el autor es que: Si querés ser escritor, no dejes que nadie te diga que no puedes hacerlo. La constancia y esfuerzo darán sus frutos en algún momento. Y el principal maestro es LA LECTURA. Algo curioso, algunos que me veían leyendo el libro me decían, un poco tarde si ya sacaste otra novela, pero considero que el aprendizaje debe ser continuo y no quedarse con los logros y continuar creciendo.
🔊Recomendado para escritores que quieran mejorar su manera de contar historias.
I will admit: I went into this book a bit smug, judging from the title that it was going to be far below my "level" of writing and that I would come out feeling completely validated in my world-building because the advice Card gave would be for beginners and I, though unpublished, was of course not a beginner. However, I was pleasantly (and sometimes rather uncomfortably) surprised on many counts. To begin, I must say that Orson Scott Card is a good writer. I have never read a single one of his books and, having no prior knowledge (and expecting something rather bland), I was glad to find a "how-to" book full of examples from both his life and from the works of others. Much of what he breaks down in his world-building and story construction chapters should (I believe) come intuitively to an author and to have principles such as 'who should be the main character' laid so bare made me a bit self-conscious in the end, like when someone makes you aware that you are blinking or breathing and you must then focus on the fact nervously for the next few minutes or so until it passes. The chapters about storytelling itself are about the only ones still relevant as the book reaches its 25th anniversary and an updated version would be nice at some point, as things have, I am sure, changed considerably for Card(not to mention sf/fantasy in general) in the intervening years. That being said, the book is good in its ability to make the writer think: what story am I actually trying to tell here? Does the format I have picked actually work? In the end, why am I writing? Even someone who considers themselves a success, perhaps an expert in the field, could benefit from a read. Pride is the enemy of writing, I am discovering, especially when it causes me to reject the works of all other fantasy/sf novelists, either because I think their writing beneath me or because I am secretly jealous that I didn't think up their idea myself. Either way, this book was a good reminder for me that the field exists because people write. Every victory for a sf/fantasy writer is a victory for all. Instead of sitting stubbornly on the sidelines, grousing that their ideas are better than mine (or are very similar) I need to be out on the front lines, writing furiously, and hoping that together we can elevate opinion on the creation of worlds, helping people see it for the high art that it is.
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy is a great primer that would be valuable for anyone just starting to write in these genres.
One valuable feature of the book is the numerous examples of well-written and not-so-well-written science fiction. These do tend to be more science fiction than fantasy, so fantasy authors may be disappointed. Another is the extensive list of science fiction and fantasy authors Card recommends.
This book seems to be geared to anyone new to writing science fiction or fantasy, and especially a newer writer. I’m glad to have found a short book that has all the basics covered so clearly. It will serve me well as a great reference whenever I get bogged down or just want to refocus.
While somewhat dated, especially in the publishing section, most of the book present writing tips that are timeless. While I already knew some of what Card taught, his book filled in some gaps in my knowledge. Each author brings their own perspective to the writing and creative process, and I learned much from Card's slant on what I had learned elsewhere.
Beyond the writing tips, Card’s book is inspirational. He closes one chapter with what I think sums up one of the great purposes of science fiction and fantasy: “Speculative fiction […] provides a lens through which to view the real world better than it could ever be seen with the natural eye.”
Beginning writers, anyone new to writing science fiction, or any writer who wants a short work on the basics of fiction writing will all benefit from reading this book.
Published in 1990, prior (or nearly so) to The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, and The Stormlight Archive, the book is a little outdated with regard to the latest trends in the sci-fi and fantasy Industry, to say the least. However, the writing principles Orson Scott Card covers in this book are as applicable as ever, and the book serves as an excellent source of inspiration in one’s story-writing and -telling endeavors.
He frequently mentions authors and books worth reading (which obviously won’t have changed in thirty years, though more may be added to the list since then). Also in this book, Scott Card outlines his MICE quotient in a clearer way than I’d heard previously (in more limited format that couldn’t spell it out as thoroughly—I.e., podcast).
Un interesante libro que analiza lo que dice el título, con trucos y reflexiones interesantes de un autor con una carrera ya tocha como es Scott Card. Al final, encontramos unas no menos sustanciosas entrevistas a varios autores y autoras del ámbito nacional e internacional, que complementan e incluso rebaten las propias doctrinas del libro. Para pirados de estas movidas de manuales como yo, especialmente para quienes quieran ahondar en las técnicas de escritura de lo que dice el título.
Orson Scott Card has written some amazing fiction in his time. Many of these have gone on to become movies, and in fact still do. Given the chance to pick this book up, I had picked it up years ago. The original review for that purchase has been lost to the sands of time, yet I was given the chance to revisit this short piece of writing advice thanks to Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction: How to Create Out-Of-This-World Novels and Short Stories. Thus, I decided to review this book again.
Much to be said, when I first read this book, I didn't like a lot of it. Rereading the most important chapters again didn't help this feeling. Card is a good writer, but the way he goes about presenting that information to the reader felt a little off and egotistical for my tastes. Now, there are other reviews that express how I feel about this book really well, so please check out the other reviews here on Goodreads after you are done reading this one.
Some of the advice in this book has stuck with me over the years. Card's talk about sacrifice and magic has been one of them, and anytime I write a fantasy story it comes up in my mind. It's good advice, and one I have repeated to others when I talk to them about writing fantasy. Other advice in this book has also been helpful, such as cause-effect between the actions of two people, and how if you dig deeper, there are some good stories there. These parts of the book are extremely helpful and the main reason I would recommend this book to aspiring writers.
But I do have some issues with this book. Beyond the two that I will mention in a moment, I will state that if you are a fantasy writer, picking up this book will only help you a small amount. Card is primarily a science fiction writer, and it shows. A lot. He spends pages talking about faster than light travel. Sure, it's interesting, but it also does horror or fantasy writers any good. He also talks about time travel, again, not that helpful. So be warned, if you pick this up to learn how to write fantasy, there are some parts you will have to slog through.
Now, my two main issues with this book:
Card states: "You'll probably have to wait months or years before writing good versions of story ideas you come up with now." He goes on to talk about how you shouldn't worry because you probably have story ideas that have been brewing for years in your head from before you decided to become a writer. Now, while this is true of some people, it is not the rule, something Card seems very keen on making it appear to be. There are a lot of writers who write fiction on the fly. (NaNoWriMo has made a worldwide event of it. Sure, not all the stories are golden, and in fact most of them aren't, but there are some really good stories that come out of it and see publication.) Card's statement is also poor form for a book on writing I feel.
The second is his stance on Star Trek. I'm not a Trekkie by any stretch of the word. Sure, I enjoy the odd story or aspect of the world, but that's as far as it goes. And in some cases, Card's points are valid. (such as the one about how Captain Kirk would never do what he does with away teams if he was true to explorer ship fashion) However, it is also the only science fiction genre that Card seems to carry any poison for, and that bitterness comes out anytime the subject comes out. Possibly the worst moment of it is when Card discusses Warp Speed, talking about how this is the most unrealistic treatment of faster than light travel. He says it is unrealistic because in the stories, crossing the light barrier is treated with the same ease as crossing the light barrier. Well, it wasn't that long ago that scientists believed it was impossible to cross the sound barrier. In the end, I found this anti-Trek sentiment to be annoying since it's the only time Card bashes another genre rather than singing praises as he does for the rest of the book.
All that said, Card does put together a fairly solid book on writing speculative fiction, with a few real good nuggets of information. His comparison of British vs American treatment of speculative writers opened my eyes so that I became aware of the fact that yes, there is a difference. His pointers on characters is also full of points that are worth paying attention to, more so in his points about what makes certain characters more enjoyable than others.
Card has put together an alright book on writing. I wouldn't recommend purchasing this on its own, but rather, get it as part of a collection like the one mentioned above. Not only does it maximize your dollar value, but it also gives you other writers to offset Card's unique viewpoints and unbalanced treatment of science fiction vs fantasy.
I have owned Orson Scott Card's How to Write Fantasy & Science Fiction since 2007 and have repeatedly tried to read through it. It's a tough go. Indeed, How to Write Fantasy & Science Fiction is not as good as some of the other books on writing Science Fiction/Fantasy that I've read as of late. 'Tis disappointing, coming from one of the leading figures in speculative fiction.
It's not that How to Write Fantasy & Science Fiction is written badly—the book is written well. And it's not like there isn't anything good to come out of it, because Card does include a lot of anecdotes and lessons in this text. No, what I think is most problematic about this book is that it is dated in a lot of different ways. That, and the fact that there was just something missing from it all. I came away from reading this book wanting more. Also, Card puts way too much of himself in the book. The most glaring problem of all, however, was that Card does not even pay lip service, or even hint at the possibility, of the notion of “speculative fiction” and all that it can be. Indeed, in How to Write Fantasy & Science Fiction Card seems preternaturally fixated on getting aspiring science fiction and/or fantasy writers to pick a genre and adhere to its conventions. This is probably some of the worst advice, unless Card secretly wants to see a world where perpetually drab and formulaic fiction continues to be published ad infinitum.
This book needs a revision and expansion. It was published in 1990, a few years before the Internet explosion, so that in itself should generate enough content for a new edition. Of course Card has also gone on to publish more stories, no doubt adding to the well of experience Card could draw from for the new edition.
In a nutshell, this book is very dated, definitely a characteristic you want to avoid if you are trying to write cutting-edge speculative fiction.
I went into this book already loving quite a few of Card's Sci-Fi and fantasy works and was happy to find that his writer's voice carried over from his fiction to his instructional book. I'm just a fan of his writer's voice. But man this book was so informative for me. Yes, a lot of the publishing information is way out of date. We have the internet now for starters. (This book was published in 1990. It's older than I am.) But Card knows when he writes this that the market is bound to change because the markets always change. So he even reminds his readers to research where the market is at for their genre. But the actual writing advice was still super helpful. I was challenged as a writer. Chapter 3 especially, on Story Construction blew my mind. I went to college and majored in English Writing and I don't remember ever learning this stuff. (Granted, it could be they taught it to me and I just wasn't paying attention, but still...). Specifically the 4 Types of Stories Model and using that to know how to begin and end a story. I'm going to use that forever now. I'm super impressed by this book, and I know I'll be referring to it a lot as I continue to hone my craft as a writer.
Generally, I heartily recommend George Gopen's The Sense of Structure as the most important book on writing. But where I find books such as Eats, Shoots & Leaves entertaining and not unhelpful, owning more than one book of that type is generally unnecessary (though I own quite a few). Books such as How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, on the other hand, offer additional genre help and advice regarding writing groups, length of book, etc. Great insights, and I see my husband (who is a budding sci-fi writer) repeatedly refer to its advice.
An older reference now, but a good one. In a relatively short book, Card gracefully fits together quite a bit of concrete guidance on technique (much of which applies to writing fiction of any kind), on why as well as how to do things in certain ways, and some useful context in terms of history of both genres. His style is clear and conversational. This is one of the better books on writing I've run across yet.
Orson Scott Card's fiction is incredible, and Ender's Game is one of the classic scifi novels. Card manages to do a very good job of teaching the craft, with a very specific emphasis on speculative fiction. I wasn't expecting it to be this good, and I'm sure it will be a daily go-to reference.
Want to write scifi or fantasy? Buy this book, study it.
How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy is Orson Scott Card’s guide to the craft and business of writing for these respective genres.
It’s impossible to review this book objectively, as it was first published in 2001 and the business of writing has changed a great deal. Therefore, my reading and review of this book primarily reflects my thoughts on how useful and entertaining it is to a contemporary audience.
Unfortunately, this renders as much a third of the book obsolete from the first, except as a curiosity concerning the publishing business frozen in amber as it was at the dawn of the 21st century. Chapter 5, ’The Life and Business of Writing’, contains Card’s perspective on the industry, work ethic, the writing scene, expectations of compensation, and maintaining a work-life balance that incorporates writing. Virtually all of these paradigms have been shattered by the proliferation of Internet access and the use of the Internet as a tool in generating, critiquing, sharing, monetizing, representing, and soliciting your work.
Moreover, much of the rest of this work is equally rooted in the sensibilities of the late 90s, in general, and of Card, in specific. These sensibilities manifest as rather traditional attitudes about what science fiction and fantasy ought to encompass as genres, how one should go about creating one’s fictional world, how one should construct a narrative, and how one should approach the craft of writing. I don’t feel that any of it is necessarily incorrect or bad information, per se, but it is a very coloring-inside-the-lines approach to the craft. It’s very conventional.
There is something to be said for coloring inside the lines, though, especially for newer writers, for whom this book was written. Much of Card’s advice is elementary: create credible settings; consider cause-and-effect; consider history; consider culture; be certain that your protagonist has a need and agency; begin the story at the beginning; how to use exposition sparingly, and the like. These are vital fundamentals of genre fiction and often overlooked in a lot that I’ve read, so it's worthwhile to have them explained and thoroughly unpacked.
The appearance of Card’s personal politics in the text calls the overall work to suffer, however. I described this book as “conventional”, but a better word might have been “conservative”, which Card very outwardly is. This conservatism extends beyond a handful of confusingly inserted admonitions against what one ought not put in their story, shaping Card’s entire perspective on what these genres are and what they are capable of doing. He approaches the craft and business of writing from the perspective of a deeply religious, politically conservative, white, American male who squicks easily, and it shows in this book.
Ultimately I think that this book is worth a read as a primer for new writers and a refresher on fundamentals for more established writers, but Card’s treatment of the subject is rather basic for a modern audience; where it is not basic, it is mildly sanctimonious and wrongheaded; where it is not sanctimonious and wrongheaded, it is simply out of date. You could get almost everything worthwhile out of this book by reading chapters 2, 3, and 4 only.