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The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction: 6 Steps to Writing and Publishing Your Bestseller!

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Science fiction and fantasy is one of the most challenging--and rewarding!--genres in the bookstore. But with New York Times bestselling author Philip Athans and fantasy giant R. A. Salvatore at your side, you’ll create worlds that draw your readers in--and keep them reading!
Just as important, you’ll learn how to prepare your work for today’s market. Drawing on his years of experience as one of the most acclaimed professionals in publishing, Wizards of the Coast editor Athans explains how to set your novel apart--and break into this lucrative field. From devising clever plots and building complex characters to inventing original technologies and crafting alien civilizations, Athans gives you the techniques you need to write strong, saleable narratives.

Plus! Athans applies all of these critical lessons together in an unprecedented deconstruction of a never-before-published tale by the one and only R. A. Salvatore!

There are books on writing science fiction and fantasy, and then there’s this book--the only one you need to create strange, wonderful worlds for your own universe of readers!

256 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2010

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About the author

Philip Athans

51 books216 followers
I give every book 5 stars in protest against the concept of star ratings in general and the ever-unfolding algorithm dystopia!

Philip Athans is the founding partner of Athans & Associates Creative Consulting, and the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and more than a dozen other fantasy and horror books including The Best of Fantasy Authors Handbook Vol. I 2009-2013, The Guide to Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. Born in Rochester, New York he grew up in suburban Chicago, where he published the literary magazine Alternative Fiction & Poetry. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com), is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans. He makes his home in the foothills of the Washington Cascades, east of Seattle.

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5 stars
192 (28%)
4 stars
284 (42%)
3 stars
146 (21%)
2 stars
40 (5%)
1 star
12 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 101 reviews
Profile Image for James.
Author 8 books86 followers
January 14, 2015
Very well done! The cover's promise of "6 Steps to Writing and Publishing Your Bestseller!" might lead one to expect a more plug-and-crank-formulaic production than this is - it's not a cookbook. The "steps" are general, more "what" than "how", although there is plenty of useful information and guidance on aspects of story creation it would otherwise be easy to overlook, ways to make the story's world richer and more fascinating (often by examining the aspects of one's own culture/subculture and considering alternatives, rather than reflexively creating characters whose values, manners, and political ideals are the same as one's own.) I'd recommend this to other aspiring writers of science fiction and/or fantasy; I see ways it will help me write deeper and more vivid stories.
Profile Image for Mysti Parker.
Author 35 books772 followers
June 3, 2011
This book was full of some very helpful pointers for anyone wanting to delve into the sci-fi or fantasy writing genre. I wouldn't say it was THE guide, but it gave me some decent instruction. What I liked most were the examples (even if they were a bit silly) that really brought the tips to life. There is also a superb short story by R.A. Salvatore at the end--what a treat! I'd recommend this to anyone for adding to their "how to write" bookshelf.
Profile Image for Sarah Paps.
129 reviews1 follower
December 21, 2020
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and I feel like I learned a lot. I appreciate how brief and to the point each chapter is and how blunt (and often times hilarious) the author is. The main take away I got from this is how important it is to keep asking questions and to only write whatever is necessary to move your story forward. Some other points he makes were ones I had never thought of before, which made this book valuable to me. It's not an in depth guide, but it gives you a road map to work with, a skeleton to get yourself going in the right direction. If you're intelligent, observant and creative enough, I believe this is all you need.

The only chapter I found lacking was the last about business because it seemed outdated, having been written in 2010. Ten years is a long time in any artistic driven industry. Also, the only thing I disagree on is the idea that great storytelling cannot be taught because it is an inherent talent in someone. Personally, I believe that ANYTHING can be taught and you can train yourself to do anything well as long as you have the drive and patience. Your brain is a muscle and never underestimate what you can train it to do even if it might take you much longer than someone who seems to be a natural born talent, but that's just my two cents. This guide is still very much worth the read for any aspiring novelist and I already know I'll be referring back to it constantly.
147 reviews
July 23, 2022
This guide had some solid advice and examples, but lacked some of the charm of other books on writing that I've read. I also felt the overall tone was slightly dated. It might seem odd to criticize such a book on things like tone and charm, but for me it just made me question whether the advice inside was aimed at someone like me, or someone writing from a different perspective with different priorities.

The short story at the end by R.A. Salvatore is solid, but also a bit dated in tone.

I don't regret reading it, but I'm not really sure if I would read it again.
68 reviews
January 4, 2021
As a would-be creator if I was smart, this was a good book. Brought up interesting points and wasn't dull.
Profile Image for Katherine.
186 reviews
May 16, 2022
Most of the info is pretty basic, nothing I haven't read before.
Profile Image for Ulana Dabbs.
Author 3 books16 followers
October 24, 2021
“When you’re developing your characters, it’s important to know whom they go home to every night—or whom they hope someday to go home to, or whom they used to go home to but can’t anymore.” - Chapter 27.

As a fantasy writer, I greatly enjoyed this book. The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction opens up with a segment on genres and the importance of defining your audience. It then moves on to cover the six major elements of a novel such as plot, character, theme, etc., with insights from well-known writers like Terry Brooks and R. A. Salvatore. Some chapters contain thought-provoking questions and useful diagrams. I particularly enjoyed the world-building section of the guide in which Athans touches upon geography, monsters, and details like units of measure, weather, and forms of government. If you need a list of elements to help you build a fantastical world, this chapter is for you. The last part delves into the business side of writing, including tips on finding an agent and creating your query letter, with a practical example. At the end is a real treat—a short story, Hugo Mann’s Perfect Soul by R. A. Salvatore.

If you’re looking for a book to guide you through creating your fantasy/science fiction novel, I’d highly recommend this one. Between the covers, you'll find something for writers of all levels, from writing tips to inspiring quotes to motivate you on your writing journey.
Profile Image for Andrew.
38 reviews
July 23, 2022
Don't judge a book by its cover, they say; and they're right, because this book has an awful, kind of cringy cover (my wife physically cringed when she saw it), but it's been the best book on writing SFF that I've picked up so far.
77 reviews1 follower
June 13, 2019
This was more of a book for absolute beginners, so a rating feels almost unfair. The advice the book gives is functional, I'm just not at that level.

That said, I will stick to my 3 star rating because the book is too long, covers too much and only scratches the surface on most of it. I feel like this would have better served writers by covering a more specific aspect of the process in detail, rather than trying to cover everything insufficiently.
Profile Image for Charlie.
546 reviews21 followers
August 2, 2013
OK - I have read a few books, and this book has it all laid out - there are no guides for outlining and structuring - there are no comments about 3 act vs 4 act or sequences - this is about the writing of Fantasy and Science Fiction - they are going with the tools that you already know the basics of writing - interestingly enough, there were a few sections within this book, that had I read it 2 weeks ago, I would have saved myself a few hours of needless world building - one of my favorite sections in the book is when it has a sample paragraph and it illustrates how changes to the world affect the story - it starts with a basic fiction version, and evolves into a more extreme fantasy version - YMMV on your opinion of the changes, but it showed me how I was working too hard at making my world too different and how uncomfortable it would be to read, when Elf and Dwarf were renamed, and Height and Weight had a new system - it is the kind of book that I wish that I had read before I made my failed attempts all those times before - I have world builders disease to be sure, but now that I have seen what happens when you let your building run away with you, I feel that I will be able to start and finish a much better and believable piece of work -

My only negative thing is that I felt the book did not provide enough examples, but what was included was very well illustrated - this will not show you how to turn your idea into a book without work on your part, but it does show good examples of what to do and what not to do, and a starting point is all that you can get for Fantasy and Science fiction, as everyone's ending point can be miles away from everyone else's examples.
Profile Image for Ash.
576 reviews114 followers
October 18, 2014
I actually wanted Writing Monsters by Athans but my library didn't have so I made due with this one. I don't read a lot of Science Fiction and/or Fantasy. However, the titles I have read, I have greatly appreciated it. Also, because of that, I was afraid that this book was going to be boring.

Thank goodness, I was wrong!

I actually kind of love this book. Philip Athans' The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction: 6 Steps to Writing and Publishing Your Bestseller! is a very practical guide to all things Sci-Fi Fantasy. Athans did a great job with distinguishing between Science Fiction and Fantasy. Then, further breaking Science Fiction into sub-catergories.

Athans also explains different types of writing, like novelizations or tie ins. He also give practical advice on the realities of being writer. Mainly, write because you love it, not because you want to be wealthy. As a bonus, famous Sci-Fi author R.A. Salvatore put his never published short story, Hugo Mann's Perfect Soul and writes his feelings about it after 20 years since he wrote it.

I found The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction endlessly fascinating. I was greatly surprised that I did. It made me think, and I write this in the most respectful and lovingly way, that I am a closeted Sci-Fi Fantasy nerd. Athans definitely made me want to explore more aspects of this genre more.
Profile Image for Emmanuel Arriaga.
Author 4 books54 followers
March 4, 2015
This book has been a very good read. Although many of the lessons taught in the book I had learned through other channels, it is a good step by step guide on how to begin the process of putting together a novel. I think if I had this book many years ago it may have helped speed along some of the things I ended up learning through trial and error. There were also some good nuggets that I got out of it that were new to me, a good amount of time spent on each topic without overwhelming the reader with unnecessary detail. If you are a writer, or have an interest in becoming a write of fantasy or science fiction, I would recommend picking up this book.
Profile Image for Sam.
845 reviews25 followers
February 20, 2016
This book has a lot of the same tips and tricks as other how to books I've read. What is really nice about this book is that the chapters are nice and brief; time isn't wasted blathering on and on. And I did pick up a few tidbits to keep in kind for my own writing projects, so I'm glad I read this.
Profile Image for Hazel.
422 reviews
November 21, 2021
I was actually looking forward to reading this, which is unusual for me with nonfiction. I saw this while at work and I thought I might pick it up because it could help me with some of the issues I've been running into, and help me fulfill my goal of reading 3 nonfiction books this year.

I liked how the chapters were short and concise, because I was initially afraid it would get boring if I had to read big chunks of text on a single topic. This is a book aimed more at beginners, but I personally still found some of the information useful. It helped me with some issues that I've been having with my current WIP, since I admit I didn't plan well when starting the first draft (who am I kidding, I'm a pantser, there was no planning!) I've been struggling with some of the motivations for my characters so I found the questions the book suggested to be useful, and I think it's been helping a lot.

I did disagree with some pieces of advice given in this. When talking about the invented language, the author mentions that adding too many layers just bogs down the book and that you have to find the right balance because this stuff is a staple of the fantasy genre, but there was no mention of when you shouldn't use it, or the fact that you don't necessarily need to use it. For example, the story I'm working on is a retelling of a fairy tale where the main character actually has a name, and I felt like it would be weird to have all these made up, keymash names alongside a real one. I could change the name but I don't think it suits the story I'm trying to tell. I also disagreed when romance was mentioned as a sort of necessary thing in the genre, stating that it's important to think about the characters in terms of who they go home to every night or who they envision themselves going home to someday. I think that while romance has become part of the genre, there is not necessarily a need to include romantic love. Why not have familial love or the love of friends drive the story? Love doesn't necessarily have to be romantic.

I'm sorry to say that I didn't like the short story at the end of the book by R. A. Salvatore at all. I don't know what it is about short stories, whether the moral of the story tends to be more overt or what, but in general I don't like them, and they give me a sort of feeling I can't describe but I know I don't like. I was expecting more from this story, but it felt more religious than fantasy, and it was more like magical realism. I was expecting maybe not high fantasy but at least something that had a bit more fantasy elements than that. I can see why it was rejected and it kind of put me off reading other work by Salvatore. I think I still will check out some of the longer works by this author, since some of the descriptions of his work in this made me very interested. This short story was not a great first impression though. I was also expecting the notes after the story to describe how the story applied what this book was teaching us, but it didn't do that.
Profile Image for Alex.
278 reviews5 followers
May 12, 2017
This was well on its way to being a three-star book, the reason being it's a very surface-level flyby of how to write speculative fiction. Chapters are rarely longer than three to five pages, and the information given, while standing on firm claims, seldom delves into the nitty gritty details and exploration that new writers might be hoping for.

For the record, this is only the second book of its type I've read, the first being The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy Volume 1. That book had a lot more meat on the bone. If I had to make an analogy, it's the difference between eating bread fresh from the bakery or buying it in the evening once it's cooled off and maybe hardened a bit. Both are good, but one is just a little more satisfying.

Like I said, this book covers the basics. You get a few sentences on the different fantasy sub genres, some more on the types of themes you can include, and more on how to avoid anachronisms in your work. It's good. As a quickie reference guide with just the bare essentials, it does the job. If you want a quick reminder on what goes into world building and you don't want to read five hundred pages on religions and period clothing, this is the book for you. It's probably a nice supplementary book to keep on your pile of other writing books, which is what it's meant to be, I think.

So why four stars and not three? The answer is R.A. Salvatore. Not only does he provide a very inspiring foreword about the power of fantasy and why he writes it, the short story included at the end of this book is absolutely wonderful. I was reading it on the bus and my heart was tingling, as I totally bought into the concept that there is only a finite number of soul energy in the world and that the larger our population gets, the less soul energy there is to go around...and the harder it becomes to find people with perfect souls. Salvatore even manages to make Hitler sympathetic (to a degree), which is both frightening and incredible. I absolutely love love loved this story, and the pages of follow-up and analysis after it. I felt like it took an otherwise competent resource into the realm of a very good one.

The other reason for the favourable rating is the amount of guest voices that Athans was able to get to help him with this project. Names like Terry Brooks, Kevin J. Anderson, and the aforementioned R.A. Salvatore all play major roles in helping to fill the pages between the covers with information straight from people who have done this for a while and who know what it takes. My only complaint on this front is the lack of female contributors. I'm sure that Philip Athans could have found someone, right? Maybe?

Anyway, I'm glad I read this, as it reinforced much of what I'd read before on these subjects, and it gave me an appreciation and a desire to jump into the works of R.A. Salvatore, as well as the works of a bunch of other authors who are sprinkled throughout the text.
Profile Image for Debra.
Author 12 books106 followers
May 19, 2019
Although I’ve written and published mystery novels, working on my first urban fantasy feels like starting over in some ways. The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction made me rethink certain strategies and consider things I hadn’t thought of. Above all, this book reminded me of the importance of plausibility, continuity, and great storytelling in speculative fiction.

This book is especially helpful for beginners as it provides useful definitions of some of the subgenres in fantasy and science fiction. I especially liked the chapter on composing log lines (a single-sentence description of a book) and giving serious thought to what one’s novel is really about. Other topics include the importance of having something to say and on plot development. There are general writing tips like using all five senses and point of view. As the author states, though, more detailed how-to writing tips can be found in other books.

There are great insights on world building in this book, but not enough information on developing an urban fantasy novel. Merging real places and events in a contemporary setting while incorporating magical or supernatural components can be tricky, and specific pointers would have been welcome. Still, as mentioned, this book is a great beginners guide. Also the short story by R.A. Salvatore at the end of the book is fantastic.
Profile Image for Tony.
101 reviews2 followers
November 8, 2017
Very enjoyable read. Philip Athans touches on lots of subjects in the science-fiction/fantasy genre including the journey of the hero and the villain, creating supporting characters, how much is too much, and what makes a villain tick.
The book is not just a guide to writing, it also has great information concerning the industry - a bit about finding an agent and a publisher.
I flew through this book as I was on a plane trip, but it would be better suited to take the book in increments - read a chapter, then do some writing exercises.
I highly recommend this not only for writers, but avid readers of the genre as well, as it dives into the heads of some of the biggest names in fantasy such as Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore, Paul S. Kemp, Robert E. Howard, and more. There is also a short story with insightful commentary by R. A. Salvatore at the end of the novel, which is more of an "Outer Limits/Twilight Zone" type-story than Salvatore's usual sword and sorcery.
Profile Image for Peter West.
Author 20 books63 followers
April 8, 2019
Great advice for writers in these genres

I highlight sections as notes when I read books like this, marking things that I shouldn't forget in the months and years ahead. Usually I'll have maybe ten sections hoghlighted at the end of the book, but in this case more than half of the book was highlighted by the time I had finished with it. That's a lot of useful content!

Great insights from an experienced author, provided with clear examples to emphasize the points.

Well worth reading for any science fiction or fantasy authors.
Profile Image for Hene.
55 reviews
May 31, 2019
While the book had lots of good ways to put your research, planning and writing in order AND a lot of agreeable statements, the heteronormativity in the examples paired with a few mentions of same-sex relationships felt like a slap in the face. Also the fact that romance was made to seem like such an integral part of scifi and fantasy put me off completely.

The book does have a section about the publishing system in the United States. Someone who lives in the States might find it more useful than I did, as someone living in Finland.
21 reviews
April 30, 2020
Though written in 2010, the book is relevant to today's writer. One thing you can add for today is the ability to self-publish and the availability of editors for hire, which is easy enough to do through other outlets.

Being a writer who doesn't read the work of my own genre, I enjoyed going through this as a checklist and for sharpening my writing. Philip brings in some great authors, and being one himself, provides useful perspectives on how to write Fantasy and Sci-Fi. This will be a book I return to regularly as markers for my own work.
Profile Image for Katia M. Davis.
Author 4 books12 followers
September 7, 2020

This was a very useful collection of topics to help those who want to try their hand at science fiction or fantasy writing. It doesn't pull any punches, it tells it how it is in regard to the amount of work someone will have to put in in order to create something worthwhile. It then sets about telling you how to do that with plenty of examples (including 6 drafts of a paragraph to show how it develops). Some parts were a little tedious, but you can't really make the discussion around developing a socio-economic framework for a society super interesting.
July 29, 2021
I loved this book. I'm sure the information contained in this book is pretty general, but it's excellently written. The writing style is so engaging I finished the book in a single setting. The examples are often ludicrous in great way, I couldn't stop laughing about the "avoid over layering" drafts. The book also contains a short story by Salvatore that had quite a disturbing premis. Very nice read!
Profile Image for Neil.
Author 21 books21 followers
March 2, 2019
Lots of handy hints, and good advice, along with a short story by RA Salvatore to top things off.
I went through the book over the past few years, and just finished. I don't have a clear recollection of every part of it, but I've made lots of useful notes as a result of this book, so that counts for something.
Profile Image for Tristan.
1,033 reviews12 followers
April 15, 2020
This is a rather light and breezy whizz through the business of writing speculative fiction. It’s to the point, short on detail as well as on bullshit, pleasantly readable, and most reassuringly didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. A good read, but not a reference I’d turn to again and again.
Profile Image for Leslie Means.
9 reviews
January 29, 2021
An interesting read on the skill and follow through on the writing experience. I learned just what my genre/subgenre is with this book and I will be adding it to my library as soon as possible. Philip Athans does draw things out a bit with some wordiness and plenty of examples but all in all, a good book for readers who are seeking to join The Craft.
Profile Image for Jenny Baker.
1,243 reviews197 followers
March 17, 2017
Wow, information overload, but in an awesome way! This is better than Orson Scott Card's book on the same subject. There was more focus and details on the aspects that I wanted to learn more about. More later!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 101 reviews

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