The Sword and Laser discussion

Sci-fi / fantasy writing

Comments Showing 1-31 of 31 (31 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Veronica, Supreme Sword (new)

Veronica Belmont (veronicabelmont) | 1666 comments Mod
Hey guys!

I've been toying with the idea of doing some writing of my own (mainly short stories). Do you have any tips for a new fiction writer? How do you get the ball rolling?

message 2: by Aaron (new)

Aaron (syar) Great question Veronica, I've been thinking about doing the same so any tips would be great

message 3: by Jlawrence, S&L Moderator (new)

Jlawrence | 960 comments Mod
Advice I've often heard:

1) Write, write, write

Write everyday. Carve out some time for it, and stick with it. It can just be a character sketch, an individual scene, or part of something bigger, but get something down. Don't obsess about re-reading it and working it over immediately - a *lot* of what you initially write you will likely end up throwing out. But keep at it, it's the only way to get the 'garbage' out of your system and hone your craft. Let what you've written sit for awhile before returning to it, so your take on it will be fresh, and you can decide then what should be thrown out, and what can be kept and improved.

2) Read, read read (I think you're doing this already ;))

Read as much as you can and pay attention to how your favorite authors hook you, how they express the personalities of their characters, how they pace and structure their narratives.

3) Read your dialogue out loud

Helps detect where your dialogue may be wooden or out-of-character.

4) Write about something that excites you

If you're not interested in what you're writing, the chances are the reader won't be either.

5) Feedback

It's also important to get feedback on your writing from people who can give you honest but constructive criticism. It can be hard to have a clear perspective on something you've been working on and feel attached to, so outside opinions can be essential. Don't take criticism personally, but decide what changes are worth considering, and what to ignore. (All those people authors thank in their acknowledgments are often friends who read the work-in-progress and said, "Hey, why don't you do this...")

Those tips apply to all writing - for some genre-specific ones, there's a number of books and online resources with advice on science fiction and fantasy world-building, etc. I don't know which are best, though.

I've been thinking about writing some science fiction as well - I have several story ideas, but I have not succeeded in following the discipline advice #1 yet! ;) (This was a problem for me even when I was in some creative writing workshops haha!)

message 4: by Tamahome (last edited Aug 20, 2010 03:39PM) (new)

Tamahome | 6118 comments (I should be writing podcast)

Btw, I summed up some salient points in Stephen King's writing audiobook in my review:

message 5: by Veronica, Supreme Sword (new)

Veronica Belmont (veronicabelmont) | 1666 comments Mod
Thanks for the advice, everyone! Now I just need to think of some good ideas :/

message 6: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Stephen King's On Writing is a must read. Orwell's Politics and the English Language and Twain's The Literary Offenses of Fenimore Cooper are good rundowns of things not to do. And the Science Fiction Writers of America have a great collection of essays ranging from the basics of writing to how to submit a manuscript and look for an agent.

Also, I highly recommend the program yWriter, which was designed by a programmer-turned-novelist who got fed up with writing on word processors designed for memos and term papers. For writing, it's no better than Word or OpenOffice, but when you start editing it's fantastic.

message 7: by Joshua (new)

Joshua (JoshuaCaleb) | 38 comments Veronica wrote: "Thanks for the advice, everyone! Now I just need to think of some good ideas :/"

I actually wrote a little blogpost on my site about how I create stories and ideas: How my Pen Ticks. The basic premise is "Duplicate, Obliterate, Recreate" It's a method that has worked for me on several of my novels.

Once you finish (yes, that point will actually come:) you already have one of the hardest parts done: exposure. As far as I know, you're a bit of an internet celebrity:) so you already have a large following. People like me however, have to build a brand and following from scratch, no easy task :/
Oh, one other thing, then I'll stop. I promise:) There's one question I read that you have to ask yourself: "If I never get published and no one ever reads my stories; would I still write?" The answer separates the true writers from the...hobbyist, dreamers? Something like that.

Anyway, good luck. Here's to your first best-seller:)

Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 2839 comments Learn about NaNoWriMo, you might want to take on that challenge. Even if not, some of the principles are good for new writers. Don't spend too much of your creative energy planning or outlining, just write! Don't get too caught up on writing well at first, you can edit later. The book No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days is like a guidebook.

On Writing was helpful to me after I'd done a bit of writing, so maybe get some ideas and words on a page and then mark it to read later.

The poet in Nicholson Baker's novel The Anthologist tries to write one poem a day, and talks about viewing your daily world in a different way. I'm not sure I'm expressing the sentiment as well as he did, but I have found it helpful to carry around a little notebook with me to write down random thoughts or interesting quirky people and situations. You never know when they might fit nicely into a story!

message 9: by Mikebliv (last edited Aug 21, 2010 08:04PM) (new)

Mikebliv | 11 comments Brandon Sanderson + others podcast on writing:

message 10: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6118 comments Some sites have 'flash writing' events. I think they're very short stories.

message 11: by Paul (new)

Paul (paulcavanaugh) | 51 comments Here are some other pretty decent books on writing -- they all have great examples (one uses Jim Butcher!) and are fun to read -- and they are all available for the Kindle:
>>Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print
>>The Fire in Fiction
>>Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure

Also, a good fiction writer's editor for the mac, complete with "index cards" and reshuffles, also by a programmer+writer, is Scrivener at Free for 30 days, $40 to buy. It is just peachy on a 13-inch macbook pro.

Finally, there is a very good blog by Nathan Bransford, a literary agent, at -- he has lots of practical advice on query submissions, etc., and an illuminating "Page Critique Monday" in which he line edits a 250 word submission.

message 12: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (nightveil) I've heard and been told quite a few things about writing and I've always remembered two things. The fist bit I got from Christy Marx (writer of comics and animation and a truly neat person). She told me to "write the ending first". The idea being that if you do that you have a place to go. The story is how you get to that destination. Usually, I'll write a small chunk of the beginning and then write the ending.

The other bit of advice I love I got secondhand from Tom Clancy. "At some point you have to write the damn thing!" Which I've always taken to mean you can plot and write backstory and character sketches all you want (and you should, especially for anything larger than a few thousand words) but the goal is to write the story.

I agree with Jlawrence's points above and I try to do most of it (haven't actually written in a few months because of life-stuff getting in my way but I will again soon). The one thing I'd add is:

6) Keep Everything

Even though a lot of the stuff you write, especially initially, will probably be crap, keep it. Save it. In this day and age you can afford to keep everything. It costs nothing in physical space and you might have ideas in those bits and pieces that you can revisit in the future. I wish I'd done this early on because I know there were some good ideas back then that I could tackle now to much better effect.

Oh and:

7) Have Fun

Even if you're writing professionally and it is your job you should enjoy it. Ultimately that's why we write, because we enjoy the act of putting words on paper (or screen, depending on your preference.)

message 13: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (saturdayplace) Veronica, don't 'wait for' or 'try to come up with' some good ideas. That'll paralyze you. Just write. It'll be total crap at first. That's OK. There was an NPR podcast I watched once where the guy was talking about how when you start out, your taste exceeds your ability to create. But the more you work at it, the better you get.

The best antidote to writer's block, is to write.

message 14: by Brew (new)

Brew | 44 comments Jim Butcher has a few great tips on his Live Journal page.

Seems there are many aspiring writers here at the S&L which of course is no real surprise. Maybe Veronica should use her internet powers and kick-start an official S&L short story collection. Just a thought.

message 15: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6118 comments Didn't Tom write a novel? Ask him. :)

message 16: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6118 comments Mikebliv wrote: "Brandon Sanderson + others podcast on writing:"

I'm checking out the latest one. Only 15 minutes and in front of a live bookstore audience.

message 17: by George (new)

George Van Wagner (gvdub) | 26 comments Don't get hung up on analyzing process, either yours or others. Write. Write anything. If you apply Sturgeon's Law ("90% of everything is crud") to your own output, you'll realize that most of what you write is not going to be usable. Once you've realized that, toss it aside and write more.

Writing is re-writing. I've come across many writers in crit groups who seem to believe that their first draft is their final draft. No. Your first draft is a Tinkertoy set that you have to pull apart and reassemble to get the final product. Write some more. Then go back and rewrite. Tighten it up, question your characters' motivations and actions, do whatever needs doing to make it better. Write.

Kill your children. If there's a particular phrase, sentence or paragraph you're especially proud of, odds are that, while it may be glowing prose that makes you stop and say, 'Wow!', if you're telling a story, you don't want your reader to stop and say 'Wow!' and get knocked out of the story flow. You have two choices – rewrite the entire work to the standards of that one phrase or kill it. Write

Did I mention write?

message 18: by Patrick (new)

Patrick | 93 comments Jenny wrote: "Learn about NaNoWriMo, you might want to take on that challenge. Even if not, some of the principles are good for new writers."

I second that. I'd played with writing before but never got very far. Last year I tried the NaNoWriMo challenge and managed to pump out the requisite 50,000 words. Having a goal and a deadline helped but the real benefit was having other writers that could encourage me and provide competition.

As others have mentioned the thing is to write, write, write. Write anything. Tell the voice inside your head that tells you what you are writing is stupid to shut up. A lot of it will be stupid but there will be a few gems in it. When you are done pick out gems and start again.

Most of the novela that I wrote for NaNo is trash but I am very proud of a few scenes and paragraphs. Plus I invented a character I really like. My problem afterwords was keeping up the momentum after the challenge was over. But I'm up for trying again this year.

message 19: by A.P. (new)

A.P. Stephens | 7 comments V,

I would say the best piece of advice I can give you is to get it all down in a first draft. Do not dally on one scene for too long if you feel it is missing something or needs that extra punch. You can always go back through on your second draft and fill in the scenes and build on the characters and plot even more.

Get the foundation down and then go back through afterwards and add the finer details. I think getting through the whole novel first will give you ideas to place into the beginnings of the book, to add foreshadowing and you will have a better understanding of how it all works out once you get to the end.

I used to hang myself up on a tricky scene in my works, but if you sit there for 30 minutes or longer trying to fix it, you waste quality time that you have to write for the day.


1) Write out your first draft and add as much as you can. Make notes of areas of the story that need detail, etc.
2) Go back through and add/delete things you feel will benefit the story.


3) Add some sort of new twist to a classic staple...make an elf a bit different (either as a race or a specific individual), or give the plot a nice, refreshing turn.

Old stereotypes get boring after a while and we all want your imagination and ideas to flourish and stand out above the crowd.

Maybe this post is helpful to you. :)

message 20: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6118 comments NaNoWriMo is in 5 days!

message 21: by A.P. (last edited Oct 27, 2010 03:53PM) (new)

A.P. Stephens | 7 comments I do not believe in Nano-whatso. I think people who want to write need to have that kind of passion for writing all year long.

How about we make a movement for NanoYearo.

Writing should be a yearly thing, not just a 30 day month out of the year.

...but if NanoWriMO is your thing, I am not one to discourage your month's goal. :)

message 22: by Patrick (last edited Oct 27, 2010 07:16PM) (new)

Patrick | 93 comments A.p. wrote: "I think people who want to write need to have that kind of passion for writing all year long.

How about we make a movement for NanoYearo. "

I somewhat agree but I think NaNo is more about getting people to try writing in the first place. There are many who idly think about writing a novel but never act on it. Perhaps it's too overwhelming to start or they feel that they must have the whole perfect story in mind before they start. NaNo challenges them to write and provides the most important impetus to getting things done: a goal and a deadline. At they same time it tries to remove some of the intimidation factor. What they write doesn't have to perfect. The emphasis is on getting their thoughts out on paper without censoring them. It's a personal chalenge so they are not required to show anyone their work. At the same time it is encouraging to know there thousands of others struggling along with them.

I'm sure there are many that never pick up the pen again after the month is over but there are a few that go on to make it a yearly habit. A few published authors even got their start doing NaNo.

message 23: by Patrick (new)

Patrick | 93 comments Tamahome wrote: "NaNoWriMo is in 5 days!"

Are you participating?

I'm normally more on the science fiction side of things but this year I have an idea for a fantasy story.

message 24: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6118 comments I'm on the fence.

Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 2839 comments I'm planning on it but I don't have a plan. I always tend to veer toward magical realism which is kind of almost like fantasy, I guess. This will be year 5! I'm sh1mm3r in the nano forums if you want to compete/follow word count.

message 26: by Tom, Supreme Laser (new)

Tom Merritt (tommerritt) | 1147 comments Mod
I'm with Patrick, NaNoWriMo is about getting people who never write to get started. It's about taking away the excuses about why you don't write. If you look into it, the whole idea *is* to get you writing all year long. They push you to just write in November, then edit, then revise then edit then possibly market.

So that's why I always try to do NaNoWriMo every year. It at least gets me to stop procrastinating. I finished a book one year because of it.

message 27: by Amy (new)

Amy Pilkington | 104 comments I've done NaNoWriMo for the last 3 years and love it. I write year-round, but have a lot of trouble fighting my inner editor. I've won each year as well.

Where it gets me is in the forums of the site, where people talk about cheating for word count and daring others to add silly things. To me that is where the serious "writing" ends. But for some people it's just a fun romp each year. Those who pound out 50k of stream on consciousness and on Dec 1st send it out to agents' slush piles horrify me.

What I find it's best for is that initial push on a first draft of a story where I'm not sure where it's going. That way I can just discover the world and characters as I go without worrying about perfection. Afterwords I can figure out what worked, what didn't and hopefully turn it into something usable. I'm never done the story at the 50k (maybe halfway really), but I've made it past the hump of setup where I always have trouble getting out of the "but the world isn't perfect yet!" and can get onto the finale.

message 28: by Jared (new)

Jared (notthatjared) | 17 comments I think not giving up is the most important thing. In the words of Mur Lafferty, "You are allowed to suck"! If you're new or relatively new to writing, your early stuff will probably not be very good. And that's OK. Just keep writing. I'm still a crappy writer, but I can't not write. So I'll keep trying.

To everyone doing NaNo this year, y'all will be in my thoughts. I'm trying it out for the first time this year. I'm JLayne if anyone would like to look me up.

Good luck with your writing, Veronica! I hope you'll let us know from time to time how its going.

message 29: by Patrick (new)

Patrick | 93 comments I'm gryphon on the NaNo site. Good luck to everyone writing this year.

message 30: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Ivy | 25 comments NaNoWriMo must be busy. I'm having trouble getting signed up. My writing will probably resemble a syfy channel movie, but I'm going to try to have fun.

message 31: by Mike (new)

Mike (mikespencer) | 60 comments I did Nanowrimo for the first time last year. I didn't finish my book (it was awful), but I had a good time so I'm doing it again this year. I like the story I'm writing a ton better so I'm doing a bit better keeping pace.

Good luck to everyone else participating!

back to top