Tag Archives: worldbuilding

Writing tips round-up

What with one thing and another, it’s been a donkey’s age since I last did a writing advice round-up. I had a few morsels lying about in the old RSS reader, so I thought I’d take a moment to pitch them out.

Twenty mistakes to avoid

This is the first of two posts from E. E. Knight, a man who manages to educate and entertain at the same time. It’s a list of twenty fiction-writing blunders made by beginning (and not-so-beginning) writers. My personal favourite:

11 – So that’s why you wrote this: I’ve read stories where the most precise language and evocative imagery is saved for the all-important pudenda-shaving scene as the heroine gets ready to go to the library. I’m not knocking your kink, I’m just wondering why so much word-weight is put into a personal hygiene choice in a story about tracking down Shoggoths.


Showing not telling – avoiding infodump

Back-story is probably more essential in genre fiction than any other form … but that doesn’t make it any more palatable when served in huge expository lumps. So here’s a snippet of E. E. Knight’s comprehensively lengthy advice on sneaking the back-story under the radar:

You’re doing a disservice to your readers when you present them with the information they need to know to understand your world (or the backgrounds for your characters, or whatever) in a couple of ways when you do this, though. For one thing, it’s absolutely static and therefore boring. For another, the authorial hand is visible, cold on the reader’s throat like a doctor checking your glands.

Indeed. Concludes with plenty of examples, also. If you’re a beginning writer, and you’re not subscribed to his RSS feed, you’re missing out.

Collaboration 101

Another writer whose advice I increasingly find indispensable (and another one by whose actual fiction, to my shame, I’ve never read*) is Luc Reid. While not so much of a didactic piece as Knight’s material above, this post lays out a procedural framework for collaborating on short stories:

6. When we have a completed first draft, one of us does the first round of editing. If one person did more of the original writing, the other should be the one to do the first round of editing. During editing, we discuss any major changes before making them, but other than that we’re ruthless and edit the stories almost as though they were our own. We don’t hesitate to strike out a beautiful phrase or change a character or what have you even if the other person has done the original work. However, we do this using Word’s “track changes” feature, which is very easy to use, so that if something needs to be restored it can be.

Hmmm. I’m thinking you’ll have to be pretty good friends with anyone you do that sort of work with! Good food for thought, though.

Clomping foot redux

It’s a mark of his great talent (and the great esteem in which he is held) that M. John Harrison can set the genre blogosphere alight with a few short paragraphs about the sort of fantasy he is tired of seeing:

Go away & write me a fantasy like that. Wait twenty years before you start. Write it out of some emotion of yours you never understood, or some decision you made you’re not sure if you regret; but never once name that emotion or let me see the decision. I want what’s underneath. Make it short. Remember the world never had a plot, & that there’s no difference between a “myth” & commuting to work, they’re just two really excellent ways of narrating the life out of life.

Tear this one up, & start again with that very good sentence from p50, “I didn’t know what was happening.”

Much like the original “clomping foot” post, I think people will be talking about this one for some time to come.

In fact, it reminds me of some of the things the Mundanistas have been saying, though there are fundamental differences. But that’s a post for another day …

[*Actually, that’s not strictly true – I have read some of Luc Reid’s super-short pieces over at The Daily Cabal, which is kind of like Friday Flash Fiction every single day, and another fine addition to your web-based diet.]

Foresight consultancy; worldbuilding redux

Remember me linking to Jamais Cascio’s post about worldbuilding a little while ago, where he said that what he does (foresight consultancy, or what used to be referred to as ‘futurism’) is a remarkably similar skill to science fiction writing in some respects?

Well, here’s Jamais on the Worldchanging blog, pitching four brief potential future scenarios set three decades from now, showing the potential results of different reactions to the climate change issue. I’ll quote one as an example:

02037: I stumbled across a memory archive from twenty years ago, before the emergence of the Chorus, and was shocked to see the Earth as it was. Oceans near death, climate system lurching towards collapse, overall energy flux just horribly out-of-balance. I can’t believe the Earth actually survived that. I had assumed that the Chorus was responsible for repairing the planet, but no — We told me that, even by 02017, the Earth’s human populace was making the kind of substantive changes to how it lived necessary to avoid real disaster, and that 02017 was actually one of the first years of improvement! What the Chorus made possible was the planetary repair, although We says that this project still has many years left, in part because We had to fix some of We’s own mistakes from the first few repair attempts. The Chorus actually seemed embarrassed when We told me that!

OK, so it doesn’t have the snap and crackle of the prose of a practiced novelist, but that’s a slice of science fiction right there. I know for a fact that Karl Schroeder does this sort of work for a living, too; maybe foresight consultancy will be an industry where sf writers can use their skills to earn a good living in times to come?

Go and read the whole post, by the way. The scenarios are hauntingly familiar to any sf reader, and there’s some serious food for thought there.

The sin of worldbuilding – a refutation

The M. John Harrison worldbuilding post has bit the mainstream internet over the last few days (us sf obsessives are so far ahead, it’s just sick) – amazing what a Warren Ellis link can do for a post.

But here’s a polite refutation from futurist / foresight consultant Jamias Cascio, who points out that his line of “non-narrative fiction” is exactly what Harrison is complaining about.

Now, that’s an apples and oranges comparison, and I’m not trying to claim otherwise. But what interests me is that in the last part of his post, Cascio nails the exact point that it seemed to me that Harrison was trying to make, and that so many people misunderstood:

“The art of Worldbuilding comes from knowing what to omit, from knowing what needs to be surveyed and what can be tacked up as a Potemkin Future. It becomes an intensely detailed game, figuring out what the readers want to know, covering what they need to know, teasing them with the implications of a fuller vision, and creating an effective illusion of paradigmatic completeness.

Harrison has it wrong: it’s not the biggest library ever built, it’s a painting of a library that seems to go on and on, with some prop books on a table in the foreground. Make sure those prop books are interesting enough, and the reader will never try to explore the rest of the library.”

When I read Harrison’s post, I thought that was exactly what he was trying to say, and that he was rejecting the overintricate unnecessary filigree that some writers produce. Then again, I’m quite possibly superimposing my own perceptions on both posts, so maybe I’m wrong on both counts.

One thing that I’m pretty certain of, however, is that this debate will run for some time to come. Another is that Jamais Cascio is well worth reading for anyone who likes science fiction literature. He’s coming at the same point from a different angle – great food for thought, and frequently sobering.