How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Orson Scott Card (Writers Digest Books, 1990)
In How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy Orson Scott Card doesn’t repeat the writing advice he’s given elsewhere (Characters and Viewpoint from Writers Digest Books). Instead he focuses on the particular attributes needed in the speculative genres.
The book contains five sections: The Infinite Boundary (defining the genres), World Creation, Story Construction, Writing Well, and The Life and Business of Writing.
What makes a good science fiction story? A good fantasy? Mr. Card illustrates the differences and provides an extensive reading list. He says we won’t like everything on the list, but we’ll see the varieties within the genre and we’ll see what works and what’s already been over-done. And analyzing our responses will help us discover the style and approach we want to use in our own fiction.
The book offers solid teaching on the crafting and writing of a speculative story (world, history, characters, etc). Mr. Card advocates a lot of thinking and discovery before writing, which may frighten seat-of-the-pants writers, but we’re not starting from the known setting of planet Earth. Without the depth of history and background, our story world and cultures won’t feel real.
Other than the World Creation section (the largest part), any kind of fiction writer can benefit from the information in this book. The examples are from speculative work but the principles apply across genres.
The author gives tips on how to develop what he calls a “Wise Reader,” someone who can read your manuscript and give his/her reactions. The aim is not to get advice on what to do next, but to hear genuine audience reaction to your plot, characters etc. This will help you find those points in the story that don’t achieve your desired impact or effect.
There have been changes since the book appeared in 1990, in speculative fiction and in the general world of writing and publishing. Writers can find that information elsewhere, and will still find this slim book helpful.
If you’re going to write (or are writing) in the speculative genres, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy is an essential resource. If not, you’re still likely to find something helpful in the second half of the book.