Writing Science Fiction And Fantasy is a little book of 200 pages and an ugly cover that truly took me by surprise. The lessons in the book go straight to the point and are founded on literary theory and criticism (Northrop Frye, Joseph Campbell, etc). Crawford Kilian’s writing is accessible and entertaining, as well as direct and clear.
The first part of the book “Knowing your genre”, it’s mostly needed for those not familiar with Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. I learnt about Connecticut Yankee the genre.
The second part really got my full attention and won me over: “The Craft of Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy”. Killian covers every aspect of how to engineer a story. Notice I say “engineer” because his approach is very methodical covering all aspects of storytelling without leaving anything to chance. He is also aware that rules as meant to be broken, but only after you know, understand and master them. In this second part he covers: plot structure, scene building, story arch, character archetypes, etc, etc.
The book focuses particularly on the symbolism of writing and the importance of every piece of the plot (characters, location, etc) as supporting element for the main topic of the story. Repeatedly Killian encourages the writer to thing what the story is about, and to echo those ideas in every segment of writing.
The last part might be less relevant for independent writers today since it focuses on traditional publishing (mass market, trade paperback, etc). This book was originally published in 1998 (although this edition was from 2007), so it makes sense that it doesn’t cover self-publishing or ebooks.
Overall a great book for analytical minds, writer who like to plan ahead, and those who appreciate the subtleties of symbolism and connotations in writing.
James Baldwin talks about the one critical trait of accomplished writers:
Something that irritates you and won’t let you go. That’s the anguish of it. Do this book, or die. You have to go through that. Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.
—James Baldwin Advice On Writing
Bookstores are one of my favorite hangout places, and as much as I love digital publishing I have a soft spot for printed books.
The experience of reading is very personal and for many the ebook has become a better medium for reading than traditional books. If the current trend of coloring books for adults tells us something is that there is an opportunity for printed books, just not what we have experienced before. Ebooks won’t kill physical books but they will force their specialization.
In order to survive physical books should exploit their unique characteristics:
- Manipulation: Printed books are real objects you can manipulate, and so are great for note taking, coloring, and modifying in any which way.
- Unique layout: Like with any other object there is a relationship between the object itself and the user (reader in this case) handling them. The House of Leaves is a book that takes advantage of its own physicality with type printed in unique ways in pages that need to be rotated and manipulated to be read.
- Print Quality:And last but not least, physical books, as of now, are better for print quality and color reproduction and so are perfect for showing artwork.
- Special editions: Physical books also have an essence and unique presence, and so are great for special editions, leather covers, unique designs, etc.
- Conservation: Physical books also excel at conservation and are a great format for preservation of work.
What physical books are not great at is accessibility and readability for people with reading difficulties or in adverse conditions. We should welcome the differences between print and digital and focus our efforts on the strengths that make physical books unique, instead of battling with the ebook industry.
I see a great future ahead for printed books, it just doesn’t look anything like what we have now, and that change scares many.
Hugh Howey goes into tons of detail for aspiring writers, which is awesome. Here are my two favorite quotes from the article:
This is Howey’s first advice for writers.
To begin with, you need to write. […] Get comfortable staring at a blank screen and not writing. This is a skill. If you can not write and avoid filling that time with distractions, you’ll get to the point where you start writing. Open your manuscript and just be with it.
And his advice on persistence.
Secondly, learn to write rough. Stop caring about spelling and sentence fragments and plot holes and grammar. Get the story down. Listen to the dialog and try to keep up with your fingers. Get to the end of your manuscript and THEN worry about the quality. If you can master the art of powering through to the end of your story, you are on your way.
—My Advice to Aspiring Authors
photo by Christopher Michel (https://www.flickr.com/photos/cmichel67/20061930470/)
Now that the big publishers have renegotiated their contracts with Amazon we are seeing a change in the ebook price strategy. Publisher are finally able to set their own prices and Amazon is selling ebooks with the tagline “this price was set by the publisher”.
This seems like great news, and obviously publishers deserve the opportunity to set their own prices. The problem with this shift is in the publishers strategy behind ebook pricing.
In a sense, 2016 presents something of a new beginning, a clean slate for e-books. In 2015, all of the major publishers finalized new sales agreements with Amazon, two-year deals for both print and digital distribution. And with the e-book price-fixing sanctions now expired, publishers have what they long desired: control over consumer e-book pricing.
What Does 2016 Hold for Digital Publishing?
I was recently shopping for a new translation of an old classic. I found the book on Amozon at $13 for the paperback, and $12 for the kindle version. I ended up with a used paperback from a reseler for $7.
On seeing those prices one has to think, what is the publisher thinking? How can an ebook be priced like a hardcopy that needs printing and delivery. Are publishers trying to discourage sells of ebooks? Are they trying to push physical book sales? I believe that an ebook should not be free and it should appropriately compensate its creator. However, pricing an ebook as expensive as a physical book is a disservice to your customers.
I believe it was Hugh Howley who said that this strategy will likely drive readers away from mainstream books and into independent—reasonably prized—books. Independent publishers can more narrowly target readers interest and be more cost effective. There will always be block busters but we might see that the tail end of the sales chart starts to take on a larger and larger market share.
I love and hate Medium (the blogging platform founded by ex-twitter Evan Williams) equally. I might hate it more than I love it since I am clearly not using it for my blog. I appreciate that it has become a platform for many voices that otherwise might have never ventured to online blogging. However, it’s also a trap for its users, who might find that leaving the space once they outgrow it is not possible.
Matthew Butterick summarizes it best”
Whereas the traditional typewriter offered freedom at the cost of design, the billionaire’s typewriter offers convenience at the cost of freedom.
~The Billionaires Typewriter
I dislike Medium for many reasons but I believe there is a place in the web for tools that ask the absolute bare minimum of its users. Not everybody has the time—or inclination—to figure out what WordPress is all about, and how to get it up and running.
Medium also differs from earlier blogging services in a significant, contrarian way: it offers you, the writer, nearly zero options for the presentation of your stories. No matter what kind of story you write, or who your readers are, it gets packaged into a single, non-negotiable template.
~The Billionaires Typewriter
And to the question “how does Medium improve the Internet?” Well… it exists, it has a point of view. If you don’t like it, code your counter argument.
While in the Mission today I went on a little trip to the bookstore Dog Eared books. Here are the books that I found the the ones that I took home with me.
- The Geometry of Art and Life, caught my eye, because any book which title includes Art and Science will always grab my attention.
The Hero With a Thousand Faces, because I am now reading The Writer’s Journey which is an analysis of Campbell’s book.
Children of Dune, because I am always tempted to get started again with Herbert’s saga
Reamde, because I stopped reading it after 100 pages and I should probably pick it up again and finish it.
The Art of Choosing, because I saw that Hugh Howley is currently reading it, and because the irony of the title didn’t escape me.
Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, Just because of the topic (“[…]the first anthology of short stories to explore the connections between radical speculative fiction and movements for social change.”) and the nice details in the cover.
The Octopus: A Story of California, because I love simple titles. One, two words. A name. An idea. No more.
A Field Guide to Insects, this might seem like a strange choice but insects are cool and every now and then I have to pause and ask myself, what if I leave it all behind and dedicate the rest of my life to the study of insects?
The Poetics of Space, because the title intrigued me and the passages I read too.
Bachelard takes us on a journey, from cellar to attic, to show how our perceptions of houses and other shelters shape our thoughts, memories, and dreams.
The final choices
After an hour in the bookstore and being tempted by the titles above and more, here are the books I got:
- Cinematic Design, a 1931 book, with zero review online (how is that even possible?). Listen to the back cover
“Cinematic Design” is a handbook for the amateur cinema artist and those lovers of the motion picture to whom visions of beauty, mirrored by the crystal lens, transcend all trivial representations that have marred adequate expression and labelled the motion picture as unworthy of consideration as an art.
Well that is a great description of me if there ever was one!
- Tales of the City, because I read it 15 (20?) years ago and I fell in love with The City even before knowing I would move to San Francisco one day.
The honorable mention
I Was a Teen-Age Dwarf, because just look at that cover—and that title!
A recent study has found that the inner structure of long-form classic books follows a “cascading (avalanche) narrative structure” comparable to multifractals (fractals of fractals).
Fractals are mathematical patterns that show the same structure at different scales. They appear in nature and are easily simulated with computers since they are based on a simple recursive algorithm.
The academics write in their paper that: “Studying characteristics of the sentence-length variability in a large corpus of world famous literary texts shows that an appealing and aesthetic optimum … involves self-similar, cascade-like alternations of various lengths of sentences.”
—Scientists find evidence of mathematical structures in classic books
James Joyce’s Finnegans wake, Annotated by Danis Rose
Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce set the record in this study for “multifractality”. (Why am I not surprised?)
“The absolute record in terms of multifractality turned out to be Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce. The results of our analysis of this text are virtually indistinguishable from ideal, purely mathematical multifractals,” says Prof. Drozdz.
[..] Interestingly, in the analyzed pool of all the works, [stream of consciousness] turned out to be exceptionally multifractal in nature.
—The world’s greatest literature reveals multifractals and cascades of consciousness
It is also interesting to see that written streams of consciousness can have signs of inner mathematical order to such degree.
Finnegans Wake, handwritten manuscript by James Joyce