I never originally intended to write or submit as much as I did, but I have quite an obsessive and impulsive personality, in that once I put my mind to something, it’s difficult for me to do it in moderation. Though I suppose this was something good to have when it comes to writing, it also creates bad habits like non-stop binge watching tv shows and movies, playing videos games hours upon hours, or obsessively training in badminton to the point where I’ve likely spent more time on it than I have on schoolwork. So, I suppose you could say that it was due to bad habits I’ve built throughout my childhood that has allowed me to achieve relatively good habits when it comes to writing, or at least allowed me to be able to increase my story output and submission rate.
Writer's Block Exists to Stop You From Writing Shit
An Interview with Octavia Cade
conducted by Jack Windeyer
Short speculative fiction today is outstanding. It’s broad and diverse and exciting. It’s often structurally interesting. It’s challenging, and the prose is gorgeous. If you want to crack the big short fiction markets, it’s simple common sense to be familiar with what they publish. You can’t do that if you don’t read. And if you don’t read, you won’t make it out of slush.
On the Sumptuousness and Solace of Speculative Fiction Writing
…and food (metaphorically, tangibly and tastily)
by D.A. Xiaolin Spires
I’ll be reading a science article, perhaps, one from a reputable academic journal or perhaps from a pop science
news venue, and I’d feel this itch like it was coming. “It” being the genesis of a story, percolating through the
text of the article, squeezing its way into this world. (Lots of mixed metaphors here, but story creation warrants
all sorts of amalgamated imagery!) The inspiration might be a concept from medical science or cutting edge
technology—that my mind reinterprets or reimagines and transforms. Sometimes, the idea is not conceptual, but
visual—a glorious landscape, a piece of worldbuilding that is then populated by characters. Sometimes, it’s
the idea of a character, a spunky individual who has a certain want or flair. Many of my stories eventually do
have these characteristics by the time they're polished. It’s just that the igniting element may be any one of
these. Through some prewriting and brainstorming, it starts to flesh out...
How to Write a Better Rough Draft According to Top Science Fiction Authors Including Nancy Kress
by Jack Windeyer
Many top science fiction writers use the same technique to produce rough drafts. It’s not some big secret or a
thousand-step, alchemical recipe. In fact, their advice is surprisingly simple: write until it’s done.
Ellison calls it a mood, this effect that you risk losing if you take
too long to write your short story. Asimov called it harmony.
Writing a single draft to conclusion keeps the story cohesive. It
forces you to focus on the main through-line of the plot—a constraint,
and the great paradox of creativity is that it feeds on constraints.
The fewer variables you need to hold in your mind at any given time,
Tell me, who would you trust to teach you to write titles? For me, I look to those who have done it the
most. With more than 1,700 credits to his name, spanning short stories, essays, screenplays, Harlan Ellison had a
hell of a lot of experience. In fact, “Fingerprints on the Sky,” the authorized bibliography of Ellison’s
work is 400 pages long and even it can’t claim to be comprehensive. All this practice paid off; his titles linger
in the mind. I’m willing to bet that you’ve heard of some of the better known ones.
Have you ever read a story that pulls you forward through the narrative seemingly without effort? Each
paragraph pushes your attention forward, like a well-timed paddle from an olympic rowing crew. For me, the
writer who best exemplifies this is Octavia Butler. Even if I’m rereading a story of hers to study how it
works, I get lost in the plot and end up reading the final line before I know it. How does an author learn
to do that?
How Nancy Kress Uses Callbacks to Reuse Narrative Context
by Jack Windeyer
When you need to make a reference to an event that occurred earlier in your narrative, the first tool you
may think to use is a flashback. But what if you don’t want to break the flow of the narrative by jumping
back in time. What if, instead, you want to use the reference to evoke a remembrance in the reader? Not to
mention the fact that flashbacks can be tricky to pull off.
Ursula K. Le Guin on the Subtle Art of Leaving Things Unsaid
by Jack Windeyer
Ursula Le Guin’s writing is chock-full of craft, and she also doles out a fair measure of advice on how to
improve your own writing in her book Steering the Craft. In it, she introduces the idea of crowding and
leaping to describe portions of a story that are full of rich detail and others that move at a faster pace.
How Samuel Delany Gives Depth to His Throwaway Characters
by Jack Windeyer
Have you ever read a paragraph that introduces a secondary character, and by the end of it that new
character feels like a real human being? You may not particularly care about them yet, and their role in the
overall story is still murky, but they seem to be standing right in front of you, breathing, blinking. The
writer has found a way to pull a solid individual out of the ether with only a few words. “How?” you might
How Ursula K. Le Guin Leveraged Passive Verbs to Deepen Plot
by Jack Windeyer
In the world of writing advice, the refrain most often repeated to beginners is “first you need to learn the
rules, then you can break them.” New writers are told again and again that the best novelists, poets, and
journalists are the ones who break the rules better than anyone else.
Metaphors and similes must be consistent, and I don’t only mean internal consistency. Yes, you should avoid
writing mixed metaphors. But there is an external, story-wide type of consistency that you should also
consider. Here’s what I mean: if you’re writing a story in third person limited and your viewpoint character
is a mechanic from Wells, Nevada who’s just seen a flying saucer, she’s not going to describe it in the same
way that a physicist would.
Most scenes unfold chronologically, but some literary techniques interrupt the flow of narrative time. The
flashback (or analepsis) is one of them. When well-written, it provides valuable context to the reader;
written poorly they cause confusion and frustration.
How long do you have to hook your reader? One sentence? One paragraph? Longer? The truth is that anything in
that nebulous “beginning” section of a story needs to be compelling. Nancy Kress suggests that we use three
paragraphs as a rule of thumb for short stories.
Short story writers are always in need of shortcuts: ways of getting the characters and scenes moving in the
right direction with fewer words. This is easier said than done. It feels impossible to trim away words when
staring at a piece of the story as large and important as the central conflict. It’s better to start small.
So you want to write an analepsis (flashback)? Well then, which kind are you going to write? There’s the
internal analepsis which flashes back to a section of time that the narrative has already covered. Then
there’s the external analepsis, which flashes back to a time wholly outside of the narrative. Since most
short stories cover a short period of time, I’ll assume it’s the latter. Consider the following passage from
A Lingering Scent of Jasmine by Pat Murphy...
The catalog of literary devices is vast. How can anyone remember them all? Especially with names like
litote, polysyndeton, and zeugma. I can’t keep them all straight, but when I run across an unfamiliar device
that deserves a highlight, I give it a temporary name, something that will help me remember why I enjoyed
Use a Description of the Future for World-Building
by Jack Windeyer
How can you add world-building without presenting it to the reader in one enormous expository lump? How can
a character describe the world around them without it feeling contrived? Short story writers take great
pains to avoid narrating directly to the reader, preferring to show their world to the reader rather than
tell them about it. This bias toward showing over telling is accepted wisdom, so it’s no surprise that there
are endless techniques for hiding exposition.
How can you describe the setting of your story without it reading like a dry litany of told facts? How can
you keep this exposition centered firmly around the main character to keep it grounded in the narrative’s
flow of time? Action is a natural complement to early descriptions of the setting.
Throwaway characters. Every author has ’em, but not every author writes them the same way. Some authors give
us a character’s life story only to have them speak a line and disappear forever. Other authors push these
characters so far into the background that they practically part of the scenery—referenced by titles alone:
the secretary, the general, the robot. I don’t know about you, but by the third time I read “the AI said,”
I’m a bored reader. In Persepolis Rising, James S.A. Corey strikes a balance: keep the plot moving but don’t
lose the reader’s attention. How? By giving throwaways nicknames.