Helping a friend sort the wheat from the writing chaff.
February 20, 2017 9:16 PM   Subscribe

Help me help my friend become a better SFF writer. Snowflakes inside.

So I (stupidly) agreed to edit a friend's attempt at fiction. Previous to this, my editing experience has been with people with strong writing chops but bad spelling and grammar. This person, on the other hand, has a good grasp of the English language, but their writing is... terrible. Clunky, lumbering, and addicted to telling rather than showing.

I would like some resources to throw at them that will help them get better, preferably internet-based. So far I have Writing Excuses and Stephen King's On Writing, but that's about it. This person is attempting to write science fiction, if that helps narrow down possible avenues of research I can point them to (I'm a fantasy writer, so. Not in my wheelhouse at all.)
posted by Tamanna to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Try Barry B. Longyear's Science Fiction Writer's Workshop. That seems to be a reprint; the original was published in 1980. But it's a solid look at story mechanics, and could help.
posted by current resident at 9:44 PM on February 20, 2017

Thanks, current resident! Just one thing, and I should have mentioned it in the question: my friend does not live in the US (and neither do I) so online resources are preferred.
posted by Tamanna at 9:59 PM on February 20, 2017

You're off to a great start already with Writing Excuses, but I'll add Ursula Le Guin's Navigating the Ocean of Story Q&A series at Book View Café.
posted by Wobbuffet at 10:34 PM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh, another possibility: A.E. van Vogt repeatedly gave out two pieces of advice about how to write. In this interview and also this one, he offered examples of how he liked to construct sentences--make them all in some way imply an emotional context, leave some element to the reader's imagination, etc. And this profile covered in a lengthy quote the five-step approach to scene construction he borrowed from some old writing guide. Some positive things I can say about van Vogt in this situation are that his prose moves along and his results will probably seem achievable to your friend. Baen has several stories available for free online.
posted by Wobbuffet at 11:21 PM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Samuel Delany has a pretty great book called "About Writing".
posted by Mister Moofoo at 11:59 PM on February 20, 2017

I had a very productive time on the Critters website. It's a SFF writing site where people read each others work. I learnt so much from reading other people's stuff - even more than having my own work read.
posted by Heloise9 at 12:06 AM on February 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

On writing technique in general (rather than SFF-specific), like character and perspective and show-don't-tell, Writing Great Fiction from The Great Courses was pretty good, and it's available on Audible. The lecturer is very reasonable and persuasive, and it makes clear why clunky writing is not interesting or appealing to readers.

I mention this on the off-chance your friend has an Audible subscription or is eligible for the free trial, because you get the full course for one credit.
posted by carbide at 1:17 AM on February 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

There are some writing resources on the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America site. (A supplementary list of bad habits is the Turkey City Lexicon.)
posted by xenization at 7:11 AM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

The site for the Odyssey Workshop--one of the major SFF workshops, alongside Clarion--also has a bunch of writing resources (see the sidebar too).
posted by xenization at 7:20 AM on February 21, 2017

Writing is a skilled activity. The more one does, the better one gets at it. I don't have any links because I think the best thing you can do for your friend is be brutally honest. You can frame your assessment in terms of questions (ex. "I'm not sure what you were going for, but this part seems especially clunky.") Also, please make a point of telling your friend that a lot of well-paid authors can't write very well, either. The self-styled queen of romance novels, Nora Roberts, once admitted that her very first work was "terrible." But she kept at it and got better. Most people stop when they hear they are not Shakespeare. Please tell your friend to keep going.
posted by Mr. Fig at 12:28 PM on February 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Way too many years ago, I thought I was a good writer. Then I submitted some chapters to the Internet Writing Workshop. It took a few years, but like Heloise9, I learned quickly through the critiques I received and those I gave. Nothing I learned is contradicted by any other writing resource I've ever seen. Several successful authors have started their careers at the IWW, including Max Barry (Jennifer Government, Lexicon) and Jennifer Chiaverini (The Quilter's Apprentice series, Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker). Hint: SF novel chapters should to to the Novels section, not Science Fiction. We crit all sorts of stuff there.
posted by lhauser at 8:45 PM on February 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

One of my friends who writes SFF has found it helpful to join up with an SFF writing group at her local bookstore to submit her stories for peer review and also see and provide feedback on what other people are writing. If there's something like this nearby (bookstore, coffee shop, meetup group, etc.) that can be a great way for your friend to get feedback and help hone her skill.

I also asked my friend if she knew of any good resources, and she nthed the Delany, King, and Le Guin books as well as the Writing Excuses website, and added that she had a very good experience with an online writing course by Cat Rambo, if that is something your friend would be interested in exploring.
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:36 AM on February 22, 2017

« Older Revolutionary commuting   |   Hot Tub Time Machine Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.