Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction: 6 Steps to Writing and Publishing Your Bestseller! by Philip Athans

So I am not a wannabe fantasy writer nor do I have a manuscript collecting dust. But I do wannabe a better book reviewer. I read Ben Bacock's review on Goodreads about the fantasy book, Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, and was inspired with the depth of the review. Not having access to many English books in Taiwan, I borrowed this eBook from a Minnesota Public Library and found it helpful in many ways. Not only does it show key elements in this genre, it also defines the subgenres of fantasy and science fiction - many I had never heard of before.

Science fiction definitions are abundant and confusing but I like this author's: If magic can be replaced with imagined technologies, it is science fiction. In library school I remember a professor saying, "if the characters time travel it's science fiction."  When I was reading all of the science fiction subgenres it did become clear that there are not many children's science fiction books. And hardly any military science fiction. The only subgenre I did not understand by the author's definition was slipstream. I looked it up other definitions online and they didn't make sense either. I think it is one I'd have to read a book in the genre to truly grasp the meaning. The closest I can make out is it is a literary effect similar to surrealist painting. Sounds like a type of dream-state. Would love an explanation if there are any slipstream readers out there. Don't you love that word?

Six elements are necessary to writing: storytelling capabilities, message, plot, know when to stop, and learn to write developing a voice while incorporating the senses. While I know this it is the details and depth he explores each of these topics that make it helpful in looking at fantasy and science fiction novels. He particularly emphasizes consistency and plausibility throughout the entire novel so as not to turn off the reader. The book is easy-to-read with humor splattered throughout the pages.

The world building and how fantasy/science fiction novels are layered was particularly interesting. The author stresses keeping notes and deciding what type of world to create such as historical, contemporary, alternate history, or near-future science-fiction. Examples of adult books are given in each of these areas so if you want to further explore a particular area by reading an author who specializes in it, you can. The creating your monster section was fun. Who doesn't love a good monster! I liked his point that the monster has to be a superior predator that threatens the human status of being top of the food chain; otherwise it isn't scary.

In one section six drafts are given that shows how a given piece of writing is overworked by adding elements. I found this particularly fascinating and helpful in seeing how the world is layered. It was a terrific culmination of previous points mentioned in the chapter. It might be useful to teachers as a writing exercise that gives ways to add fantasy elements to a regular piece of writing.

The sections on pacing, action, and humor were helpful and he relates it to Jackie Chan movies which offers the reader a visual which I found helpful. He also defines the difference between action, which resolves a conflict; violence which is an assault with a onesided motive; and gore, which is violence or action without any motivation. Avoid gore, he advises.

The author mentions using the SMOG readability formula to determine the level of books. I had never heard of this before. I took my two paragraphs above and put them in the formula (grade 7-9). Wonder how accurate it is? The Chinese librarian wants to level her books but that isn't available in the Chinese publishing world. Wonder if she could use this formula?

Again, this was a helpful book for me as a librarian, teacher, and reviewer. I'm not looking at it from a writer's point of view, the obvious target audience for this book if you go strictly by the title. I read oodles of children's fantasy but not adult books and I have read little science fiction. So while I don't have much background in all the different subgenres of fantasy and science fiction, I enjoyed pushing aside the curtain and getting a glimpse of a writer's craft. Well-written and a worthwhile purchase.

4 out of 5 Smileys

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