Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Darkover Retrospective: Marion Zimmer Bradley's writing beginnings

One important thing for a writer is to learn from the example of the careers of other writers. A very inspirational source for me has been Marion Zimmer Bradley's A Darkover Retrospective, which is included in a volume which collects 'The Planet Savers' and 'Sword of Aldones', the first two Darkover books ever published.

Sword of Aldones is the hardest to obtain of all the Darkover books. She essentially re-wrote the story told in Sword of Aldones in the much more mature work, Sharra's Exile.

Marion Zimmer Bradley explains in A Darkover Retrospective why the Sword of Aldones seems to be such an immature work--- she began working on its original form as a teen.

In the beginning, the world of Darkover was called Al-Merdin, and the Comyn--- the telepathic caste--- were called the Seveners, and consisted of seven families with telepathic gifts. The Hasturs, the Elhalyn, the Serrais, the Ardais and the Aldarans were, even at this early stage, much the same as in the Darkover books we know. The Altons were then known as the Leyniers, and the Aillards were then the Marceau of Valeron.

What i find most interesting is that here is a story, started by a fifteen year old girl, which became a series which the writer continued to her death (and beyond.) The story grew and changed as the author did--- which is why the series is more inconsistant than more closely planned series.

Although the Darkover books are commonly called a series, MZB herself did not like the term. For her, a series meant the sort of series--- perhaps a trilogy--- which was really just one very long book, which had to be read in order, and in which any given volume might end in a cliffhanger instead of a resolution.

MZB had her own code for writing Darkover stories. She wanted each volume to be a stand-alone story, with a resolution at the end. She didn't want to assume the reader of any new Darkover book had read the others and so was familiar with the world, its customs and its characters, and she wrote accordingly.

A Darkover Retrospective tells the story of the writing of many of MZB's early Darkover books, and also tells the story of her writing career--- from writing stories for small amounts of money, as well as writing 'potboiler' gothics and even editing an astrology magazine to provide extra family income, from her gradual realization that she was in fact regarded by editors and readers as a 'real' writer, and that this was something she could make a career of.

She also gives us an account of the various changes within the science fiction writing scene at the time and how she interacted with them--- the things she embraced, and the things, like the political/feminist science fiction novel, that she did not enjoy.

The label MZB uses for the genre of fiction that the Darkover books represent is 'science fantasy'. The books are science fiction in that they are set on another planet, with all the trappings of space travel. Yet they are fantasy-like in that there are sword-fights, and 'magic', though this is in the form of psionics--- telepathy, telekinesis and the like, all of which are deemed to have scientific explanations.

The 'Pern' series by Anne McCaffrey is similarly 'science fantasy'--- it's set on another planet, and though there are dragons, they were created by genetic engineering. But otherwise the label 'science fantasy' seems to be little used these days, and I presume that means that when pitching a novel that the writer might consider science fantasy, one is better off not using the words, but just pointing out the similarity to Darkover.

I found 'A Darkover Retrospective' sufficiently useful that I would have wanted to buy the volume containing it even if I had both of the Darkover novels in the book in other editions (I had 'The Planet Savers' but not 'Sword of Aldones'). For me, it's worth re-reading from time to time just as inspiration.

The Planet Savers/The Sword of Aldones


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Write a book along with Holly Lisle

Author Holly Lisle, whose web site is a treasure trove for the writer or would-be writer, has a new feature 'Write a book with me'.

She shares a little about the progress of her current book, and those participating share their word-counts and issues with one another in the form of comments to her blog entries. To view the latest post, here is the 'Write a book with me category'.

I'm considering whether to play along, myself. So far sharing about my works in progress has been more embarrassing than encouraging--- not because of what people say or don't say, but because I just look back at what I wrote about with intense shame. (My internal editor is Adolf Hitler.) But I have just started a fantasy story, one about an orphan whose new legal guardian is an evil mage, and who finds an interesting solution to that dilemma which leads to only more trouble.

I'd really like to hear from anyone who is or might be participating in Holly Lisle's 'Write a book with me' project. Drop me a comment!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How Robin Parrish got his First Novel Published

Photo credit: Ashley Morgan.
Getting a novel published these days can be hard, even if your novel is good. The advent of home computers with word processing software has increased the number of people able to throw a manuscript together by great amounts. Most of these novels are bad, and most publishers and agents have received so many that they adopt draconian policies to avoid unsolicited manuscripts and unproven writers.

Robin Parrish, author of our current blog tour book Offworld, found away around the barriers. He had a website called Infuze. One of his ideas for Infuze was to have a serialized story, with new sections brought out every two weeks. His website became popular enough that several publishers became aware of the story and were willing to publish.

Can other writers use Robin Parrish's method? Possibly--- but the story in question not only needs to be well-written, it needs to be a real page-turner that will get the reader totally addicted and coming back for more. It must be posted on a website or blog with a lot of traffic. And the writer must have a lot of luck!

THE BOOK: Offworld by Robin Parrish:
THE AUTHOR: Robin Parrish on Twitter (Yes, he tweets):
Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Gina Burgess
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Linda Gilmore
Beth Goddard
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen (posting later in the week)
John W. Otte
Lyn Perry
Steve Rice
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Elizabeth Williams

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Writer's Show-and-Tell

Okay, so here I am sitting down to write a story. My main character is tall, red-haired and has a long tail. So--- I write: "Melinda was tall, red-haired and had a long tail."

But--- wait a minute! A writer is supposed to show, not tell, and that was telling. So--- I pen a scene illustrating the fact that Melinda was tall, another one that established that she was red-haired, and a third scene where we very definitely are informed about the tail thing.

I re-read. Eww, ick! My story is now cluttered with three irrelevant scenes! And while 'show, don't tell' is supposedly an important rule, the much more important one is this--- EVERYTHING in a story, even the stuff that seems thrown in to give it color and flavor, is there to do one thing--- to move the story forward.

Sometimes that means--- especially in a science fiction or fantasy work where there is quite a bit of infomation the reader needs to have to understand the story--- that you have to tell things.

A section of story where you tell some things is called an info-dump. Like the contents of a nuclear waste dump, an info-dump can grow too big to be safe, so unless you want your readers to glow in the dark, keep the amount conveyed in any one dump small.

Some writers convey information in dialog. So, instead of saying 'the alien Lizards only had one language back on their planet, Home, you have a bit of dialog where the alien Lizard Ttomalss says 'Why do you Big Uglies (humans) have so many languages? On Home, we have had only one language for tens of thousands of our years.'

The dialog method can go very badly wrong. When you find yourself conveying loads of information in dialog, and, worse, when your characters are telling one another things they obviously already know, you are writing dreadful dialog and must be stopped. No one wants to read, 'As you know, Kodos, our home planet is so civilized that we have not had a war in fifty trillion years,' said Kang. 'And as you surely know,' said Kang, 'our official planetary sport was changed from public executions to bikini designing a million years ago. Aren't we just so civilized!'

READING ASSIGNMENT: Reading the novel of your choice, take note on how the author is giving you information. How do you learn what the main character looks like, for example? (I hope there were no mirrors involved.) What came in the form of 'telling' and what was 'showing'? Do you feel the author made the right decisions on when to tell and when to show?

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
On the Prowl by Patricia Briggs
Write Great Fiction - Dialogue
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