How To Write Sci-Fi and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy
by Orson Scott Card
Published: July 15th 1990 by F & W Publications Inc.
Genre: nonfiction
Pages: 137p
Source: library borrow
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Writing for science fiction and fantasy audiences can be the most exciting writing you’ve ever done. Your readers are curious and want you to take them beyond “”The Fields We Know,”” to help them explore the infinite boundaries of the worlds you create.

Here, science fiction great Orson Scott Card shares his expertise in these genres. You’ll learn:

– What is and isn’t science fiction and fantasy, and by whose standards — and where your work fits in.
– How to build, populate, and dramatize a credible, inviting world your readers will want to explore.
– How to use the MICE quotient — milieu, idea, character, event — to structure a successful story.
– Where the markets are and how to reach them to get published.

The knowledge and skills you gain through this book will help you effectively lead your readers into the strangeness you create — one tantalizing step at a time.

Goodreads | I’m not including buy links, sue me.

One particular quote that stands out to me from this book, on page 19:

Human beings also exhibit this love-fear attitude toward strangeness – for instance, we see the fear in racism, the curiosity in the way people slow down to rubberneck as they drive past an accident on the freeway.

Another, related quote from Orson Scott Card:

The dark secret of homosexual society — the one that dares not speak its name — is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally.

[source]

Read more on his disgusting views toward queer people here. Or here. If I had been aware of this revolting attitude, I would not have borrowed this from the library. It wasn’t until I brought it home that my partner said “Oh yeah, that guy can really write. Shame he’s a homophobe.” The thought had never occurred to me. At all. I just enjoyed Ender’s Game, and I was hoping that maybe there would be just one nugget of wisdom in these 140 pages that I hadn’t already read online (spoiler: there’s not).

On the very next page, there is a snide dismissal to genres generally geared towards women and teens. He talks in such a disdainful manner toward people who read the same story over and over again, but says “those of us who don’t enjoy gothics or bodice-rippers or teen romances” might be inventive with our stories. This was red flag number two.

Red flags, possibly flares.

There are 4 specific examples of OSC’s own ideas for stories in the whole of this book. The first is a generic fantasy story, the next is Ender’s Game. Neither are addressed in more than a couple of paragraphs at most. The third (for his novel Hart’s Hope) is the first time any character is described in detail; the first two examples have been largely painted with broad strokes, though this one takes up nearly five full pages:

One sister was staring directly into her twin’s face; after separation, er face would be a blank mask, with no eyes, no real nose, and only a gap for a mouth. The other twin, though, was facing half away, after separation, while one eye was missing and one cheek was a ruin, her profile from the other side would look perfectly normal. Which sister suffered more, the one who would never see how hideous she was[…]? Or the one who, by turning her face just so, could catch a glimpse of how beautiful she and her sister couldhave been and then, bystaring at herself full in the face in the mirror, could see just how hideously deformed she was? [p30]

Example four is equally troubling. It begins with instructing on how to address ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions to build a plot. “Why did John slap Mary across the face?” Over the course of the next full page, OSC delves deep into this psychology. We discover that Mary slapped him first, and that John feels guilty. Then alas, “Even that is too easy.”! “Unconsciously, he’s rather proud of it.” John, we learn, has never hit anyone and gets a big ol’ wank off for his ego because he feels strong. “It […] made him strut a little in his dealings with others.” Then, in his workings out, OSC asserts that  she leaves – or:

Maybe she was raised by a strong father or mother who slapped the family around. Maybe she unconsciously wanted John to act out this physically domineering role, and it wasn’t until she slapped him herself that he actually did what she wanted. […] She stays with him, unconsciously hoping to continue provoking him into violence so she can fear and admire him the way [she feared her parent]. [p35]

Example five is a single paragraph explaining how to handle infodumping about space travel. Example six is on why not to make up words for ideas like ‘bread’ and uses no characters at all. Page 65 gives us our seventh example that uses real characters, this time another pair of sisters who are bitter toward each other over the treatment of an alien species, so one destroys the other’s career only to make up in the desert.

At this point OSC makes a switch to referencing Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed for nearly every example, a work with which I’m not familiar and had little to no clue what the fuck he was on about since I was just expected to know it. Oddly enough, when discussing the difference between “Character Story” and “Event Story” he uses no examples of his own at all and sort of skates over it.

The next real example of his own is more intended to mock early SF than actually instruct. It comes off, as much of this book does, as ‘look how much better we are than these guys who invented this! Ha! Also, fuck Star Trek!’. I’m not counting this.

That makes seven examples. Two of which (the first two) outline SFF heroes in very short order. As much as I would love to punch Ender Wiggin in the face, he is seen as a hero.  Two more are short and include no characters (five and six). That leaves us with three, one of which harps on about a pair of women who are tragic because they’re ugly, one about an abused woman who wants it/deserves it/asked for it, and another about two sisters who fuck each other over and are passingly mentioned to reconcile.

Of five examples involving characters, only three delve into characters that are named at all and each one is a varying type of tragic woman be she catty and selfish, sad because she is disfigured and can never be beautiful, or wants her husband to beat the shit out of her so she provokes him into doing it. The first two examples are more or less glossed over, and Ender is neither described in detail nor is…whoever the first example is about.

There is a common theme here. A troubling theme. I am no big OSC buff – I liked Ender’s Game and it took me two years to get through Xenocide. I can only comment on this text alone, something I wish I had found at the thrift store for a quarter so I could line a hamster’s cage with it.

In Short(er)

This is titled “How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy” but focuses almost entirely on SF. Fantasy is only mentioned in passing, not expanded upon in any aspect like interstellar travel is (in which OSC sneers at the term “warp speed” and anyone who uses it). The entirety of this book is steeped in arrogance and superiority. Every piece of advice is given as “this is how this is done” not “this is how I do this” which is incredibly irritating. If someone wants to call something warp speed, let them. It’s dicking about in space. Calm down. Stop jerking off your own ego.

In short, this is almost entirely useless in the internet age. Everything in these pages can be found online for free. Everything. I didn’t find a single nugget of information that I haven’t read online in another fashion.This combined with the fact that Orson Scott Card being a generally shitty person means I don’t feel bad sharing this list with you. Most is geared toward fantasy, so if you feel like picking up HTWSFF for a shallow glimpse into sci-fi writing that you can utilize to write the queerest thing you possibly can, I would encourage you to do so. 🙂

Resources

Below are videos and sites I’ve found helpful for writing basic fantasy stuff. This is by no means exhaustive (my resources number in the hundreds) but it’s a good jumping off point for people who want to start and might not know where to start, which is the same demographic HTWSFF is geared toward anyways. If you have any resources, please do share in the comments below!

Websites

Subreddits

Even searching these or looking through related subreddits and reading through wikis can give you an incredible amount of information. Some shit is… questionable. So use caution and maybe don’t read the comments.

Individual Posts

Videos and Playlists

Youtubers (general fiction writing, mostly YA)

What is the best book on writing that you’ve read?
Do you have any writerly resources to share?

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