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#Learning experience – 55 free days left

September 20, 2011

Anytime I miss a deadline I do not care about justifications. Anything I could say would feel like a cop-out.

Instead I want to illustrate to myself and others what I have learned today:

I used to think that in order to write a Science Fiction story you came up with something that has a heavy impact on society and map out all the interesting consequences. Then you find out what kind of character would stand in the middle of those changes. Then you identify a change in process, a consequence to the consequences that makes up the plot of the story.

A couple of weeks ago Heinlein blew my mind with just one sentence (he does that to people): “Biological warfare ruins the farm lands of the United States; how is Joe Drakes, a used-car dealer, to feed his family?”

The brain of a non-writer is focused on the abstract. What (global) consequences will peak oil have? What happens (globally) when the subprime mortgages blow up again? What would happen in case of an outbreak of a deadly virus?

The larger a certain amount of people, the easier it is to predict their behavior.

Writers have to think the other way round. Abstract ideas provide intellectual stimulation. Concrete details provide emotional stimulation. The latter is what sells books. (The former is what sells books if you are Stephen Hawking.)

Of course those concrete details are completely made up. They just have to be believable.

What I did today was brainstorming four different ideas, piecing them together nicely and realizing I had just planted the seeds for four different novels. No matter how I looked at those ideas I could make a short story out of those. (I will definitely write those novels though.) After that I was creatively burned out. I decided it would be better to lose one day than to press on and lose four days down the road.


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  1. We all have days like this. You planned these sorts of days in, so don’t feel too badly about it.

    Re: craft: I liked DWS’s comment in his Writing Challenge post, about how to keep short stories short by writing so that one event happens. FWIW, I’ll be trying it on my next story and see if it keeps the thing from trying to morph into a novel.

    • I have encountered this “one event”-guideline before. Nancy Kress tells you (in “Beginnings middles and Ends”, excellent book) that a short story is the final scene of a novel. Personally I think it’s fascinating. Novels are still these mythical, gargantuan creatures in my mind. It’s interesting that I can learn about novels by learning how not to write one.

  2. I have that book but now that I think of it, I’m not sure I’ve read it! lol.

    Remember Lawrence Block: Novels aren’t harder. What they are is *longer*. (Writing the Novel…great, with a few myths but mostly, tells writers to practice and dothe book in day-sized chunks)

    Learning how to do something

  3. Argh, fat thumb on phone.

    …Learning what not do to is not a bad way to learn, I agree!

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