Best of the Best – Speculative Fiction Resources

The Best of the Best series is back, this time focusing on resources for Speculative Fiction writers. Previous installments looked at Agent Blogs, the Writing Blogosphere’s Major Players, and Romance Writing Resources.

Since I’m slowly shifting gears from my historical romance MS to my speculative fiction WIP, I thought it was an appropriate time to share with you the resources I’ve collected for writing speculative fiction.

And remember, these are links I’ve personally found useful – if you’ve come across your own resources, be sure to share them in the comments!

General Resources

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America – Although there’s a lot of members-only content, you can still find tons of valuable information that’s publicly available on the official SFWA site. Blog entries on the right-hand side of the home page run the gamut from craft to author news. The Author Information Center includes advice for beginning writers, the craft and business of writing, and copyright. Links to SFWA member fiction are also available in case you want to see what it takes to be published in a pro market. – An online portal for all things specfic. Blog posts cover book reviews; fandom notes for SF/F books, games, movies, and TV shows; polls; and con recaps. An impressive numbers of first-rate short stories, novel excerpts, and comics are also available on the site.

io9 and Blastr – Two sites I use for my specfic pop culture fix. io9 is affiliated with Gawker, while Blastr is an extension of SyFy (the cable network). Both sites include movie casting info and spoilers and speculation on upcoming releases. I tend to prefer io9 since they cover a broader range of mediums (Blastr emphasizes primarily visual media) and io9 also has a series of science-related posts – new findings and the like – that always give me story ideas.

Science In My Fiction – A blog where contributors examine different SF tropes and synthesize the research that is available (research findings, technical reports, mythology, history, you-name-it) into eminently readable articles. They present the science behind such topics as nanotechnology, quantum gravity, and what aliens should look like. If you want to write specfic but don’t have a background in hard science, Science In My Fiction provides a great primer on a variety of subjects.

Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy – Podcasts with established and up-and-coming SF writers as well as other futurists, hosted by author David Barr Kirtley and Lightspeed and Fantasy Magazine editor John Joseph Adams. Interviewees include George R. R. Martin, Orson Scott Card, Paolo Bacigalupi, Carrie Vaughn, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. – A wonderful resource for speculative fiction markets, including detailed listings for pro and semipro markets. The website also provides a helpful list of writing resources and articles.

Specific Writers*

Janice Hardy – Hardy, author of the Healing Wars Trilogy (MG Fantasy), examines every aspect of writing craft on her blog. Regular readers will recognize her from some of my Resource Roundup posts because she does such an exceptional job covering writing topics in a thorough yet accessible manner. Even if you don’t write specfic, you should be following Hardy’s blog. The Kristen Nelson is also her agent, for those of you keeping score.

Juliette Wade – Wade’s blog TalkToYoUniverse includes thoughtful posts not only on writing craft but how linguistics and anthropology (her academic background) inform her writing process. She also hosts a Wednesday Worldbuilding Workshop where she provides line-by-line commentary on how volunteers employ worldbuilding techniques in the opening paragraphs of their story.

Christine Yant – Yant’s perspective as a specfic writer and assistant editor with Lightspeed is particularly helpful for those of you looking to break into the market. Her blog blends the personal with anecdotes from the writing life, but I’d say it is her Lessons from the Slushpile posts that are required reading: The Numbers, Why I Refuse to be a Snarky Slusher, What Editors Owe Us, Your Cover Letter and You, and Good versus Great.

Magical Words – I’ve been a bit lax on the fantasy-specific resources since I’m more towards the SF end of the specfic spectrum, but Magical Words is a wonderful resource for specfic writers of all stripes. Writers A. J. Hartley, C. E. Murphy, Carrie Ryan, David B. Coe, Diana Pharaoh Francis, Edmund Schubert, Faith Hunter, Lucienne Diver, Mindy Klasky, Misty Massey, and Stuart Jaffe all take turns tackling different aspects of craft, publishing, and the writing life, often using examples from their own works.

*This isn’t to say it’s not worth your time to poke around on say Ursula K. Le Guin’s site or Neil Gaiman’s or other SF/F author sites (I’d also recommend Orson Scott Card and Holly Lisle’s sites for writing resources), but the websites I mention above are my go-to resources that I read on a regular basis.

Other Resources

Routine Recalibration

I think I’m in a rut. Not a I-can’t-write-a-thing rut. More like a nothing-is-inspiring-me rut.

I still tinker with some of my short stories, analyze and implement some of the changes my CPs have suggested for my historical romance novel, and deliberate on whether I should go back to my problem-riddled SF novel that is mostly complete, the problem-riddled SF novel that I need to start over from scratch, or the half-drafted contemporary YA project that’s been hanging out on my hard drive since Christmas.

I can rattle off a whole list of pros and cons to tackle one WIP over another. And as usual, there’s a whole bunch of other things in life that can keep me from writing at all — like sunny days, bathroom remodels, and dress shopping for the three weddings I’ll be attending this year.

To top it off, everything I’ve been writing lately makes me cringe. The folks at Writers Unboxed say You Hate Your Writing? That’s a Good Sign! (and be sure to watch the Ira Glass interview mentioned in the article!):

That struggle—that feeling that you’re wasting your time—is a sign that you’re probably on the right path. But most people quit, not realizing that nearly every writer who does excellent work went through a phase of years where they had really good taste, but they produced total crap.

When I don’t like what I’m writing, I tend to fall back on craft. I may not like something, but if I write it in a technically proficient way, that’s at least something. Author Jody Hedlund and Fiction Groupie Roni Loren both blogged about the importance of writing craft recently, and I realized it’s been some time since I cracked open the books I’ve gathered.

Even my horoscope last week said:

If I had to come up with a title for the next phase of your astrological cycle, it might be “Gathering Up.” The way I see it, you should focus on collecting any resources that are missing from your reserves. You should hone skills that are still too weak to get you where you want to go, and you should attract the committed support of allies who can help you carry out your dreams and schemes. Don’t be shy about assembling the necessities. Experiment with being slightly voracious.

In other words, it’s time to study up. So that’s where I’m at — incorporating deliberate study of craft into my writing routine. I’m currently plowing through Virginia Tufte’s Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style and will probably reread Character, Emotion, Viewpoint after that.

Anyone else feeling the need to hit the books?
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Resource Roundup Part 4 – Opening Your Story

Your opening pages will make or break your story. I wish I was overstating it, but there it is, in cold black text. If I had to boil down what I learned in the WD webinar Start your Story Right – How to Hook an Agent with Your Opening Pages, it would be that your first pages are the single most important thing in determining your success with agents, editors, book buyers, and ultimately paying readers.

Sounds daunting. But Resource Roundup is here to help.

As in previous posts in this series (Finding the Right Word, Conjuring Up Titles, and Crafting Dialogue), I focused on online resources. There were a ton of posts out there, which I’ve gone through and evaluated for their usefulness. But if you’ve come across other valuable resources, please tell me about them in the comments, and I’ll include them when I add this to my Resource Roundup page on the sidebar.

And if these posts aren’t enough for you, be sure to check out the Writer’s Knowledge Base, a new search engine for writing related posts (thanks to author Elizabeth Spann Craig and Mike Fleming).

The Industry’s Take

Think of the last time you browsed at a book store or library. When you skimmed through the first chapter, what made you keep reading? What made you put the book down and pick up something else? Now imagine that process on larger scale as agents and editors weed through submissions. Yikes.

Some conferences offer workshops where opening pages are read and a panel of agents and editors indicate when they would stop reading and why. Author Therese Walsh went through this process as described in Agents and the First Two Pages via Writer Unboxed, and she provides some impressions for how to make your work stand out. Writer Livia Blackburne (who you may know from A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing) also identified the 7 Reasons Agent’s Stop Reading Your First Chapter in a post at Guide to Literary Agents based on a similar conference session.

From the other side of the table, agent Kristen Nelson offers her insights from these types of sessions in her posts The Toughest Workshop to Give and Post Workshop Debrief. If you want to know what types of openings do work for her, check out this post Opening Pages that Caught Our Attention.

The post First Pages, First Impressions via Routines for Writers provides a librarian’s insights as to what makes her keep reading a book. And if you don’t know how influential librarians can be to book sales, shame on you.

Author Janice Hardy says writers have essentially 250 Chances to grab a reader. More recently, Author Jody Hedlund discusses the Increasing Importance of the First Chapter not just for unpublished authors who want to stand out in the slush pile, but also for published authors given the availability of digital previews.

Opening Lines

Some people say forget the first chapter, forget the first few pages, you must grab me with your opening line. That’s a lot of pressure for one sentence – the lynchpin for the rest of your work.

So how to you begin? Fiction Notes thoroughly classifies different types of Opening Lines. You can also get a sense of more general Types of Book and Chapter Openings from Kathy Teaman’s blog Writing and Illustrating.

Author Janice Hardy offers some insights for how to write a good first line in her post First and a Lot More than Ten at her blog Other Side of the Story.

Want some inspiration? Check out the 100 Best First Lines from Novels courtesy of the American Book Review. Adventures in Children’s Publishing has also collected compelling openings from Young Adult and Children’s novels.

Balancing Act

There are a lot of story elements to juggle when starting your story. As Les Edgerton, author of Hooked explains, an opening scene has ten core components: (1) the inciting incident; (2) the story-worthy problem; (3) the initial surface problem; (4) the setup; (5) backstory; (6) a stellar opening sentence; (7) language; (8) character; (9) setting; and (10) foreshadowing. (To learn more about Hooked, see this recap.)

Author Joanna Bourne assures us that it is “technically difficult” to start a story, and she offers some general advice in her post Technical Topics – Five Pointers on Openings, including hitting the ground running and revealing character.

Freelance editor Jason Black provides some insights on How to Establish Your Characters in the opening pages of your story.

You’ve probably also heard the mantra “Start with action.” But action without a strong sense of character or emotional context can leave your readers scratching their heads. Publishing guru Jane Friedman deconstructs this idea in her posts The Biggest Bad Advice about Story Openings and Story Openings: What Constitutes Significant/Meaningful Action? Be sure you aren’t starting with action for action’s sake.

When you think you’ve done all you can with you opener, take a look at A Litmus Test for Your Opening Scene via Fiction Groupie to see if you got what it takes.

If you are still having difficulty crafting a satisfying opening, check out the post Trouble Opening Your Story at Write Anything to see if their suggestions help you rework your beginning.

What Not To Do

Still not sure if your opening is a winner? Take a look at the following posts to ensure you aren’t making common mistakes with your beginning:

Agent Kristen Nelson gives examples of Killer Openings that can almost guarantee a rejection.

Author Kristen Lamb offers up some common problems from your opening pages that may foreshadow other issues later on in your story in the post The Doctor is in the House – Novel Diagnostics.

Author Therese Walsh from Writer Unboxed shares her impressions on Beginnings as a result of judging contests.

Remember 7 Reasons Agent’s Stop Reading Your First Chapter from earlier? If you’ve found you are guilty of one of these examples, read Janice Hardy’s post Seven Deadly Sins (If You’re a First Chapter) to see how to fix your beginning.

Special Case of Prologues

Prologues are out of vogue right now. Some agents and editors have an autoreject policy when a dreaded prologue comes across their desk. Why do they have such a bad rap?

Agent Kristen Nelson suggests that they are often employed incorrectly or are simply unnecessary in her post Why Prologues Often Don’t Work. Former agent Nathan Bransford also weighs in on what makes a prologue work (or not).

Authors Janice Hardy in Pondering the Prologue and Kathy Temean in To Prologue or Not to Prologue offer questions to help you decide whether a prologue is essential to your story.

I hope you find these resources as you craft your awesome opening for your story. And if I’ve overlooked anything, please let me know in the comments.

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Best of the Best – Romance Writing Resources

P.S. This is my last post for the year. But I’ll be back the first Wednesday in January. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday with family and friends.

The Best of the Best series is back, this time focusing on resources for Romance writers. Previous installments looked at Agent Blogs and the Writing Blogosphere’s Major Players.

Writing Romance is harder than it looks. With the requirement of a happy ending, the real trick is how to make your story stand out from scores of others playing with the same boy meets girl tropes. I don’t have any answers for how to do this – asides from writing the best book you are capable of – but I can share with you the resources I’ve collected geared specifically toward Romance writing.

Romance Writers of America – The largest membership organization for published and unpublished authors, with a huge educational focus. Their website also includes scores of info from their annual conference, including valuable handouts and recordings.

eHarlequin – One of the biggest Romance publishers, Harlequin has a Learn to Write section on their webpage to help hopeful writers target specific Harlequin lines. But many resources are general enough to help writers of any genre.

Romance University – Dedicated to helping writers develop their career (Mondays), uncover the male mind (Wednesdays), and perfect their craft (Fridays). The site can be a bit cumbersome to navigate, but there is some good stuff here.

Romance Divas – A great meeting place for writers, including valuable articles on different aspects of the writing and publishing process and a forum – which is currently closed to new members, but should reopen in the New Year.

Romance Writer’s Revenge – A group blog capturing the trials and tribulations of romance writer’s life. The pirate talk can be a bit fatiguing at times, but the contributors pose thoughtful questions from the writing trenches.

Author Gabrielle Luthy – Provides a slew of writing resources on a variety of topics, including Agents & Editors, Plotting & Structure, and Revising Your Novel.

Author Jenny Crusie – Website includes a host of essays addressing pop culture, publishing, and romance writing in genre, with the same insightful wit she’s known for in her books.

Brenda Hiatt’s Show Me the Money! – Gives you an idea of the advance you can expect from a variety of Romance imprints. Remember, you shouldn’t be in this for the money. 

Babbles from Scott Egan – The blog provides a nice balance of content, including both industry insights and discussions of craft, from an agent who only reps romance and woman’s fiction.

The Passionate Pen’s Agent List – A great resource for when you are ready to query. The site also has a selection of other resources for writers as well.

All About Romance – Reviewing novels since 1996, AAR has a great search engine for finding titles that may be comparable to your WIP. The AAR blog also provides educational insights and commentary from women who are completely immersed in the genre.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books – Another Romance reviewing site, SBTB provides brutally honest assessments of books and their covers. One of the founders recently started writing for the Kirkus Review. The site’s Help a Bitch Out (HaBO) series lets readers ask for help in finding titles they read once upon a time – it’s always fascinating to see what narrative aspects stick out in their minds.

You may find it odd that I didn’t talk about resources for writing historical romance, since that is the subgenre I write in. But believe me, that is a post for another day.

If you’ve come across other valuable resources for romance writing, please include them in the comments. Thanks!

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The Ends and Writing Short

I write big.

When I come up with a story, my mind usually fills in the blanks until I have a novel’s worth of content. Setting, characters, plot, and sub-plots. This means the hard part is just forcing myself to write the first draft. It may not be pretty when it’s done, but everything’s there. And so far, I haven’t had to worry about padding my story to meet target words counts. If anything, I work on tightening things up and deciding what to cut out (research, in the case of my historical romances; worldbuilding in my speculative works).

And with my novel-length works, I always know where I’m going to end up. It may change a bit as the first draft progresses, but that’s ok and usually makes the ending stronger.

I also have some shorter projects in the works. Short stories and the like. But I keep running into problems when I write short: I don’t know how to end them.

Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say I don’t know how to end them in a satisfying way. They just kinda stop.

I suspect my difficulties with The Ends in short stories has to do with (1) what I choose to focus my story on, (2) how I structure my stories, and (3) my level of exposure to short stories that are currently being published.

Story Focus – Some of my short stories end up being sketches of a potentially larger narrative that feel rushed and unsatisfying because they deserve a larger treatment. Then can I go in the opposite direction and write a story that captures one moment in time, a mood even, and I don’t know how to finish it off because it’s more atmospheric than a complete story

Structure – My choice of story focus obviously affects structure. For my novels-in-short-story-clothing, I struggle to reduce the traditional three-act structure into a shorter format. For my moments-in-time stories, I’m not sure if there’s even a way structure can inform how to tie things off. I know that you should focus on one thing in a short story and each word should contribute to the overall effect, but I just can’t seem to do it.

Exposure – I read. A lot. But mostly I read novels. Not short stories. I read them when I was in school of course, but they were the classics, not the short fiction of today. I have a bunch of collections in my TBR pile, and requested a couple of literary magazine subscriptions for Christmas, so I hope to widen my exposure and in turn strengthen my craft.

But right now, I’m wracking my brain as to how I’m going to end two short pieces I’ve been working on off and on for the past few months. So I finally asked the google gods to help me out with how to end a short story, and here’s what I found:

Short Stories: 10 Tips for Creative Writers – Describes different types of short story endings and provides examples.

Ten Short Story Endings to Avoid – Just what it sounds like. Luckily I haven’t employed any of these!

Writing Short Stories with a Twist Ending – Describes different types of twist endings and points to examples.

Short Story Project: Beware the Twilight Zone Ending – Explains why you should avoid twist endings in your stories.

Short Story Endings Podcast from the Writing Show – An hour-long discussion with short story writers Randall Brown and Melissa Palladino.

I know I can always throw down the gauntlet and decide to only write book-length stories and never look back. But that means I’ve given up all hope of writing short. And in today’s industry, versatility is a writer’s best friend.

How do you go from writing big to small? Small to big?

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