Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules for writing fiction

December 26, 2010

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

via troubling.info.

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King Dick’s Opinion

June 27, 2010

The best army officers are intelligent and lazy.
The second best are intelligent and industrious.
The less good are thick-witted and lazy.
The most dangerous are thick-witted and industrious

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Heinlein’s Rules for Success in Writing

May 16, 2010

You must write.

You must finish what you have written.

You must put what you have written on the market.

You must keep it on the market until sold.

Robert A. Heinlein was possibly the leading American science fiction writer of the 1940s and 1950s and a popular writer until his death in 1988.  He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1929 and served as a radio communications officer on the USS Lexington, the U.S. Navy’s first modern aircraft carrier. He was discharged from the Navy in 1934 with pulmonary tuberculosis, and tried different ways of earning a living until he submitted a story to Astounding Science Fiction magazine in 1939.

He wrote a series of young adult novels which I read as a teenage boy, and I read most of his novels and stories during his lifetime.

His rules for success in writing is that most people who think about writing never actually start, those who start never finish, and those who finish either never submit their work for publication or become discouraged at the first rejection. He had a fifth rule, Do not rewrite except to editorial order, which I have omitted.  His idea was that any writing is marketable at some level of publication, and that if you think of a better way to write something, you should write a new and better story or article.  I think everything Heinlein wrote was marketable at some level, but this is not necessarily true of less talented writers.

Spreading democracy: a parable

May 14, 2010

The other night I had the following dream.

On my street there was a family who was really troublesome.  The father couldn’t hold down a job. The mother did a bad job of raising the children.  The children misbehaved.  They couldn’t budget.  They couldn’t maintain their property.  They couldn’t get along with each other or with neighbors. In short, the family was completely dysfunctional.

I decided it was my duty to help them get on the right path.  I knocked on the door, they wouldn’t answer, so I broke into the house at gunpoint.  The family resisted, and unfortunately a lot of furniture got broken in the process. I regret this, but obviously it wasn’t my fault.

I kicked the family out of the main bedroom, and moved all my stuff in. The next day I started telling them how to live, but for some reason they wouldn’t listen.  Instead they acted as if I was the problem.  I told them they couldn’t have access to the refrigerator or the pantry without my permission, and that got their attention.  Unfortunately by this time the refrigerator was broken.  I tried to fix it, but, perversely, they kept interfering with me.  Finally I had no choice but to shoot the oldest son.

I have been in the house a good many days now.  It is a great sacrifice on my part, but I believe in doing good to others.  As I tell the family, “Don’t blame me for your problems.  Your problem isn’t me. You problem is that you are dysfunctional. You don’t know how to live.  It is my duty to stay until you learn.”

Then I woke up.

“…the most violent ethnic group in America.”

April 23, 2010

Science fiction stories generally have a short shelf life, especially if they’re set in the near future. Reality has a way of going in a different direction than predicted. But Bruce Sterling’s Distraction, published in 1998 and set in 2044, holds up well.

Distraction is set in a future United States in even greater disarray than at present. Government doesn’t function, the dollar has crashed, there are 16 political parties, the off-the-books economy is bigger than the legal economy and “Wyoming is on fire.”

The main plot is the struggle of a political operative named Oscar Valparaiso to keep a vital federal research laboratory from being taken over by a demagogic governor of Louisiana, who wants to make his half-underwater state a haven for rogue biotechnology.

The part that sticks in my mind is a subplot, involving Oscar’s championing of a despised ethnic minority called the Anglos, the politically-incorrect name for white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.  I am reminded of it when I hear white, self-identified liberal friends holding forth on the hopeless (as they see it) dysfunction of poor black families.

Oscar gets flack from his peers for hiring a roughneck Anglo as his chief of security.  As one of them says:

“It’s not that I have anything against Anglos!  I mean, sure, there are good, decent, law-abiding Anglo people. But — you know — look at the statistics! Anglos have white-collar crime rates right off the scale.  And talk about violent — man, white people are the most violent ethnic group in America.  All these cross burnings and militia bombings and gun-nut guys … the poor bastards can’t get a grip.”

Oscar considered this. It always offended him to hear his fellow Americans discussing the vagaries of “white people.” There was simply no such thing as “white people.”  The stereotype was an artificial construct, like the ridiculous term “Hispanic.”

Oscar’s peers are alienated by the bodyguard’s personal habits, such as smearing his body with Sunblock and his food with mayonnaise.  He shrugs this off.  “It’s an Anglo thing, man,” he says.

At another point in the novel, Oscar takes a date to a nightclub with an Anglo band.

Buzzy’s was a music spot of some pretension, it was open late and the tourist crowd was good. The band was playing classical string quartets. Typical Anglo ethnic music. It was amazing how many Anglos had gone into the booming classical music scene. Anglos seemed to have a talent for rigid, linear music that less troubled ethnic groups couldn’t match.


Kenneth Roberts’ historical novels

January 30, 2010

Blogging about Haiti reminded me of one of my lifetime favorite novels, Kenneth Roberts’ Lydia BaileyThe first half  is set against the background of the Haitian Revolution and the second half against the background of the U.S. war with the Barbary Pirates.  The dominant character in the novel is neither the narrator, Albion Hamlin, nor his ladylove Lydia Bailey, but the giant black Sudanese adventurer known as King Dick.

Lydia Bailey was published in 1947 and has long been out of print.  There is a copy at the Rochester Public Library and, I expect, at most large public libraries.

Roberts was fully the equal of Patrick O’Brian, author of the Aubrey/Maturin series of novels, both as a storyteller and in terms of historical research. His novels were best-sellers in the 1930s and 1940s and stand up well today. Roberts was a quirky contrarian, and part of his purpose in writing was to set the record straight and to show that historical events were different from what you thought they were.

Arundel and Rabble in Arms are about Revolutionary War soldiers led by the able and charismatic commander Benedict Arnold (before his treason). Oliver Wiswell depicts the Revolutionary War from the point of view of a brave Loyalist.  I liked them all, as I did Captain Caution and The Lively Lady, about American sea captains in the War of 1812.

But my favorite, aside from Lydia Bailey, is Northwest Passage, which is set against the background of the French and Indian War and the doomed search for a northwest sea passage from Europe to the Orient.  Such as passage is actually opening up today, with the melting of the Arctic ice.