Barry Longyear’s “Science Fiction Writer’s Workshop – I: An Introduction to Fiction Mechanics”

A Series of Open Book Exams on Writing, Regardless of Genre

This is another book I picked up years ago during my first round at writing. Longyear signed it and I’d highlighted parts of it so obviously read it before and didn’t remember doing so.

The power of this book is that it’s written from a student’s perspective. Longyear (I’m thrilled to see he’s still active. I lost track of him for several years) puts in the effort to remember his mistakes and the mistakes of others, and show the reader how to correct them. Another strength is the book’s examples – mostly from Longyear himself – with detailed explanations of what’s wrong with them and how to fix them.

 
Each chapter comes complete with an extensive Q&A/Study guide at the end, every answer to which can be found in that chapter or by combining knowledge gained from previous chapters with the current chapter. Anybody remember “Open book exams”? This is one and it’s a wonderful training program.

Experienced authors may find the book simplistic, perhaps elementary. Critiquers and readers can decide if I’m experienced or not, and I appreciated being invited back to the Beginner’s Mind, given the opportunity to question my assumptions about plot, pace, character and the rest of the tools writers use to engage readers.

It’s that “tool” part that Longyear emphasizes. Further, he demonstrates several times that no one tool does it all. Even in mysteries – usually plot driven – he shows how character, atmosphere, dialogue, et cetera, can drive plot.

The examples are from Longyear’s SF repertoire and such may put off other genre writers. Their loss. I’ve long held that any writing I do helps all the writing I do. This book is a wonderful example of that.

Lastly, Longyear also shares how “Enemy Mine” came about. Priceless.

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