WELCOME! In the midst of each life's chaos exists a place of calm and sunshine. I call mine Contentment Cottage. It is the place where I write my stories and find the peace of God. I've posted my "Ice Pick" reviews and will continue to add some of what I call my "Ice Crystals": poems, articles, essays, fillers, and recipes.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


The Writer’s Digest Guide to Manuscript Formats, by Dian Dincin Buchman and Seli Groves. Cincinnati : Writer’s Digest Books, 1987. ISBN 0-89879-293-2. $16.95.

Do you know how to format anecdote, article, book, filler, greeting card, poem, recipe, screenplay, script, and short story manuscripts for submission? How about the forms for submitting illustrations, proposals, and queries? Or how to present cover letters? Or do you avoid even trying to submit certain things, because you don’t know the proper format? If so, then this book is for you.

In the section discussing fiction, for example, there are sample cover letters; a list of steps to follow in submitting your novel; a sample proposal including cover sheet, table of contents, novel overview, bio, and outline; and sample manuscript pages with instructions on spacing for your title page, your first text page, succeeding chapters’ first pages, and normal text; as well as how to format your novel’s acknowledgments, dedication, epigraph(s), foreword, preface, and table of contents. And there is a sample follow-up letter for when you don’t hear from the publisher after many moons.

There are similar sections for short stories and other short forms, nonfiction, and scripts that answer nearly every question you could have. The only thing I’ve found lacking was how to format and submit a sidebar with an article.

Buchman and Groves have also included mailing information, such as when to fold a manuscript, packaging tips for everything including photos, and a checklist so you don’t forget anything.

Also, there are a number of blank checklist and log pages that can be photocopied, including a Book Progress Checklist, Editorial Checklist, Research Correspondence Log, Telephone Expense Log, and Submission Logs to help you track your work.

There are even special sample letters for everything from requesting information from an agent to asking for corrections in reprints and from requesting rights to requesting permission to quote from another’s work or reproduce their graphs or charts.

But the instructions on formatting, typing, and spacing are the heart of the book. If you ever wonder what your margins should be, how to space your lines or arrange your headers, or what should be centered or capitalized, you can find the solution here, and the index is one of the best I’ve seen, making it easy to find what you need to know quickly. Whether you use a manual typewriter or a computer, this book will help you present your manuscripts in the most professional manner possible.

It’s one of my favorite writing reference books, and I highly recommend it.

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter, Oct. 1999.}

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Monday, October 30, 2006


The Weekend Novelist, by Robert J. Ray. New York : Dell, 1994. ISBN 0-440-50594-1. $10.95.

If you want to write a novel, but don’t have a clue where to start or how to organize your ideas, this book, billed as "a dynamic 52-week program to help you produce a finished novel . . . one weekend at a time," may be just what you need.

It begins with the most basic concepts and then leads you into and through the actual writing of the story. It is, however, not for the faint-hearted, but is a very concentrated and demanding book, requiring strong self-discipline.

The first fourteen lessons are devoted to creating your characters, setting your scenes, and working out your plot. If you already have characters in mind and a story knocking around in your head, you may want to skip these. I’d advise skimming them instead, as there are many terrific hints, bits of advice, and exercises that may help you strengthen your novel or give you ideas.

Ray has you start the actual drafting of your story by writing your key scenes in six lessons or weekends. Then he has you write what he calls the "discovery" draft in eleven weekends, the "meditation" draft in fourteen weekends, and the "final" draft in seven weekends. In the discovery, or first draft, you write fast, just getting the story down on paper. With the meditation draft, you reshape, rework, and rewrite--tightening action, fixing dialogue, rebuilding settings, deepening and developing the story. In the final draft, you cut and polish.

It will be helpful to have a paperback copy of Anne Tyler’s Accidental Tourist on hand, since Ray uses that as a model to study, but the relevant parts are quoted in entirety, and it is not a necessity.

Nor is it necessary to confine yourself to working only on weekends, if you have the time. (I didn’t, and it took me three years to work my way through the book.)

Ray also advocates keeping a notebook in which to "store your creativity." In this, you do the weekly exercises, keep dialogues, ideas, images, inspiring pictures or quotes, lists, notes to yourself, plot diagrams, and scenes to be written.

The book lacks any kind of an index, which drove me crazy when I wanted to refer to something. But it does have a bibliography of both how-to-write books and classic works for writers to read and study and an excellent glossary of writing terms, as well as tips on how to find a publisher for your novel.

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter, Oct. 1999.}

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Sunday, October 29, 2006


We seem to be more ready to make the great sacrifices than to make the small ones. We seem to be more ready to die for Jesus, our country, or our loved ones than to give up petty things and do small services. We must endure the small hardships and make the small sacrifices in the same spirit with which we would make the great ones. "Do everything without complaining or arguing." (Phil.2:14 NIV)

{From A Journal of the Spirit, a Journey of the Soul, by D.C. Ice, Oct. 29, 1983}

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Saturday, October 28, 2006


Beyond Style : Mastering the Finer Points of Writing, by Gary Provost. Cincinnati : Writer’s Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-314-9. $14.95.

If you are writing, but not selling yet, or selling, but not as often as you’d like, this book may be the one you need to help you become a professional writer. Aimed more at the amateur writer than the beginner, this book addresses the "fancier" aspects of writing: identification, metaphor, pacing, plot tension, proportion, slant, subtlety, symbolism, theme, etc.

After a "brief refresher course on style," Provost discusses pacing and the fact that most readers nowadays want a fast-paced book. From your opening words, Provost says, you must keep your story moving with lots of "things happening," rather than the acres of description that bog down most beginning writers. Among other techniques, he shows how the careful use of transitions can help you control story pace. But the most important thing, he says, is to "leave out the boring stuff."

Readers also demand a unified story that doesn’t wander all over. But unity, Provost explains, also means that your story should sound as if it were all written at one sitting. If too much time elapses or there is an interruption (like a vacation) while writing your first draft, your frame of mind, your writing style, and your tone may change, leading to an unevenness in your story that is disturbing to your reader.

I found something of value in every chapter. For example, in his chapter on originality he says you must avoid stereotypes, not only with characters. Not all beaches are sunny. Some are rainy, and "often the shore is littered with seaweed or that other disgusting stuff that looks like knots of dead snakes."

Although the book can be read profitably by a beginner, Provost assumes that you have done a lot of writing and have a serious commitment to your craft, that you understand the basics of grammar and have done a great deal of reading.

"If you’re frustrated with your writing, if you’re growing pessimistic, if you are sometimes visited with despair," perhaps you need to move beyond the basics of using active verbs and avoiding clichés, and master the "invisible issues" of credibility, imagery, originality, tension, and unity.

The index is too brief and is annoyingly incomplete. But overall, it’s a great book, and I recommend it highly.

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter, Sept. 1999. Reprinted in SF & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter, Dec. 2001.}


Friday, October 27, 2006


Building Fiction: How to Develop Plot and Structure, by Jesse Lee Kercheval. Cincinnati: Story Press, 1997. ISBN 1-8849120-28-9. $16.99.

Whatever kind of fiction you write--or want to write--short shorts (anything up to 1500 words), short stories (up to 50 pages), novellas (50 to 150 pages), novels (150 to 1000 pages, but averaging 300 to 450), novels-in-stories (collections of short stories centering on one character, family, town, etc. or sharing a common theme or subject), or experimental fiction, this book has something to offer you.

The first part discusses the usual elements of structure: openings, viewpoint, characters, conflict, and endings, as well as ways of finding ideas and how to revise your work.

Kercheval divides story openings into three types: "into the pot, already boiling," the "calm before the story," and "opening statements to the jury," which are thematic statements, such as "Jones has been in love all his life." She explains the advantages and risks inherent in each method.

In the chapter on viewpoint, Kercheval discusses how to play around with varying points of view to figure out which is right for your current story project and which character will best serve as your narrator.

Dialogue and dialect are covered in the excellent chapter on characterization, which includes many hints on how to develop your characters by external description (without overdoing it), and through internal revelation using the characters’ own thoughts, memories, dreams, and imaginings.

"When editors send back a short story or reject a novel, nine times out of ten they will say the ending didn’t work for them." Kercheval discusses the use of symbolic objects, meaningful gestures, and rites of passage (a death, a marriage, the birth of a child, a homecoming, or a leavetaking) to sum up or resolve your story’s conflict and make its ending satisfying.

I found the chapter on revision very helpful. It contains both macro and micro revision checklists and offers solutions to common problems.

The second part of the book discusses the different kinds of fiction--the advantages and disadvantages of novels versus short stories, short stories versus novellas, etc.--and what may be right for the kind of story you are trying to tell.

The index is very good, and there are end of chapter exercises to help you get your feet wet. Some of them are fun, and all of them lead you back to your own writing.

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter, Aug. 1999. Reprinted in SF & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter, Dec. 2000.}

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Make That Scene: a Writer’s Guide to Setting, Mood and Atmosphere, by William Noble. Middlebury, Vt.: Eriksson, 1988. ISBN 0-8397-5708-5. $17.95.

One of the first questions readers ask is "Where am I?"

This book shows how to create the physical setting to develop a sense of place, a background, against which your story will play, and how to develop the mood within that setting.

Noble explains how setting can be used to add vividness, develop a plot, establish or influence a character, build tension, or act as a major character itself. He shows how to use details, time, dialogue, and action to establish setting.

He specifically addresses stories where you cannot "write what you know," namely those set in the future and those in the past. Too often, he says, writers load their scenes with description to achieve authenticity, when two or three telling details might be all that is needed. "The important details, no matter what kind of story we write, involve specific colors, shapes and textures."

He explains that to choose the most telling details, you can imagine yourself there and see what two or three things strike you the most. Or you can remember a similar experience in your life. If you are writing about a first date, for example, ask what things stick in your mind about your own first date.

"Atmosphere (or mood) is what the reader feels as the effect of the setting settles. It is the writer’s way of injecting life into the stiff details of the locale."

It is generally not good to have the setting and the atmosphere match--an argument in the midst of a thunderstorm, for example--but Noble explains when you can do that and when it is better avoided.

He says that what you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste make the difference between the "one dimensional" and the "imaginative scene." Describing scenes, clothes, and a different way of life is not enough. "To take us alive into another period of time, the senses must be invoked. . . . History, the future, other worlds, other mindsets, it doesn’t matter. The senses make it all come alive."

Noble shows how you can influence mood and atmosphere not only by the five senses, but by physical description, point of view, change of pace, tone, the music of your words themselves, and even the nostalgia your characters express.

There is also a section on the special mood requirements of genres, like horror.

The index is excellent and there is a great bibliography for further exploration.

I highly recommend this book.

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter, July 1999. Reprinted in SF & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter, Sept. 2000.}

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006


The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. 4th ed. New York: Macmillan, 1999. Includes index. ISBN 0-205-31342-6. $14.95 hbk, $7.95 pbk.

Do you have trouble with apostrophes or commas or wonder when numbers should be spelled out?

While it may be true that you can never be too rich or too thin; it is certainly true that you can never have too many dictionaries or too many grammar books (or cookbooks, but that is another story). This is because none of the dictionaries--even the so-called unabridged ones--can contain every possible word, nor can any of the grammar books foresee every possible need. Therefore, what you can’t find in one book, you may find in another.

However, if you can have only one grammar book, this is the one to have. Composed of "seven rules of usage, eleven principles of composition, a few matters of form, and a list of words and expressions commonly misused," Strunk and White, as it is commonly known, is the classic work on the fundamentals of plain English style, usage, punctuation, and grammar.

Relatively inexpensive, at $7.95 for the paperback edition, almost everyone can afford to purchase this excellent book. And in less than one hundred pages, it covers the basics with accuracy, clarity, brevity, and wit, which makes the rules easy to understand and to remember.

For example, in the discussion on the use of shall and will, Strunk writes, "In formal writing, the future tense requires shall for the first person, will for the second and third. The formula to express the speaker’s belief regarding his future action or state is I shall; I will expresses his determination or his consent. A swimmer in distress cries, ‘I shall drown; no one will save me!’ A suicide puts it the other way: ‘I will drown; no one shall save me!’ In relaxed speech, however, the words shall and will are seldom used precisely; our ear guides us or fails to guide us, as the case may be, and we are quite likely to drown when we want to survive and survive when we want to drown."

Even if you may not normally care about "shall" and "will," if you are writing dialog and your characters are highly educated or of an upper class, you should be able to use the words correctly.

Quick to acknowledge the fallacy of inflexibility and the danger of doctrine, Professor Strunk says, "It is an old observation, that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however, the reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation. Unless he is certain of doing as well, he will probably do best to follow the rules."

The newer editions have an excellent index, the lack of which was my only complaint about the earlier versions of the book.

It is the sort of book you can quickly read through, and yet find some bit of gold in it every time you re-read it. And if you master Strunk and White and faithfully adhere to their tenets, you cannot go wrong.

"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."

And that is good advice for all of us.

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter, June 1999. Reprinted in SF & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter, July 2005.}


Monday, October 23, 2006


Scene and Structure, by Jack M. Bickham. Cincinnati, Writer’s Digest Books, 1999. Paperback ed. (The Elements of Fiction Writing) Includes index and appendices. ISBN 0-89879-906-6. $12.00.

Unlike most how-to-write books, this one emphasizes the actual framework of story writing, answering the "how do you get there from here?" and "what do I do next?" kinds of tactical planning questions.

If you want to learn how to construct a short story or a novel, this book can tell you how to build it scene by scene with clarity, flow, logic, readability, and rhythm.

Bickham explains basics like starting and ending a story, deciding how long the individual scenes and the story itself should be and whether or not to include subplots, plus more advanced concepts such as: linking your scenes through transition and sequel, handling scenes started by non-viewpoint characters, flashbacks, and all-dialogue or all-action scenes.

He teaches fiction’s classic structural patterns and says that a thorough understanding and use of them "frees the writer from having to worry about the wrong things, and allows her to concentrate her imagination on characters and events rather than on such stuff as transitions and moving characters around, when to begin or open a chapter, whether there ought to be a flashback, and so on."

You probably noticed the use of the word "her" in the above quotation. Bickham used feminine pronouns throughout the book to refer to writers and masculine pronouns to refer to readers, a quirk that I found very distracting (I kept looking back to see whom he was referring to) and very annoying (as if women were the only ones who had writing problems).

That fairly minor complaint aside, this book is a treasure. It shows how cause and effect underlie the structure of fiction and how you can use this to create everything from your story’s master plot to all of your individual scenes through statements of your character’s goal(s), introduction and development of conflicts, and the tactical disasters (for your character) that should end each scene and drive your story forward.

There are chapters on using tricks to control the pace of your story, how to fix common errors in scenes, and plotting. He even has a chapter on chapter structure, covering such things as how long a chapter should be and whether or not chapters should coincide with scenes.

He gives you ideas, like using 3x5 cards to keep track of your character’s goal in each scene and using colored pencils to help you maintain control over complicated scenes.

The index is excellent, and appendices contain excerpts from published works showing what is explained in the text. This is not an easy book, but I highly recommend it for serious writers.

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter. May 1999. Reprinted in SF & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter, Nov. 2004.}

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Sunday, October 22, 2006


This evening I came home from work and prayed. And the peace of God came down upon me. Not a fragile thing, but tough--"God will not be denied." But so much love and comfort, so much. I am not worthy--we never are. Just "Thank you, thank you. I feel the love."

{From A Journal of the Spirit, a Journey of the Soul, by D.C. Ice, Oct. 22, 1986}

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Saturday, October 21, 2006


Getting the Words Right: How to Revise, Edit & Rewrite, by Theodore A. Rees Cheney. Cincinnati, Writer’s Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-114-6. $15.95.

If you write for yourself, you don’t need to revise; if you write for others, you must make your work clear and interesting.

Cheney’s book is a book of rules. He is often funny, but always honest and forthright in his opinions and strict in his precepts. But if you want to know how to write something correctly and need the guidance of someone who knows what he is talking about to answer your questions and give you confidence, this book is definitely worth your time.

Revision is a daunting undertaking for most of us, and especially so for beginners. Where do you start? Experienced writers tend to do everything at once, and often find it hard to explain their actions. Cheney breaks the process down into three steps, that while not necessarily easy to do, are easy to follow.

First, he discusses "revision by reduction." This is logical, since we don’t want to spend time reworking something we’re going to toss out.

In fiction, he says to look first for those whole scenes that can be eliminated or shortened drastically. (I didn’t say this was going to be easy, did I? But we must always ask if this scene or chapter moves the piece forward.) Sometimes a whole character can be terminated, or merged with another. This is more difficult, because not only must every instance of the person’s name be ferreted out, but all the relationships this character has had with others also must be found and fixed. Flashbacks that have become "flopbacks" can be trimmed or replaced with a bit of narrative. Other things can be better served with a brief summary. And then there are the lesser reductions (getting rid of redundant words), "micro-reductions" (using shorter words) and even "nano-reductions" (getting rid of pieces of words!).

The second section deals with rethinking and rearranging what we have. Here Cheney shows how to make our writing clear so that the reader’s vision more closely matches our own. This may mean adding words and transitions, replacing some words or phrases with better ones, or rearranging words, sentences, or paragraphs for balance, coherence, or consistency.

The third part concerns revision by rewording. He discusses style and diction, the importance of rhythm and sound in our writing, choosing the correct words and avoiding unnecessary jargon, dialect, sexism, and obscenities, as well as using (and abusing) allusions and figurative writing.

Like all good books on revision, this is a hands-on work. For example, we are often warned to vary the lengths of our sentences. The sentence length of successful professional fiction writers averages about fifteen words. You can tell how you measure up by taking eighteen consecutive sentences from your own work and graphing them. You should have a broad range, from one-word sentences to occasional forty-word monsters, and the more varied your sentence lengths are, the better.

The book is very well organized into short digestible bits, and the table of contents and index are both excellent, making it simple to find what you’re looking for. Although accessible, this is not an easy book, and you won’t get much out of it if you just read it and lay it aside or dip in and out of it for help only with those things you know you have trouble with, ignoring others you may never think of. I recommend it for serious writers, experienced and inexperienced alike.

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter. Mar. 1999. Reprinted in SF & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter, July 2000.}


Friday, October 20, 2006


The Writer’s Essential Desk Reference. Cincinnati, Writer’s Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-759-4. $24.99.

This is a book for serious writers. By serious, I mean those who either are, or want to become, professionals. These are people who don’t write just for themselves, friends, and family, but who want to be published authors.

It includes information on "Living as a Writer," e.g. health insurance, contracts and literary rights, dealing with agents, setting up a freelance business, bookkeeping, home office expenses, taxes, whether you should incorporate or not, and how to judge whether a publication is apt to stiff you for payment (as Pulphouse’s The Report did me when I was starting out--not a fun experience for a new writer).

Lists of professional associations, retreats, conferences, fellowships, university writing programs, and correspondence schools are provided, along with advice and caveats and the relative advantages and disadvantages of different programs. Information about evaluating writers’ groups or creating your own is also included.

The rest of the book involves the actual production of your writing from research through selling it.

The chapter on research explains interlibrary loan; online researching; getting permission to use others’ copyrighted material; as well as obtaining U.S. government documents, scientific reports from the National Technical Information Service, and specific facts from individual government agencies.

There is also a section on some of the special needs of researching for fiction.

Desktop and self-publishing, and working with artists, collaborators, grammar services, graphic designers, illustrators, indexers, printers, proofreaders, translators, and typesetters are covered in the chapter on producing and polishing your manuscript. I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t give any information about traditional publishing, but the book is billed as a companion to Writer’s Market, and they probably assumed that submitting to publishers is adequately covered there.

The chapter on selling your work includes in-depth analyses of freelancing for newspapers, radio and television, advertising, and technical writing.

Also included is a section called "Promoting Yourself," which discusses the pros and cons of advertising and book reviews, public speaking, TV and radio publicity, and hiring a publicist, as well as dealing with bookstores.

The final chapter deals with writing for Canadian markets, researching Canadian subjects, and selling in Canada.

Throughout the book are lists of further sources and resources on all the topics discussed. And these are all nicely indexed. There is, in addition, an excellent subject index.

Most of the book is aimed at nonfiction writers, but there is plenty here for fiction writers as well. If you are a serious author, you should at least take a look at what this book offers.

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter. Feb. 1999. Reprinted in SF & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter, June 2000.}

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Theme and Strategy, by Ronald Tobias. (The Elements of Fiction Writing Series) Cincinnati, Ohio : Writer’s Digest Books, 1989. ISBN 0-89879-392-0. $13.95.

"You have the freedom to create any world you want, but you also must make sure that the internal and external organization of that world is consistent. That fearsome task is accomplished by the use of strategy."

Unlike most how-to-write books which concentrate on individual techniques like dialogue, plot, or character, this book helps you put it all together. Basically for beginners, it explains how to develop your own strategy for writing a unified story and how to use that strategy to create patterns in your work that will shape your story and help you stay aware of and control the overall structure, direction, and results.

The basic overall strategy begins with picking a beginning, that is, your sense of where the story should start, not necessarily the first page. Then choose an ending, which at this point may just be your feeling about how the story might end. Set short-term objectives, which are nothing more than scenes or mini-stories within your overall story--the things you want to have happen or that you imagine might happen.

From that simple beginning Tobias goes on to discuss patterns in structure, style, place, character, plot, and action. Within each chapter, Tobias discusses the patterns that have developed in our literature over time and how you can use those to strengthen your stories and make them more satisfying for your readers. For example, he explains the tradition of "three" in our culture, how readers have come to expect it, and how you can use it in the beginning-middle-end pyramid of scenes, chapters, and stories; three-sided structures; three questions or challenges; three magic keys; and triangles of characters (like Kirk-McCoy-Spock).

Tobias also explains in each chapter things that you should keep in mind when developing characters, choosing a setting, planning action scenes, etc. And he gives good advice and many hints and suggestions.

If you’ve always wanted to write a novel, but were afraid to start because you didn’t know how to go about it, or you started one but got stalled out halfway through, this book may be the one you need to get you started or restarted on the right path.

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter. Jan. 1999. Reprinted in SF & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter, May 2000.}

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Creating Short Fiction, by Damon Knight. Rev. ed. Cincinnati, Writer’s Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-166-9. $9.95.

Aimed primarily at beginners, including those who want to write a story but have no idea how to go about it, as well as those who are writing but feel the need for advice, this practical book is a treasure. His explanations of plotting and viewpoint, and how to choose the right point of view for your story, are especially excellent.

The author, Damon Knight, well-known to science fiction readers and writers, is a master of the art of the short story. If you’ve never heard of him, and you yearn to write science fiction stories, do look for and read some of his work.

The book is divided into six parts, plus an introduction. The introductions of some books are important. This is one of them. It’s only five pages long. Read it.

The first part of the book is "Developing Your Talent as a Writer" and contains several exercises in how to learn to see, hear, feel, and think like a writer. If you are still floundering and trying to get started, or if you’ve been writing, but are now stymied by writer’s block, this is the place to begin. It is pure inspiration.

For those still asking "Where do you get your ideas from? And how do you make a story out of them?," the second part, "Idea into Story," and the third, "Beginning a Story," deal with how to get ideas, and how to get those ideas out of your head and onto a piece of paper. They cover organizing your thoughts, and the basic form and structure of story-making, including situation, conflict, plot, characters, motivation, setting, and viewpoint.

One of Knight’s techniques is to visualize your story idea as a tent, with character, emotion, setting, and situation as the four corners, and theme as the center pole. You can begin with any one of these tent poles, but eventually you must include the others before you have a story.

Parts four and five, "Controlling a Story" and "Finishing a Story," discuss taking your raw story and making it a good one. Here Knight includes the elements of revision plus the narrative techniques of style, voice, tone and mood, etc. that enable you to create the magic and illusions that are the basis of all good fiction.

The final part, "Being a Writer," addresses work habits, the pleasures and frustrations all of us writers face, some excellent advice on what reference books we should own (and use), and what we should be reading ("Everything!"). Personally, I think this section should be earlier, and you might want to read it first, but as Knight himself says, "There are no non-linear books. . . . The topics dealt with here are all interrelated." Read it in any order you like.

Preceding the index are suggested readings, well worth checking out, and a list of the helpful exercises found throughout the book. The index is excellent for what it covers, but is not as inclusive as I would have liked. For example, an important point he makes about writing a character’s thoughts is under Tense on pages 139-140, and does not show up in the index at all. In general, you should be aware that Knight does give a bit of a short shrift to character and to dialog techniques, and I recommend you supplement him with other how-to-write books on these subjects.

Included in our Workshop’s list of Mandatory Reading, because it really can help you, this is a truly excellent book--especially for beginners--and I highly recommend it.

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter. Dec. 1998. Reprinted in SF & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter, Apr. 2000.}

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Monday, October 16, 2006


Guide to Fiction Writing, by Phyllis A. Whitney. Boston, The Writer. $12.95.

We are always interested in how other writers "do it." What are their techniques and working methods? Can we learn their secrets and shortcuts? And adapt or copy them?

This clearly written and easily accessible book tells how best-selling mystery and romantic suspense author Phyllis Whitney plans and plots her novels, how she produces a desired emotional response in her readers, and how she uses the four key ingredients of "problem, purpose, conflict, and goal" to create tension and suspense, which she considers "vital to every kind of fiction writing."

In Part One, "Methods and Process," Whitney explains how she keeps her material organized, using looseleaf notebooks as the basis for all of her novels. If you’ve always just tossed scraps of paper with descriptions of your characters, bits of dialogue, ideas for scenes, newspaper clippings you can use in your story, sketched maps, pictures torn from magazines, plus typed chapters and old drafts into a folder or a box, and then spent time trying to find what you wanted later or given up in despair, you might want to try her notebook idea. She uses a simple system that you can tailor for yourself. And in addition to organizing the material for the novel itself, she includes a "Calendar" section where she can keep track of when she started and how much progress she is making day by day, as well as a page for title ideas, and one to keep track of the lengths of chapters and what page they start on in the manuscript. If you are working on two or more projects, you can have as many notebooks as you need. And the notebooks are helpful in writing short stories, too.

In Part Two, "Technique," she explains things like how to begin writing, choose viewpoint, create believable characters, write flashbacks and transitions, and revise what we’ve written. She considers rewriting to be essential and lists fifteen weaknesses for us to check our manuscripts against. For example, "Are the time and place of your action always clear? Not only in the opening scene, where it’s very important to orient the reader, but all the way through. Especially at the beginning of a chapter or a new scene."

"The basics of story-telling . . . is the one element in fiction writing that can be taught. No one can give you the drive to write. No one can give you the special talent you’ll need. But talent can be developed . . . and helped to grow. . . . [Rules] aren’t set in concrete, but are only guidelines. Once you understand how to hold and interest a reader, how to build a sound plot, you can push out in any direction." The only rule Whitney gives that you should never break is: "Never give up."

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter. Nov. 1998. Reprinted in SF & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter, Feb. 2000.}

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Sunday, October 15, 2006


Lord, I’m confused. As usual.

In Romans 14:5-6, St. Paul says "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it."

In the context, it sounds like we have a choice to have a holiday or not. It’s up to us one way or the other. Birthdays, anniversaries, Columbus Day, saints’ days, Christmas, New Year’s. I know that some celebrate all kinds of days, while others, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, celebrate almost no days at all. And by this verse I gather that that’s okay one way or the other.

But what about Sundays? Most people now ignore the command to rest on the Sabbath. I’ve had to work Sundays, myself, when the desk schedule called for it. And lately, with my mom and all, pretty much Sunday is no different from Monday--except I have to remember to put the garbage out on Monday.

Now Romans 14:2-3, 6, 17 says: "One believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. . . . He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. . . . For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."

That’s plain enough. Vegetarians and meat-eaters shouldn’t get on each other’s cases. I can deal with that. And if someone wants to eat meat on Friday or during Lent and someone else prefers fish, that’s fine. Or if someone eats pork and bacon and another doesn’t, "happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth." (Rom. 14:22)

Now eating fish on Friday is a manmade rule, but avoiding pork is one of Your rules, Lord. So there is a difference, but Paul is saying it’s okay for Christians to eat pork as long as they don’t see any offense in it. Right? We’ve always believed this to be so anyway.

Now, back to the Sabbath. This involves more than just one of Your rules. This involves one of Your Commandments. "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." (Ex. 20:8) I feel like this is heavier territory here. And St. Paul says--in Romans 13--that we should obey governments and all Your Commandments. Are You saying that we can break the Commandments the same way we eat pork? Jesus did say, "the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath" (Mk. 2:27) and that it was okay to do good on the Sabbath.

What about the other Commandments?

"Thou shalt not commit adultery." (Ex.20:14) That one’s kind of gone by the board, too, I guess, judging by the number of people getting divorced and remarried, practicing premarital and extramarital sex, or just living together, regardless of whether or not one or both is married to someone else. We used to say they were "shacked up with someone" or "living in sin."

"Thou shalt not steal." (Ex. 20:15) Pretty much everybody thinks that’s okay, too, judging by the way office supplies disappear, income taxes are cheated on, and stamps get soaked off and reused, not to mention the people in stores who think nothing of handing their children a candy bar and concealing the wrapper at the checkout.

"Thou shalt not kill." (Ex. 20:13) Unless it’s in the line of duty as a police officer, or during a war, or in self-defense, or executing criminals, or whatever. Abortion? That's a hot issue! Waco, Texas and the people on both sides--those who put the lives of innocent children on the line and those who killed them in the name of protecting others.

Is there anything left of Your Commandments?

"Honour thy father and thy mother." (Ex. 20:12) Well, unless the parents abuse their children. I read the other day about parents who locked their son up in a windowless closet for seven years and only fed him garbage scraps once a day. Should he honor them? I don’t think so. Where is the line between Solomon’s not sparing the rod and locking your children in a closet or beating them or starving them to death? Should a starving child honor his parents?

Are the Commandments then reduced to the level of wearing or not wearing hats in church? I’ve actually heard people refer to adultery, having illegitimate children (we used to call them bastards), and homosexuality as being on that level.

Where are the limits, Lord? Are there any? Can we do whatever we like as long as we are convinced it’s okay?

"Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. . . . Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth; yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. . . . For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord. . . . Why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. . . . Let us not therefore judge one another any more. . . . To him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. . . ." (Rom. 14:1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 14)

And then of course the capstone. "He that doubteth is damned . . . for whatsoever is not of faith is sin." (Rom. 14: 23) And "who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?" (Prov. 20:9)

So, where are we? Where am I?

Jesus gave the answer. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets." (Matt. 7:12) And His Two Commandments: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matt. 22: 37-40) And in Romans 13:10, Paul said, "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law."

Can practicing Christianity be this simple? And this hard!

{From A Journal of the Spirit, a Journey of the Soul, by D.C. Ice, Oct. 15, 1994.}

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Saturday, October 14, 2006


The Fiction Dictionary, by Laurie Henry. Cincinnati, Ohio, Story Press. ISBN 1-884910-05-X. $18.99.

If you’ve ever wondered what an editor meant in telling you a piece was over- or underwritten, been confused when someone in your writer’s group suggested you use a ficelle to help reveal information about your protagonist, or been lost trying to explain the distinctions of tone, atmosphere, and mood, you’re not alone.

Not only does this book define things like the difference between magic realism and surrealism--that you might see in market lists--but it also provides fairly lengthy examples from classic and contemporary works to show what is meant, and cites other works that you can read to see more of the particular narrative technique in action.

In the definitions of terms like tension, flashforward, diegesis, understatement, or vignette, you may find ideas on how to handle a story problem or a character; as well as pitfalls to avoid in writing, whether classic beginners’ mistakes or outmoded techniques--such as the metafiction of the 1970s or the minimalism of the 1980s--that many of us learned in writing or English classes. And it fully explains new terms, like voice, that have come into vogue in the 1990s.

The index is excellent, and the text itself is full of cross-references to related terms.

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter. Oct. 1998. Reprinted in SF & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter, Jan. 2000.}

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Friday, October 13, 2006


Publish Your Own Novel, by Connie Shelton. Angel Fire, N.M.: Columbine Books. ISBN 0-9643161-6-1. $18.95.

At last a self-help, self-publishing handbook for fiction! And this one is outstanding.

This book is a step-by-step guide to being your own literary agent and publisher as well as an excellent example itself of what Shelton is talking about. As a former book editor for a small publishing house myself, I can testify to Shelton’s accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Among the many reasons for self-publication is the time factor. If you don’t want to wait months or years for a trade publisher to even decide whether they want to publish your novel or not, and more months and
/or years before it gets into print, only to have it placed in a bookstore for often as little as three months, then you may want to consider self-publication.

Many of us think vanity presses are the only alternative, but are concerned with the stigma and the financial risk. And some of these presses are shoddy operations that take your money and run. Even if they are reputable, they will still leave all the hard work of selling up to you.

However, now that even major publishing houses expect authors to do most of the promotion and market analysis, many more writers are opting to self-publish, figuring that if they’re going to do most of the work anyway, they might as well get the elephant’s share of the profits rather than the 6 to 10 per cent advance on royalties the houses offer.

Yet self-publication does not have to be through a vanity press. Whether you want to publish only your works or you want to set up your own publishing company and publish other authors’ works as well, this book can show you how to create beautiful, top-quality books and sell them.

In fact, the book is a great resource for authors even if you do get your book published by a trade publisher, offering lots of behind-the-scenes information on how the publishing industry works, how books are placed in bookstores, etc., plus many quick and inexpensive ideas for promoting your book, making a name for yourself, setting up book tours, and so forth.

Shelton also offers plenty of warnings of what not to do, and of the pitfalls along the way.

If you’re tempted to look down on self-published authors, then you owe it to yourself to think again. You will be in good company not only with Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, and Walt Whitman, but with modern authors like James Redfield--who self-published The Celestine Prophecy and later sold it to Warner for $800,000.

If all this makes you think you might consider self-publication, then this book is for you. At the very least it will help you decide if you have the courage, stamina, and financial resources to handle self-publication.

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter. Sept. 1998. Reprinted in SF & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter, Dec. 1999.}

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Writing for Children and Teenagers, by Lee Wyndham. Rev. by Arnold Madison. 3rd ed. Cincinnati : Writer’s Digest Books, 1989. ISBN 0-89879-347-5. $12.95.

Although aimed at those who write for children and young adults, this book has practical instruction and information for all writers. It covers the basics of characterization, description, dialogue, mood, plot, revision, viewpoint, etc., plus the business end of writing (marketing; manuscript format; record keeping; modern trends) in a very clear and easily understood manner. In addition, the seven main divisions that publishers separate juvenile books into--picture books (ages 1-6), picture stories (ages 7-10), easy-to-reads (grades 1-3), readers (ages 8-12), teens (ages 10-15), teenage romances, and hi/los (high interest/low reading level for children with reading problems)--are described with their respective word-lengths, etc. Picture books, easy-to-reads, and hi/lo books are further discussed in individual chapters, with details on how those manuscripts should be prepared. Plays and non-fiction are also included, as well as a chapter on writing mysteries.

Lee Wyndham died in 1978, but Arnold Madison has continued her efforts to offer good, solid information, giving an honest, up-front assessment of editorial and publishing realities for us.

For example, you may have seen the "no fantasy" signs posted in writers’ guidelines, and asked why these same markets are still publishing fantasy. Well, "the editors," says Wyndham, "admit that what they really mean is that they don’t want to see rehashed old classics." Okay. This book gives an updated list of fantasy and sf books that should be read by anyone writing for children in these genres, so we’ll know what it is they do want.

Also included is a twelve-point recipe for plotting, tips on how to plan your novel or get it started, hints on revisions, guidelines on creating characters for different age levels, techniques for naming characters, and explanations of the kinds of characters that appeal to kids today--e.g. heroes and heroines that look before they leap or who are over-helpful or overactive. The discussion on basic human needs and emotions rings true in writing for any age level, as do the techniques for organizing ideas and research.

Pay rates for magazines in general have not gone up since 1970 according to the National Writers Association. The one exception is children’s magazines. If you’ve ever thought about writing for children or teens, take a look at this classic book, now in its third edition. And even if you’re sure you’d never write for kids, you still might want to take a peek at it in the library. It is one of the best how-to-write books, not just for children, but for any age group.

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter. Aug. 1998. Reprinted in SF & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter, Nov. 1999; and in AuthorShowcase, July 2001.}


Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Dare to Be a Great Writer : 329 Keys to Powerful Fiction, by Leonard Bishop. Cincinnati : Writer’s Digest Books, 1988. ISBN 0-89879-312-2. $15.95.

Do you know how "to enter into the mind of another character" when you are using first person viewpoint? When to stop foreshadowing? How to create a "double story"? When dialogue between different characters should be put in the same paragraph? How to pick up a dragging story with "flash incidents"? When to "show" and when to "tell"? How to handle a battle scene? What to do when you don’t know what’s going to happen next in your story? How introspective transitions can bridge time and space or be used to change viewpoints? How to create and use nested flashbacks? Or "describe the indescribable"?

There’s so much terrific advice in here. If you can find it.

You’re not supposed read this book straight through like a novel. It is divided into small sections, about a page long, and you are expected to dip in and out using the index and choose the areas you need advice on. To do that, a book either has to be well-organized or have a great index.

If there is any order at all in the way this book is set up, I couldn’t find it. It looks as if someone tossed the sections down the stairs and cobbled them together as they lay. If, for example, you are interested in foreshadowing, the subject is split into nine sections scattered from page 27 to page 275. Flashbacks are in twenty-one different sections, similarly scattered.

And the topic index is woefully inadequate. I scribbled in an additional six sections to "Flashbacks" alone.

I read the book straight through because I wanted to review it, and I’m glad I did, since I found things I never would have otherwise and was able to add my notes to the index.

I suggest that you do read the book straight through. If you even read one section a day, you’ll have it done in less than a year and will have learned some super tips for all kinds of fiction writing. And you’ll find answers to things you might not have known you had a problem with, or ways to improve your writing that you might never stumble across otherwise. Don’t be afraid to annotate the existing index or even add your own topics. (I added fourteen, ranging from "Endings" to "Transitions.") This is one book that needs your personalization. It’s not a book to check out of the library, anyway, but one to own and refer back to as your writing ability matures.

A book with as much for the advanced writer as for beginners (and maybe more), it really is wonderful and provocative for all its annoying lack of organization. Bishop challenges many (all?) of the "rules" and gives plenty of examples to show what he is getting at. His message is, that once we know and understand the rules, we too, can move beyond amateur to professional and beyond professional to great--if we are willing to work and dare to break the rules. Well, if not great, at least better than we are!

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter. July 1998. Reprinted in SF & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter, Oct. 1999.}


Monday, October 09, 2006


Conflict, Action and Suspense, by William Noble. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1994. (The Elements of Fiction Writing series) ISBN 0-89879-634-2. $14.95.

"Action means happenings. Suspense means uncertainty."

We know that short sentences speed things up, while long, leisurely sentences slow things down, and that putting a time limit on things (e.g., "You have five days to save the Earth!") cranks up anxiety, but this book goes way beyond that. Noble shows different ways "to collar the reader" with our openings; "keep ‘em hanging" through pacing, scene cuts, and transitions; and make "plot-hypers" by subtlety and indirection. Two of his methods to create dynamite conclusions are: "make the climax the hottest action scene (or the most intense suspense scene)" and "leave the final confrontation to the last scene, if possible (the last page would be even better)."

He explains how contrasts in setting and personifying nonliving elements (e.g., the wind) increase tension and drive action. Through vivid physical description and the step-by-step build-up of details, we create anticipation and dread and make the reader suffer along with our characters. We can build suspense through dialogue--including the "threat of the unsaid"--and by contrasting different characters’ physical and emotional makeup. Or we can amplify action or suspense by using different points of view.

While he says that the immediacy of writing about the present time gives the writer advantages, he does include a chapter about creating suspense in both historical and futuristic settings, where "the truths are few and the opportunities unlimited."

The index is good, but it annoys me when, for example, I look up flashbacks, and run into "Flashback. See Writing technique, flashback, for creating slow-paced time." Why couldn’t it have just said, "see page 154"?
I’ve found this book helpful. It’s not your average how-to-write book. Some may argue with certain things he advocates, like quick scene changes, shifting points of view, and passive voice. Nevertheless, it is a powerful book that should make you think about what you’re doing and help you improve your writing skills.

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter, June 1998. Reprinted in SF & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter, Aug.-Sept. 1999.}

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Sunday, October 08, 2006


Real faith--like real science--is a seeking for answers, a quest for truth. It is not a presumption that one knows it all. For all of us--those who search and those who think they already have all the answers--God has many surprises waiting. "Seek and ye shall find." (Matt. 7:7) Seek the truth, love the truth, speak the truth. Let love cover all things and people. God's spirit is in everyone, but if we block Him or ignore Him, He cannot help us or help us to help others.

{From A Journal of the Spirit, a Journey of the Soul, by D.C. Ice, Oct. 8, 1995}

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Saturday, October 07, 2006


The Art and Craft of Novel Writing, by Oakley Hall. Cincinnati, Writer’s Digest Books, 1989. ISBN 0-89879-346-7. $16.95.

My copy is falling apart. (Yeah, they don’t make anything like they used to!) But no, this really is one of my pet books. And I use it as much for writing short stories as when working on novels.

Hall doesn’t just list, or even explain what you should be doing, and then leave you hanging. He tells and shows you how to do things in a simple, clear, straightforward manner without throwing a lot of rules at you. As Hall says, "in fiction, as in life, what works, works."

Parts One and Two deal with the elements of fiction. For example, his first chapter is about the difference between showing and telling. He not only explains it, but in example after example points out the abstract and general, the boring, the clincher detail, the sense impressions, and the weak nonspecific words, enabling you to critique your own writing. He demonstrates how to avoid static description, especially when you meld research with your writing, by putting things in motion--flags flying, leaves fluttering, etc. His techniques can be applied equally well to science fiction and fantasy, so that your prose enlivens the scene with color, sound, and motion.

His explanation of point of view is, I think, the clearest I’ve seen on it. Equally good are the chapters on dialogue, plotting, characterization, style, etc. (Ever wonder how to get across a translation of what your alien said? Do it "most simply by repeating the phrase a second time, in translation." Hemingway did.)

For the more experienced writer, his chapters on how to convey information and emotional impact by "implication, symbols, images, metaphors, allegories, parallels, and contrasts" are excellent.

Part Three covers planning, beginning, and finishing the novel, as well as how to handle writers’ block.

The index is excellent, and wide margins throughout let you write all kinds of notes.

A lot of how-to-write books just aren’t that helpful, especially for beginners. I feel lucky that I stumbled across this one when I was starting out.

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter, May 1998. Reprinted in SF & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter, May 1999.}

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Friday, October 06, 2006


World-Building, by Stephen L. Gillett. Cincinnati, Ohio : Writer’s Digest Books, 1996. (Science Fiction Writing Series) ISBN 0-89879-707-1. $16.99.

Accessible, and ranging from the simplest concepts to the most complex, this book should be helpful regardless of your level of scientific knowledge/expertise, whether you write hard or soft sf, or even fantasy set on another planet.

If you need to calculate an orbit, surface gravity, escape velocity, or the angular diameter (width) of an object in the sky, Gillett provides the formulas and the implications. If you want to try out a planet with a sulfuric acid sea or a neon atmosphere, know the color of vegetation on a planet circling a small red star, or what happens when a main sequence star (like the Sun) runs out of fuel (in about 5 billion years), the information is here.

Even if you write only soft sf, Gillett goes into the weather you might find on your planet, what the sky would look like if you have two suns, or your world orbits a brown dwarf, or whatever. And he provides many interesting scenarios for disasters that might drive or background your plots.

Gillett certainly seems to know his stuff, and that’s important in a book that is basically a technical manual. But then, as he says, he does planets for a living. And while sometimes you must bend the rules, as in using FTL travel, ("After all, you’ve got a story to tell!") there is lots of information in this book to help keep you from committing some serious flaws in designing your world.

Throughout his book, Gillett provides ideas for worlds, points out settings that have been underutilized or untried yet, and warns against the pitfalls of trying to do certain things with your planets.

It has an excellent index and a reference bibliography if you want more technical and detailed information. In addition, the text is full of "hyperlinks" to help you along.

Working out ahead of time how your planet will work, should help keep your story consistent and provide you with "a fruitful source of the conflicts and details that animate a story."

I highly recommend this book.

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter. Apr. 1998. Reprinted in SF & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter, July 1999; and in Virtual World Builders, Aug. 1999.}

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Dialogue: a Socratic Dialogue on the Art of Writing Dialogue in Fiction, by Lewis Turco. (Elements of Fiction Writing Series) Cincinnati, Writer’s Digest, 1989. ISBN 0-89879-349-1. $12.95.

This is a different sort of book, and it takes some getting used to, because the whole thing is written in dialogue form. This often makes it too cutesy for its own good, if not downright annoying.

But if you are having difficulties with dialogue, this book gives lots of examples, where some other h-t-w dialogue books may offer you mostly lists of baffling rules.

The index is so-so, given that often the information you want is scattered around in half a dozen different places. (E.g. format and punctuation is broken into six parts. So if you’re constantly looking stuff up, you’ll need to make notes in the index, inside the covers, on the flyleaves, or on little pieces of paper hanging out of the book in all directions.)

That said, the advice here is excellent. The book is primarily aimed at beginners, but there is plenty of meat here for everyone, including tricks for using dialogue to speed up as well as slow down a scene, for showing what a non-viewpoint character is thinking, and for expressing dialect by word choice. I was especially impressed by Turco’s clear explanations of definitions. You know, an editor asks you if your piece is objective, character-oriented, first-person, single-angle viewpoint; and you go, "Huh?" Before reading this I wouldn’t have known a subjective dialogue if it bit me on the foot. They’re things we use all the time, but the terminology is a foreign language to most of us.

"Dialogue," says Turco, "ought always to be doing more than one thing.... While it is going on it ought to be advancing the plot, or characterizing, or setting the scene, foreshadowing, or whatever, at the same time that it is operating as a medium for the exchange of information." And that is something we all ought to take to heart.

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter, Mar. 1998. Reprinted in SF & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter, June 1999.}


Tuesday, October 03, 2006


The Joy of Writing Sex: A Guide for Fiction Writers, by Elizabeth Benedict. Cincinnati, Ohio : Story Press, 1996. $16.99. ISBN 1-884910-21-1.

This book "is not a primer for writing pornography" or "a collection of tips for writing hot sex scenes." Nor is there anything in it about rape, which is an act of violence not sex. But if you want to write a romantic scene and leave the rest to your readers’ imaginations or follow your human or alien characters into the bedroom, this book will show you how to get the most out of the scenes you choreograph. Too many writers (not you, of course) throw in a sex scene simply to spice things up, wasting a valuable tool for characterization or plotting.

There should always be at least "two things happening at once [in] a sex scene. . . . Sex needs a purpose in your story beyond the momentary frisson it brings to your characters. It needs to reveal something about them, act as a metaphor, a symbol, or an illustration of an aspect of your theme, your plot, and/or your characters’ desires and dilemmas." Benedict helps us see the differences in female and male expectations and experiences and tells why you must know what your characters want from the encounter. She discusses the difficulties in writing sex scenes and explains how to keep them exciting and original. Yes, original. Your sex scenes "should hinge on the freshness of your characters, dialogue, mood, and plot and not on the sexual mechanisms," lest they all sound alike.

As she says, "a good sex scene does not have to be about good sex," but "a well-written sex scene engages on many levels: erotic, aesthetic, psychological, metaphorical, even philosophical." And it should fit with the setting and tone of your overall story, not just be tacked on there to shock your mom or get people to read your stuff.

In separate chapters, Benedict discusses how to handle writing adulterous, first-time, illicit, married, recreational, and solo sex, as well as the impact of AIDS. She quotes writers from different genres and analyzes the juicy parts of their works. (Warning: After reading this book, you may never read a sex scene in quite the same way again.)

"Sex scenes should be approached with the same attention to craft and to function in the larger work . . . [as] every other scene."

If you write romantic or sex scenes, you should read this book.

{Published in GPIC: the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter, Jan. 1998. Reprinted in SF & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter, Mar. 1999.}

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Monday, October 02, 2006


Characters Make Your Story, by Maren Elwood. Boston, The Writer. ISBN 0-87116-019-6. $14.95.

"It is characters that sell stories," says Maren Elwood.

One of the major criticisms of sci fi/fantasy/horror is of the flat characters that so often people these genres. If the reader doesn’t care what happens to Capt. Snarf or Sir Barf all the wonderful plotting in this, or any other, world won’t help. Look at the popularity of Star Trek and Star Wars. The science may have been bad, but the characters were lovable and reached far beyond sf/f/h fandom to touch people’s lives. Can you write accurate sf/f/h background/plots and lovable characters to cheer for and weep with? If you can, maybe you can write a best seller.

Do you sometimes fall in love with a character and wonder how you could "steal" the author’s technique to make readers fall in love with your characters? Elwood shows you how to do that with solid, practical advice on how to actually make your characters (and your story) come alive.

When do you tell about a character and when do you show? Separate chapters explain creating your characters through their appearance, by walk and gesture, by facial expression and glance, by their voice and manner of speech, through dialogue, through their thoughts, and by their action.

Do you have difficulty showing motivation, individualizing minor characters, or making your readers feel a certain emotion? Further chapters show how to develop your characters’ motivation, how to handle simple and complex characterization, and how to use contrast in setting and description to bring your characters to life.
And of special interest to those who write fan fiction is a chapter on how you can develop plot from your characters. Other chapters deal with the common problems of characterization in the short-short story, film, or novel, and in juvenile versus adult stories.

Elwood also discusses the taboos in writing. Some look pretty silly to us now, but ask yourself what taboos we have right now. What new ones may exist in a few years that will make today’s look just as offensive?
As a bonus, in the back of the book are five short stories, analyzed so you can see how different techniques are applied.

Given the short print life of most how-to-write books, any one still in print after fifty-five years deserves some serious attention.

{Published in GPIC, the Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers Newsletter, Nov. 1997. Reprinted in SF & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter, Jan. 1999.}


Sunday, October 01, 2006


Sometimes, Lord, you know, I let go of your hand and turn my back on you and sit down by the side of the pathway. You know that I do this. You know.

And always you sigh and stop and sit down beside me, whether I know it or not, whether I acknowledge it or not. And I know, deep down, that you are there, that I must go on, even though I say I won’t go any farther, and refuse all comfort.

But deep down, I know I will go, because I must, and I know that you know, and you know that I know you know, but you don’t ever say it, except in my heart.

And what I really want is for you to love me and to stay with me, when all the time it is I who is withholding the love and refusing to go on with you.

Forgive me. Thank you for putting up with me, with my tantrums. Thank you for your patience and love and compassion and most of all for staying with me through it all.

{From A Journal of the Spirit, a Journey of the Soul, by D.C. Ice, Sept. 28-Oct. 1, 1987}

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