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January, 2012

Some Thoughts on Crafting Fiction

by Jim Green

Like any idea you conceive in life, fiction starts and ends in the mind; first in the conscious, then the subconscious, and finally digging deeper into the labyrinth of ageless wisdom; the subconscious, the ever-lasting fountain of imagination and inspiration. (Continued below...)


Science Fiction Around the World

by James Gunn

Each summer, James Gunn teaches a SF writers' workshop and intensive SF teaching institute in Lawrence, Kansas, where he has lived most of his life as author, scholar, and English professor. His Damon Knight Grand Master Award was given not just in recognition of his fiction writing but also for his deep influence on the genre through essays, editing, and teaching, Gunn's important Road to Science Fiction anthologies expose the context underlying each story and serve as primary texts for SF courses worldwide. 

To consider science fiction in countries other than the United States, one must start from these shores. American science fiction is the base line against which all the other fantastic literatures in languages other than English must be measured. That is because science fiction, as informed readers recognize it today, began in New York City in 1926. 

That isn't to say that authors didn't write science fiction earlier or that people didn't read and appreciate it, but that it wasn't considered a literature apart--a genre. Certainly E.T.A. Hoffmann and Edgar Allan Poe wrote works about robots and strange events rationalized as being possible through science or technology or the passage of time (in the case of Poe's "Mellonta Tauta") in the first half of the nineteenth century, or that, earlier than either, Mary Shelley wrote about a creature put together from human parts and revivified through electricity. Nathaniel Hawthorne included scientific speculations among his stories of Puritan guilt, and, as H. Bruce Franklin illustrated in his book Future Perfect, many American writers of the nineteenth century wrote stories and novels identifiable today as science fiction. But before 1926, such works were considered literary adventures, interesting uses of nonrealistic materials--rather like the works of contemporary mainstream literary figures such as Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth, or Doris Lessing. 

What happened in 1926 is that Luxembourg expatriate Hugo Gernsback created the first science-fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, and gave science fiction an identity and a characteristic flavor. The flavor would change as new magazines came along and new editors recruited writers with different ideas and different talents, but the groundwork was laid by Amazing Stories, and science fiction would assume an American identity it retains to this day. As Borges once observed, every writer creates his own predecessors. The same is true of genres. Historians can look back and identify science-fiction stories, but only after the genre had been created. 

The American character of science fiction occurred in spite of the fact that its major influences were European, first Jules Verne, who may have been the greatest force toward an acceptance of this new kind of literature, with his voyages extraordinaires, because he focused his writings almost entirely on the way technology would change humanity's exploration of the earth and the solar system; and then H. G. Wells, the "English Jules Verne," who pioneered, in his "scientific romances," the science-fiction novel of ideas and social concerns, the way technology and science would change humanity. And, at the turn of the twentieth century, the German author Kurd Lasswitz created the novel of space exploration. 

But it took a magazine devoted to these kinds of stories (reprinting in its first issues stories by Poe, Wells, and Verne, "those charming romances of science" by which Gernsback described what he was trying to publish) to create a genre, establish a readership, and attract new writers. After World War II, the genre got exported to Western Europe and then, more slowly, to Eastern Europe and the Far East, generally following the progress of industrialization. The immediate predecessors of science fiction got started when writers noticed the social change created by the Industrial Revolution and the habit of mind derived from the Scientific Enlightenment, and those have been the criteria for developing science fiction in other countries. Where the agricultural past has been strong and social change has been limited (and often resisted), science fiction has had difficulty finding an audience. 

As a final contribution to the genre, Darwin provided a new way of looking at the natural world--and even humanity itself--and science fiction, beginning with Wells and continuing to this day, has been Darwinian--that is, regarding humanity as adaptable and concerning itself with the fate of humanity rather than the fate of any individual. C. P. Snow, in his 1959 "Two Cultures" lecture, summed up the distinction between the literary culture and the scientific culture (with which science fiction writers generally--with some exceptions--identified) as the howl of protest at industrialization by the literary culture while the scientists "have the future in their bones." 

World War II created a promising environment for science fiction, seeming to validate the persistent themes with which it had been ridiculed before the war: the rocket ship and the atom bomb (as well as atomic power). World War II was won in the laboratory and promised a new and maybe more dangerous world. Some twenty years later, with the first manned landing on the moon, Isaac Asimov would say, "we live in a science-fiction world," but publishers and many readers believed that it had happened at the conclusion of the war. Science fiction had an explosion of publishing, mostly in magazines but also in books. Ten years later the magazines would implode, but book publication continued to grow from about seventy-five titles in 1952 to more than two thousand by the 1980s. 

American stories and novels flowed into foreign countries, and particularly into Europe, and their translations made the American brand seem like the only true SF. In Germany, authors even adopted American pseudonyms or signed their work with Americanized spellings to make it seem more legitimate. Gradually, though, the role of American SF began to fade (though it and British SF translations continued to be published), and local cultures began to exert their influences. 

In Germany, that took the form of psychological and philosophic stories and novels, typified by the work of Herbert W. Franke and Wolfgang Jeschke (who also served a vital function as science-fiction editor at the leading publisher of German SF, Wilhelm Heyne Verlag). That compares with the popularity of the pulp hero Perry Rhodan, whose adventures went through nearly two thousand volumes. The situation in Germany was complicated by its postwar division into West and East Germany, with SF selling far better in the GDR and authors, such as Erik Simon, able to sustain a full-time career. All that changed with reunification, and in recent years SF in Germany has become subordinated to fantasy. 

France, the birthplace of Jules Verne, had a different experience. Although American and British SF were common, the French resistance to outside literary influences made France less susceptible to American traditions. French publishers (and presumably readers) seemed fondest of such distinctive voices as A. E. van Vogt (translated by Boris Vian) and Philip K. Dick. The most characteristic French SF questioned reality to the point of absurdism, as in the case of Vian's own fiction, and the mock "pataphysics" of Alfred Jarry. French SF also got politicized by the New Wave and the student uprising of 1968, which also contributed to its decline in recent years. Alex Jakubowski summarized French experience is this way: "French SF had no grimy pulp heritage to mar its credibility. In fact, modern French SF is often a demanding cocktail of Verne, misunderstood American and British genre influences, French pragmatism, and popular romance, with a zest of structuralism, political commentary, and absurdist preoccupations." 

The experience of Eastern Europe was influenced by a background of folktales and a foreground of postwar Soviet influence that encouraged "social realism" or sometimes subtle protests that required sophisticated reading between the lines. Individual writers emerged, Stanistaw Lem in Poland, with his character-focused, literate novels and stories; Josef Nesvadba in the Czech Republic (home of Karel Capek); Mircea Eliade and Ovid S. Crohmalniceanu in Romania, and others in the former Yugoslavia and Hungary. And in the Soviet Union, with its political control of publishing through the Writers Union, there was, nevertheless, a thriving science-fiction community in which the Strugatsky brothers, Arkady and Boris, bestrode the landscape as Lem did in Poland, and published their imaginative fictions with intimations of antigovernmental positions. 

Italy resembled France in its approach to science fiction rather than Germany. The gulf between the mainstream and science fiction was even wider and deeper than the rest of Europe, perhaps because the mainstream tradition extended virtually unbroken back to the Roman Empire, and even with the coming of the Dark Ages, the Church and its monasteries kept classical learning and the past alive. As Carlo Pagetti wrote, "To trace an Italian [SF] tradition is not easy, because of the well-established split between scientific language and 'literary culture.'" The best-known writers have been more in the mainstream tradition, even when using SF tropes: Italo Calvino, Tommaso Landolfi, Dino Buzzati, and Umberto Eco. But American-style SF and works in translation still have an audience. 

While Spain came to science fiction late, Latin America made significant contributions, though primarily from the mainstream, like Italy. Mauricio-Jose Schwarz and Braulio Tavares wrote, "Although deeply influenced by US-UK [SF], modern [SF] in Latin America is also affected by the fantastic tradition of Indian and colonial times, and in some instances by a conscious decision to depart from English-speaking traditions. Latin America's major contribution to science fiction and fantasy (and literature itself) has been 'magic realism,' as practiced by Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Carlos Fuentes." 

In the Far East, China and Japan represent different responses to science fiction and its potential. Japan, with its industrial development, accelerated after World War II, took readily to American-style SF and even fandom, developing SF publishing houses and significant SF authors such as Sakyo Komatsu, Yano Tetsu (a major translator, as well), Ryu Mitsuse, and Shin'ichi Hoshi. At the same time, fantasists from the mainstream, such as Kobo Abe, have contributed significantly to the Japanese tradition. John L. Apostolou describes the Japanese preoccupation as follows: "The future holds no great fascination for most of Japan's SF writers; instead they use the genre to examine the past and the present, attempting to understand their rapidly changing society." Both Japan and China experienced science fiction early in translations of Verne and Wells, but China's development was retarded by the government's identification of SF (particularly after the Communist takeover) as children's literature and valuing it for its contribution to scientific interests and education, with periodic rises and falls due to changes in the political climate, such as the Great Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and the outcry against "spiritual pollution" in 1983. That changed a few years later with the founding of SF World in Chengdu (now the largest-circulation SF magazine in the world) and the opening up of Chinese publishing to foreign SF (particularly U.S. and British) in translation. Major SF writers, with their own Chinese perspective on SF issues, have been Zheng Wenguang and Ye Yonglie. 

All this is changing, just like science fiction itself. New authors are emerging, some of whom are making themselves heard in English-language translations as well as in their native languages. One of the persistent concerns of non-English SF writers has been the difficulty of getting published, and recognized, outside their own countries. Part of that has been due to the cost of translation and the marginal nature of SF mass-market publishing in the United States; part has been the difficulty in translating attitudes to an American readership. Even Stanistaw Lem and the Strugatskys have a readership limited to readers and critics capable of appreciating science fiction that does not seem aware of the Gernsback / Campbell / Boucher / Gold traditions of American science fiction; much of their work, and periodically that of other foreign authors, has been translated into English with critical acclaim but limited commercial success. And yet America, with its thousands of titles published every year and a readership willing to buy most of them, represents the Promised Land of science-fiction publication, and foreign authors yearn for it--both for its financial rewards and for its imprimatur of having been recognized where SF was born. 

What will emerge from this melting pot of tradition and speculation and imagination remains for the future to determine. In the United States, the American brand is shifting as more writers from the mainstream pick up science-fiction tropes and as more writers from science fiction venture into the mainstream, often to considerable acclaim. The magazine influence is dwindling along with circulation; book publishers are becoming more conservative as the major businesses continue to merge and the midlist book, where much of SF emerged, is abandoned. The future of science fiction may lie with the small publishers that have taken over the midlist--and just when foreign SF is beginning to assume a more significant role. 

But that's what keeps SF interesting. 

Lawrence, Kansas 

James Gunn's career has bridged the gap between the writing and study of science fiction. He has received the major awards of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (the Grand Master), the Science Fiction Research Association (the Pilgrim), and random (the Hugo) and has served as president of both organizations. He is the author or editor of forty-one books, including The Immortals, The Listeners, Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction, the six-volume Road to Science Fiction anthology, and the most recent Reading Science Fiction (with Marleen Barr and Matthew Candelaria).

COPYRIGHT 2010 University of Oklahoma

Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.


Some Thoughts... (continued)

I will not attempt here to teach you how to write fiction because quite frankly I do not believe it can be done with modular instruction. Crafting invented stories and converting them into novels and novellas is a highly personalized art form which writers approach in a myriad of disparate ways.

What I will do on the other hand is provide you with some personal thoughts on crafting fiction; thoughts derived from my own experience.


While I have a preference for non-fiction I also write fiction with a modest but nonetheless marked degree of success.

Some writers take one route, some the other; I take both - but only after I managed to master the first: non-fiction.

Why should this be so?

I discovered early on in my writing career that coming to terms with the disciplines of crafting non-fiction dramatically improved my ability to create fiction and to attract proposals for publication of my increasing output.

So why do I write fiction?

Quite simply, to amuse myself, to stretch my reach, to challenge my imagination - and when my offerings are published and other people tell me they like what I create, so much the better.

Having proposals for works of fiction accepted for publication is never easy but with contracts in my pocket for all ten outpourings to date, I am not complaining…


Drawing on the disciplines of one genre I apply them to the other - and so - my golden rule on crafting fiction is to operate solely within the confines of what I know. That is why before tackling a fictional project I visit my subconscious to establish levels of interest, knowledge, and above all expertise.

Functioning in scenarios where I feel comfortable, relaxed, confident, and at ease makes writing fiction a joyous occasion and provides me with a sense of fulfilment.

Article Source: http://www.articlesbase.com/fiction-articles/some-thoughts-on-crafting-fiction-1351963.html

About the Author

JIM GREEN is a bestselling author in the realms of fiction and non-fiction with 37 traditionally published titles to his bow - and more virtual books in distribution than you could shake a stick at... http://how-to-write-cutting-edge-fiction.com

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January, 2012 (no. 1301)


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