Class Notes from Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction Stories – Week One

San Francisco Santas

Keep an eye on the world around you and see what stories present themselves.

As I said in class, I’ll be posting notes after each Wednesday session, which all three classes can use to ask questions about or comment on what we covered. I encourage the students to hop into the discussion here, but it’s also open to the public.

We started by talking about what makes a story and the idea of character(s) involved in a conflict with rising tension that moves to a resolution at the end. It’s a pretty classic model and Vonnegut says some useful things about it here. Everyone brought a two line description of the story they’d like to write, and we listened to those and talked about which would work as is for stories and which need some narrowing down.

In discussing how we know when a story will be good, we looked at the first few paragraphs of stories by Carol Emshwiller, Joe Hill, and Kurt Vonnegut. I asked you to, in the coming week, look particularly at how people begin stories, and for Week 2, people will be bringing in a story beginning by someone else that knocks their socks. I mentioned that there’s plenty of online magazines to find speculative fiction in and here’s a brief starter list for you (feel free to add recommendations in the comments): Abyss & Apex, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld, Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, and One of the things I mentioned is that reading other people’s short fiction, particularly good stuff, is important: you’ll find more story ideas coming to you, you’ll learn new tricks from them, and you’ll become familiar with the markets you hope to sell to.

We also spent some time on writing process and the idea of timed writings, as taken from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and did some in class. Feel free to post yours here if you like it. I urged you to spend some time this week thinking about your writing process and perhaps trying to change it up a little: writing by hand instead of the keyboard, or in a place you don’t normally write.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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