Showing posts with label science fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label science fiction. Show all posts

Monday, February 17

Best Fonts For Genre Book Covers

One of the most difficult things about creating a book cover is selecting a font. I'll try Impact and maybe Engravers MT and then reach for Lucida and then ... you get the idea. It's a hodge-podge of guesswork. Eventually I'll trip over something that works but there's got to be a better way.

Derek Murphy has come to the rescue. 

DM takes some of the guesswork out of selecting a font by arranging them by genre. His article, entitled 300+ Fool-Proof Fonts to use for your Book Cover Design (an epic list of best fonts per genre), is a keeper.

He includes fonts for the following categories:

- Romance
- Science Fiction
- Thriller
- Fantasy
- Horror
- Paranormal Romance

More good news: many of the fonts are free!

In the image, above, I've included Derek Murphy's font recommendations for fantasy. Head over to DM's site to see the others. A valuable article.

If you liked this article you might also like: How To Design A Great Looking Book Cover.

Photo credit: Fantasy Fonts by Derek Murphy over at

Monday, April 22

How Robert J. Sawyer Writes A Novel

How Robert J. Sawyer Writes A Novel

I just came across this interview with Hugo and Nebula Award winner, Robert J. Sawyer.

How Robert Sawyer creates his characters

The characters almost always come out of the research I do. For instance, in Frameshift, Pierre Tardivel started out simply as a man at risk for a genetic disorder, but as I learned more about such things, his background, motivations, and thoughts grew more complex and subtle. I really do believe what Nobel laureate Ralph Bunche said: "If you want to get across an idea, wrap it up in a person."

Robert Sawyer's advice for aspiring science fiction authors:

As a business, science fiction is very similar to mystery. Both have healthy short-fiction marketplaces, dominated by Dell Magazines — the same people who publish Ellery Queen's and Hitchcock's also publish the top two science-fiction magazines, Analog and Asimov's. Both genres are series oriented: if you want to develop a character and write book after book about him, her — or it — you can. Both are convention-driven businesses: just as there are lots of mystery conventions, so, too, there are lots of science-fiction conventions. And both are research-driven genres. You can't write a really good mystery without doing lots of research; the same is true of science fiction. My advice for those wanting to break into science fiction is the same advice I'd give for those wanting to break into mystery: start with short fiction, then try to sell a novel. And, just as in mystery, I'd say the greenest pastures are in New York; don't be afraid to tackle the American market, and don't worry about your Canadian content — I've never had the slightest problem selling flagrantly Canadian work in the States.
Read the rest of Robert J. Sawyer's interview here: Fingerprints Interview of Robert Sawyer.

Credits: "From the December 1997 issue of Fingerprints, the newsletter of the Crime Writers of Canada. Interview conducted in November 1997 by Jim McBride."

Other articles you might like:

- Walter Benjamin's Advice To Writers
- 5 Rules For Writing A Murder Mystery: Keeping the Murderer Secret Until The End
- How To See Through Your Character's Eyes

Photo credit: "I am Chicago" by kevin dooley under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, December 6

Connie Willis And 11 Ways To Write Great Dialogue

Connie Willis On How To Write Great Dialogue

Connie Willis knows her stuff. She's won 11 Hugo Awards, 7 Nebula Awards and been inducted into the Science Fiction Museum and Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

When I read the article Connie Willis on Dialogue it was no surprise that Ms. Willis gave great advise. Here are the highlights:

1. Dialogue & Conversation

Real dialogue would be very difficult to read. I ride the buss a lot and half the time I have no idea what people are talking about. It's a game I play to try and find out.

A: "Did you remember?"
B: "What? Oh. Right. Yea. Before I left."
A: "How did she take it?"
B: (Shrug) "Okay I guess. Oh, don't forget dinner."
A: "Mary?"
B: (Nods)

For all I know, Mary's the main course! (Or perhaps I'm thinking that because I just wrote about what makes a story scary.) The author writes:
[W]ritten dialogue tries to sound like speech, but it’s more coherent.  It’s a suggestion of how speech sounds rather than the real, often incomprehensible, things we say to each other.

2. Better than real life

Good dialogue is idealized speech. Our characters say the things we wish we would have said in real life. They get to be witty and effervescent.

3. Skip The Boring Bits

Don't bother having your characters say hello. Skip to the important bits.
Writers often start dialogue with meaningless greetings or idle, warm-up chit chat.  Part of “distilling” dialogue is starting with the important, plot-relevant speech.

4. Dialogue First, Description Second

Let's say two of your characters are having a conversation. Write it out. Everything. Don't pause to describe the setting, what the characters are thinking, any actions that are occurring, and so on.

That's the first step. The next step is to cut half of it out. Snip, snip. You want to distill the conversation down to its essentials.

5. No Long Speeches

Period. They are dry, and dull and boring.

6. Dialogue With Action

Don't just have your characters standing around talking, have them doing something. Think of the last movie you watched. Actors rarely just stand still, look at each other and talk. They're walking, fighting, making love, whatever, but--generally--they don't just stand around and talk.

7. Using Dialogue To Forshadow

I read somewhere that you want to implant a question in your readers mind with the first sentence of your story. Changes, by Jim Butcher, is a great example:
I answered the phone, and Susan Rodriguez said, "They've taken our daughter".
The question: What daughter? That was how Harry--as well as the reader--learnt he had a child. Excellent hook. (Also, who took the daughter and why did they take her and where is she. That was a magnificent opening line.)

Good dialogue doesn’t ... just give information.  It can hint of information the reader will want to know, particularly at the beginning of the story ....  The characters are talking about something that is clearly meaningful for them, but they aren’t aware of the unseen eavesdropper, the reader, so the conversation can raise a question ....  They’ll keep reading to find out what the characters in the story were talking about.

8. Make Your Characters Angry

Put your characters in a jar and shake it. Make them angry, make them fight and say things, deep cutting things, things they mean--or not. Often we get a peek into what a person is really like when they're angry, what they're prepared to do.

 9. Be Subtle/Show Don't Tell

How many times has a guy walked up to the girl he loves and said, "I love you"? Probably not often. He's scared that she won't feel the same way about him and, besides, most of the guys I know would rather go through dental surgery without anesthetic than talk about their feelings.

A lot of times we tell each other things without saying them. Thinks like: "I love you. I miss you." We communicate it in our tone of voice, in the things we do, or don't do. In pauses and blushes, in stammering and in smiles.

Robert Sawyer gave an excellent workshop on this subject. My notes are here: Robert J. Sawyer: Showing Not Telling.

10. Dialogue: Character Reaction

In life we often gauge the seriousness, or importance, of something that was said by the reactions of people around us. It's the same in dialogue. Have your supporting characters show the importance of what's being said.
Important dialogue is hardly ever important to just the person who is saying it.  We understand the importance of what people are saying by how other characters respond to it.

11. Banter Is The Highest Form of Dialogue

This is how the dictionary defines banter: The playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks. Whenever I think of banter I think of the opening scenes of Pulp Fiction.

Banter is two characters on the top of their games, both saying exactly the right, clever, witty, penetrating comment at exactly the right time.  Banter is like a long rally in an epic tennis match.  The characters are smarter, snappier and funnier than real dialogue.
I'd encourage you all to read the article Connie Willis on Dialogue for yourself, there was a lot I didn't cover. Happy dialoguing! :)

Other articles you might like:
- Writing Horror: What Makes A Story Scary?
- Self Publishing on Amazon: Kindle Direct Publishing
- 19 Ways To Grow Your Twitter Following

Photo credit: "Heated Argument /口角" by Ding Yuin Shan 丁雲山 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, November 22

Robert J. Sawyer: Showing Not Telling

Robert J. Sawyer: Show Don't Tell

Robert J. Sawyer & Dirty Harry

For my second post today I want to share my notes from a workshop I took with consummate science fiction novelist Robert J. Sawyer.

The first time I heard Mr. Sawyer speak was on the first stop of his book tour for WWW: Watch last year. If you ever have the opportunity to hear Robert Sawyer talk--whether it is a keynote address, a book launch or a workshop--I'd advise you to grab it. He's a terrific speaker.

Here's an example: Mr. Sawyer's workshop was held on the morning of the third day of the conference and everyone, including Mr. Sawyer, was tired. I think we all wished we'd had one more cup of our favorite caffeinated beverage.

Dirty Harry and Backstory

Regardless, Mr. Sawyer gave a great talk and, at the end, opened the floor to questions. Someone asked him about backstory, how much was enough. Here's what he said (this is from my memory and is not verbatim):
Great question! You want to put backstory in when its relevant to the other characters. For instance, perhaps you all remember a scene that goes something like this:
Here Mr. Sawyer assumed the manner and voice of Clint Eastwood and proceeded to act out the iconic scene from Dirty Harry:
I know what you're thinking, punk. You're thinking "did he fire six shots or only five?" Now to tell you the truth I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and will blow you head clean off, you've gotta ask yourself a question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk? (Memorable quotes for Dirty Harry)
But of course that's all backstory. Or an information dump, but that's what a lot of backstory is. The scene only works if the reader/audience understands that Harry doesn't remember how many bullets he has and what will happen to 'punk' if there's even one left. That information is critically important to 'punk'. That's why the scene works, and works beautifully.

I'd never thought of it that way before.

That's the sort of thing I've come to expect from Robert Sawyer. He's knowledgeable, witty, a great teacher, and knows how to make a crowd laugh, even first thing in the morning on the third day of a conference!

Show Don't Tell

RS's example of what telling versus showing:

Mary was old.
Mary moved slowly across the room, her hunched form supported by a polished wooden cane gripped in a gnarled, swollen-jointed hand that was covered by translucent, liver-spotted skin. (Robert Sawyer)
When we 'tell' we're using straight expository text. What is the big difference between the examples above? In the "showing" example RS didn't use the word "old". The reader inferred it.

Interactive Reading

Prose fiction is a form of interactive media. Lectures are boring, books shouldn't be. Make your stories interactive.

What is our goal? Why do we write? We want to ENTERTAIN readers. You want to engage your reader, you want to bring their cognitive functions to the story.

Convey information actively. You want your readers to find your work EVOCATIVE.

How do you do this? Look for TELLING DETAIL.

Singh had a reputation for being able to cut through layers of bureaucracy and get things done. (Robert Sawyer)
Chang shook his head and looked at Pryce. "All this red tape! We'll never get permission in time."

Suddenly the office door slid open, and in strode Singh, a slight lifting at the corners of his mouth conveying his satisfaction. He handed a ROM chip to Chang. "Here you are, sir — complete government clearance. You can launch anytime you wish."

Chang's eyebrows shot up his forehead like twin rockets, but Singh was already out the door. He turned to Pryce, who was leaning back in his chair, grinning. "That's our Singh for you," said Pryce. "We don't call him the miracle worker for nothing." (Robert Sawyer)


Showing is descriptive. Dialogue by its nature is telling. But you can still show some things. For instance, through the words used. Is the person speaking educated, uneducated? Do they speak with an accent? What kind?

One caution, though. Avoid being offensively steriotypical.

Show Using Action

Let's say you want to introduce the information that a character is an engineer but you don't want to outright say, "Mark is an engineer".

RS gave an example--which I didn't have time to write down in detail--in which a person walks into a boardroom, sits down, his iron ring clicks against the glass of water as he takes a sip, etc. The point is that we use the (more-or-less) well-known fact that engineers wear iron rings to actively (ring pinging against the side of the glass) plant the idea that this character is an engineer.

It's always more interesting to receive information in an active way. The next time you're watching a movie notice how often the characters will be walking around, doing something active, while receiving the obligatory information dump. And it makes a difference. The same applies to writing.

When Telling Is Okay

You don't always want to show rather than tell.

a. Don't bother showing if it's not on the test.

If you spend a lot of time describing something, if you show something, that lets your reader know it's significant. On the other hand, if you tell them something that lets the reader know it's not significant.

RS said this is how he thinks of it: Is this on the test? If you're wondering if it would be okay to tell something rather than show it ask yourself: Is this on the test? Will this be important later? Is it important to the story? Does the reader need to know this in order for the resolution to make sense? If it doesn't then you can tell it.

For instance, if your story hinges on it being the dead of winter then you'll want to spend several paragraphs describing this. If it doesn't then you won't.

Also, pay attention to imagry.

Spring --> rebirth
Fall ---> crumbling decay
Winter --> dead, depressed, stalled

You don't have to show everything, you don't have to show something if it's not on the test.

b. Don't bother showing if you're on the first draft.

When you're writing the first draft you don't know what the next twist is.

If you're only writing in declarative prose then if you have writer's block you can go back and write a previous scene in detail. Flesh it out.

For instance, in Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury could have written "It was summer" and then gone back and wrote "I remember a summer that would never end".

c. Don't bother showing in your outline

It's okay to write in your outline "and then an epic battle occurs". You'll fill this in when the time comes. And if your outline changes it will save you wasting time on a scene that will never make it into the final draft.

Audience Questions

i. Description in adult versus young adult literature

One of the questions Robert Sawyer was asked was whether there is a difference in Young Adult literature regarding how much description you should give. Mr. Sawyer said you might want to be sparser in your description. You can't put in as many details. You can't list 20 things about the old church on the hill, you can only list 3 so you have to be careful you make those three do the work of 20.

ii. Too much specificity can hinder reader identification

For instance, if you want your reader to identify with a character you could write, "A beautiful woman walked through the door" and leave the reader to fill in the details. What color her hair is, how much she weighs, how tall she is.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, what you consider beautiful might not be what another person does.

#  #  #

That's it! I'll try to remember to put up my notes from Robert Sawyer's other workshop, The Intimately Human and the Grandly Cosmic. There he spoke about what Science Fiction is, what genre is. Also, I sat in on Anne Perry's workshop, Where Did They Come From (about characters and characterization) again this year and, again, it was wonderful.

 Have a great Thanksgiving! :-)

Other articles you might like:

- Happy Thanksgiving, Battlestar Galactica & Kris Rusch
- 8 Do's And Don'ts Of Writing Fiction From Neil Gaiman
- Writers: How To Use Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales

- All the examples, above, of showing versus telling are copyrighted by Mr. Sawyer.

Photo credit: "I Love October" by Pink Sherbet Photography under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, August 20

10 Science Fiction Books That Changed the Course of History

When I saw this article at I thought the title was a bit ambitious but after seeing the books they picked, maybe not! What do you think?
Here are 10 seminal science fiction novels that changed the world as we know it.

1) The Tom Swift Series
First appearing in 1920, Tom Swift, the teenage homeschooled genius inventor and protagonist of over one hundred stories — ghostwritten by a bullpen of authors under the pseudonym "Victor Appleton" –- inspired innumerable children to take an interest in science, including futurist/writer/inventor Ray Kurzweil, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Steve Wozniak, who credits the character directly for his becoming a scientist. Jack Cover, inventor of the Taser, was inspired to create a less-lethal alternative to guns after reading about a similar device Swift had created, and then decided to name it after the character: "Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle".

2) Neuromancer
William Gibson's classic novel that popularized the cyberpunk subgenre is often cited as an indirect influence in the development of the Internet – in the words of fellow SF writer Jack Womack, "What if the act of writing it down, in fact, brought it about?" More concretely, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, cites Arthur C. Clarke's short story Dial F. for Frankenstein, in which a network of computers linked together learn to think autonomously, as a childhood influence.

3) Gladiator
Philip Wylie's 1930 novel, about the excellently named "Professor Abednego Danner", who invents an "alkaline free radical" serum that imbues those who ingest it with insectile powers, served as the inspiration for the modern superhero. In the story, Danner uses the serum on his unborn child, Hugo, giving him the proportional strength of an ant, the leaping ability of a grasshopper, super speed, and
bulletproof skin. As Hugo grows up, his parents teach him to use his powers responsibly, causing him to be bullied at school, but he finds relief by cutting loose in the wilderness surrounding his rural hometown. Sound familiar? It doesn't end there – Hugo later becomes a star quarterback, but after accidentally killing a football player, he quits in disgrace, joins the French Foreign Legion, and fights in World War I. After the war, he returns home and gets a job as a bank teller, though is fired after ripping off the vault door while rescuing a suffocating employee. He then continues on to two other short-lived careers in politics and Mayan archeology before the story's tragic finale. Although Hugo never dons a costume or sets out to fight crime, Wylie's brief novel managed to predict nearly every classic superhero origin, impacting 20th Century pop culture like nothing else — and now, ninety years later, real-world superheroes are taking the streets, and though none of them have super powers like Hugo, Grant Morrison posits it's only a matter of time and expense until one does.

4) The War of the Worlds
The grandfather of the modern alien invasion story, H.G. Wells' novel has a cultural impact that's staggering, but is also responsible for at least one planetary molding feat: Robert H. Goddard, inventor of the liquid-fueled rocket, decided to dedicate his life to the subject after reading the story as a teenager –- his research eventually culminated with the Apollo program, and man's landing on the moon. It's also believed the Robertson Panel held the legendary fallout of Orson Welles 1938 radio adaptation as evidence why the existence of UFOs should be downplayed, and extraterrestrial evidence withheld from the public.

5) The World Set Free
Another, lesser-known H.G. Wells novel is also responsible for a cataclysmic development: the invention of the H-Bomb. In the story, Wells predicts atomic energy, and the development of a new kind of bomb based on a nuclear reaction, resulting in a "continuing explosive" that would detonate repeatedly for days. Physicist Leo Szilard — another incredible name – read the story in 1932, and the neutron was discovered later that year. In 1933, inspired by the story, Szilard developed the idea of a neutron chain reaction, patented the idea in 1934, and eight years later, we saw the development of the Manhattan Project.

6) Brave New World
Aldous Huxley's novel indirectly helped snuff out embryonic stem cell research in the United States –- cabinet member Jay Lefkowitz dissuaded president G.W. Bush on the concept by reading him passages from the novel describing humans born and bred in hatcheries. Bush, according to Lefkowitz in Commentary Magazine, "got scared". When he had finished reading, Bush responded, "We're on the edge of a cliff. And if we take a step off the cliff, there's no going back. Perhaps we should only take one step at a time."

7) Shockwave Rider
John Brunner's 1975 novel about a man on the run from a networked society who uses a "worm program" to rewrite his identity and escape, proved to be a remarkably prescient text, accurately predicting
large-scale networks, hacking, phreaking, genetic engineering and the computer virus. The book's description of a destructive, self-replicating program capable of eliminating secret bonds inspired Xerox PARC researchers John F. Shoch and John A. Hupp to create their own version – a program designed to seek idle network CPU cycles, but would expeditiously grow beyond the intentions of its programmer. In
turn, Shoch and Hupp named their creation a "worm", and the modern virus was born, leaving untold misery and Super Human Samurai Syber Squad in its wake.

8) Snow Crash
Neal Stephenson's popular novel and its virtual Metaverse inspired both the creation of the MMORPG Second Life, and the popularization of the term "avatar", a Sanskrit word meaning "to cross over" (though was actually first repurposed to mean "digital manifestation" in the 1986 video game Habitat.) As in the Metaverse, Second Life allows users to interact through personal avatars and create communities following agreed upon systems. (Former Microsoft VP J. Allard uses the name Hiro Protagonist- the hero and protagonist- as his handle) Snow Crash's Earth program also presupposed (and according to a cofounder, directly inspired) both Google Earth and Bing Map.

9) 1984
George Orwell's novel shaped forever the ways in which we view Totalitarianism as a system of government. But it also changed the ways we think about institutional brainwashing and ubiquitous surveillance. Orwell gave us a whole arsenal of new words to talk about oppressive systems, including "Big Brother," "Room 101," "the Thought Police," "thoughtcrime," "unperson" "doublehink" and "memory hole." Where would the blogosphere be without Orwell's lexicon? Whenever you end a word with -speak, you're indirectly quoting Orwell.

10) Frankenstein
Mary Shelley's seminal 1817 novel about a mad scientist who creates artificial life has helped to inspire the real-life science of synthetic biology. Scientist Craig Venter and other innovators have created synthetic organisms in the lab, including a complete M. capricolum organism. People regularly refer to the creation of synthetic life forms as the "Frankenstein moment" for biology. And it's easy to see why — Shelley's novel gave us the first instance of the idea of creating artificial life forms.