Writing advice from Gene Wolfe

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Brad R. Torgersen
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Writing advice from Gene Wolfe

Postby Brad R. Torgersen » Sun Nov 28, 2010 7:23 am

Hat tip to Nancy Kress's blog.

http://www.blackgate.com/2010/11/23/and ... ene-wolfe/

Gene Wolfe wrote:1.) Get up early and write.
2.) Read what you’re trying to write, for Godsakes! (Don’t read enormous fantasy series if you’re trying to write short stories.)
3.) Remember that it is characterizing that puts your story heads and shoulders over the others in the slush pile.
4.) You do not characterize by telling the reader about the character. You do it by showing the character thinking, speaking and acting in a characteristic way. You simply show it and shut up.
5.)Do not start a story unless you have an ending in mind. You can change the story’s ending if you wish, but you should always have a destination.

I agree with 1, 2, and 3. I think 4 is screamingly important, such that 3 and 4 can't be emphasized enough.

I will quibble with 5 a bit, in that discovery writers (I am one of them) seldom know the ending before they start -- the destination if you will -- and even when we do have an ending in mind, often times the story takes on a life of its own along the way and we wind up in a totally different place, compared to where we thought we'd be when we started.
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Re: Writing advice from Gene Wolfe

Postby A.R.Williams » Sun Nov 28, 2010 8:31 am

I often like to construct an ending soon after I write the beginning.

For me, the two are linked. A beginning should be full of possibilities of what the ending could be. And then when you read the ending, you should find the it originates from the beginning.

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Re: Writing advice from Gene Wolfe

Postby Patty » Sun Nov 28, 2010 1:39 pm

I will often know roughly what sort of ending I want, but I don't usually know what shape the ending will take, or where the character will end up.

I also very much agree with reading what you're trying to write. People will often say 'read anything', but I disagree. If you want to write detective stories, there is only a little bit you can learn from reading sappy romances. If you want to be published in a genre, read the best in that genre. Those who were published this year, or last year, not 20 years ago (or more). Yes, you can read those if you have some spare time, but keep up with the current developments in the genre.
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Re: Writing advice from Gene Wolfe

Postby soulmirror » Mon Nov 29, 2010 5:42 pm

"I like the story of the bear in the forest," Alice said, sitting down at the long elegant table.

The Mad Hatter and the March Hare both studied the little girl with glassy mad eyes, then exchanged sly looks of smug opportunity.

"Once upon a time there was a bear in the forest" isn't a Story," the Mad Hatter said.

"Of course it is," Alice said. "There's a bear. In a forest."

"And then what?" the Hatter asked.

"You can begin writing and add heartbreaking pathos and characterization, of course: "Once upon a time there was a little baby bear who was lost in a forest, who was sad and lonely and afraid because its mother had been caught in a trap" ... but you haven't told a Story, have you, until there is an End that offers Meaning," the Hare said. "Punctuation and Meaning."

"Because you cannot tell what it Means," the Hatter smiled, "until it's over. Thus, you cannot write a story until it's done."

"All else is mere "situation" or "episodic" limbo; the writer is Describing, but hasn't yet written a Story," the Dormouse shrieked softly in its sleep. "Yet --"

Alice, the Mad Hatter, and the March Hare all stopped and waited for the Dormouse to complete its thought ... but the small creature only rolled over and went back to sleep.

"Yet, what?" the Hatter sneered in frustration and disgust.

"Perhaps," Alice offered hopefully "He meant to say 'Yeti."

The Mad Hatter gave her an infinitely long look. "That would make perfect sense, yes."

"But we shan't know, ever, then, shall we?" the Hare said, and then looked accusingly towards Alice. "I suppose that makes it another of your favourite stories, doesn't it? It has your sort of skilled denouement, after all."

"I suppose the Story is whatever the Story-teller says it is," sighed Alice, ever so slightly miffed. "And however they choose to write it, is how stories are written. Let's don't ruin a nice tea party with arguing."

Having made her point to her own satisfaction, Alice raised her cup delicately to her lips and drank the tea until it was gone. The Mad Hatter and the March Hare watched her patiently.

"The writer may write that it was a nice tea party," the Mad Hatter finally offered begrudgingly. "But we don't know whether it was nice until the story tells you at the end whether the tea had been poisoned or not."

The tea cup trembled, just once, only momentarily, in Alice's delicate hand.

"Punctuation and Meaning," the Hare nodded wistfully.
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Re: Writing advice from Gene Wolfe

Postby ThomasKCarpenter » Mon Nov 29, 2010 7:56 pm


Take a bow, Soulmirror. :)
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Re: Writing advice from Gene Wolfe

Postby Michael B » Wed Dec 01, 2010 8:16 pm


I don't know if it's the wisest idea to post your WotF entry right on these boards, though... :wink:

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Re: Writing advice from Gene Wolfe

Postby MJNL » Thu Dec 02, 2010 12:23 am

Fantastic! I bow before your wit :D

Look, kids! learning can be fun :shock:

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Re: Writing advice from Gene Wolfe

Postby soulmirror » Fri Dec 03, 2010 5:08 am


'The only tyrant we accept in this world is the still voice within.' -Gandhi
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Re: Writing advice from Gene Wolfe

Postby Gary Davis » Mon Oct 29, 2012 1:43 pm

As if anyone wanted to hear what I have to say. I will get inspiration in the oddest ways. Once it was a big macro shot of a butterfly in the window of a camera shop. Got a lot of mileage out of that and the story is now on hold. Too much grey matter intrusion. But very seldom do I think of en ending though there is an ending buried somewhere in the subconscious that will emerge when the time comes for it. Any hoo I have no set protocol for the creative process. If I feel in the mood to put it in pixel-state I sit down and/or lie down and start thinking. Amazing what can happen when you start thinking.

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Re: Writing advice from Gene Wolfe

Postby lordkevin » Wed Dec 12, 2012 4:12 am

Thanks for the nice post...

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