May 20 2009

Writing to the Point

Published by at 10:32 pm under Writing

I find I haven’t talked about the process of writing nearly as much as I thought I might when I started this. That’s going to change. I’ve been a little reluctant up until now; I know there are many aspiring authors out there, but there are quite a few sites, with authors more experienced than I, offering excellent advice. But perhaps I do have something to offer, if only another viewpoint that might click with someone a little better. (Or, worst case, as a bad example.)

On that note, let me mention a slim (64-page) book of excellent writing advice, Writing to the Point, by Algis Budrys. Algis was a well-respected author and editor in his own right, and served as the managing judge for the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. (Don’t let Hubbard’s name put you off. If there is any connection between the WotF contest and the Church of Scientology, it is by no means apparent to any of the contest participants, and the contest, its online forum, and award events are excellent.) In this little book Budrys offers up brilliant advice in easily absorbed chunks. He distinguishes between a story and a manuscript. A manuscript is one way of presenting the story. The story itself is a character, in context, with a problem, and the attempts and final success in overcoming the problem. Other authors, including Orson Scott Card and Marion Zimmer Bradley, have offered similar advice, but Budrys nails it in fewer and clearer words. Other chapters cover everything from agents (sell your first book first) to ideas to manuscripts to some specific advice on writing science fiction.
Writing to the Point - cover

I had been stalled out on a novel in progress, and after reading this book I realized that I had stalled because I didn’t fully understand the main character’s central problem (a story beginning is a character, in context, with a problem). With that realization I saw where the novel needed to go, and also where I could take an individual chapter and create a stand-alone short story from it. (This offers not only the chance to get paid twice for essentially the same work, but the short can help build a market for the novel.)

If you’re at all interested in writing fiction, I recommend this book. One thing, when I went looking for it on Amazon they only had a couple of used copies at an asking price of $499.98 (!). It is, however, available directly from the publisher (Action Publishing) for only $10.50 plus a couple of bucks shipping. I got my copy in just a few days. (And no, I’m not making anything by linking it, I just think it’s a worthwhile book.)

3 comments so far

3 Responses to “Writing to the Point”

  1. FredJoulddon 28 May 2009 at 1:41 pm

    Thanks, good article.

  2. Brad R. Torgersenon 22 Jun 2009 at 2:58 am

    I still have some rejection slips from Algis, from when he was doing Tomorrow SF.

    “Writing to the Point” is one of those writing books I always hear is essential for young writers, yet I never get around to sleuthing out a copy. Maybe I need to break down and buy the darn thing, finally.

    One thing I have trouble with — which probably explains my lack of sales after so many years — is the setting, character, problem trifecta. Looking at my unsold fiction, going backward in time, I tend to spend a great deal of time on setting and character, but the problem can take pages to surface. Sometimes, the problem never really becomes evident at all?

    Sometimes I think it’s just World Builder Syndrome. I have so much fun on setting that I lose track of the other two legs of the Story Tripod.

    For my first story, post KKR+DWS, I really focused down hard on setting + character + problem = winning combination. In many ways I abandoned world building almost entirely, and went on voice alone to make the tale unique. Otherwise, it’s an action caper with a McGuffin. Hardly original. But since I am also not fretting over “practice pieces” at this point, I consider it a worthwhile exercise.

    Who knows? Maybe it sells?

    Beautiful blog, BTW. Loved the T-Space content!

  3. Alastairon 24 Jun 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Yeah, I have a couple of stories where the problem just isn’t very big. One thing I caught during Dean’s analysis of movie beginnings, in particular Bourne Identity, is that the problem in the beginning (Bourne is floating apparently dead) doesn’t have to be the same problem that sustains the rest of the story (Bourne is rescued, solving that problem, but he has no idea who he is — which is the larger problem of the story).

    Not that there’s anything wrong with McGuffins, either, so long as people are chasing after it for good enough reasons. Sometimes you can combine a McGuffin with a life-or-death situation: in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Ark is a McGuffin, but it’s also “the end of the world as we know it” if it falls into Nazi hands. (Although, from the latter viewpoint the movie fails to have Jones solve the problem, the solution is literally a deus ex machina. It’s the McGuffin story that carries it.)

    And thanks for the kind word on the blog.