The friend o’ mine embarking upon a program of self-loathing and torture bit of sci fi writing asked me about my influences, including novels and short stories. So I took a quick turn about my shelves in search of. I have lots, yet they’re only a tiny fraction of the SF universe, and tend to cluster around just a few decades and authors. So grain o’ salt, follow your own star and all that.
The list appears below, but first, I shall say a few words about reading in order to become a writer.
All writers will, of course, tell you that you must be a reader first, and that is true. Reading the works of other authors is the only way to get a broad and intimate view of the art of wordsmithing. I’ve listed my influences here, meaning those authors whose work was particularly potent, the stuff with staying power. But they don’t include the vast number of authors I read who were wretchedly bad, or indifferent, or classic but not particularly influential to me – at least, no consciously. But all were valuable. The bad ones taught me which mistakes to avoid, boosted my self esteem, and gave me hope that if they could make it, so could I. The indifferent ones taught me how to punch my own writing up; without them, I may not have recognized the dull bits. And the classics gave me a solid grounding in what used to be state-of-the-genre, and probably taught me much more than I knew, even when they weren’t firing me up.
Reading fiction is essential, but so is reading about the craft of fiction writing. To that end, I’ve included a short list of books that were particularly helpful in turning me from a rank amateur into someone who could scribble things of interest outside the immediate circle of family and friends and others who felt they owed me shameless flattery. I’ve read a lot of books on writing. Some have been rather hackneyed attempts to take advantage of inexperienced but eager people, but many more have been quite useful. Some writers can teach themselves the craft, but it’s always helpful to have good teachers.
But it’s not just books on how to write that are useful teaching tools. Get your hands on books about some of your favorite authors and their creations. Look for biographies, literary criticism, philosophy of their worlds, science of their worlds, other authors’ essays on how awesome that author was and how their own writing was influenced by, etc. Choose one or two or a few amazing authors, and delve into their craft, learning as much as you can about how they did what they did.
Read collections. Collections of the best, the boldest, the cutting edge, the classics. There are endless anthologies out there – avail yourself of them. Stuff yourself with stories until you’re overflowing.
And speaking of stories, don’t forget they’re found in more than prose works. Read comics: there is some extraordinary storytelling being done there in those colorful pages. Watch teevee: many television series can teach you essentials of the craft you may not have picked up from your reading. So can movies. And don’t forget to listen to the commentary, where you can pick up all sorts of useful tips and tricks. Video games, I’m assured by those who play them, can also contain amazing stories and provide inspiration. And all of these very visual (and sometimes auditory) mediums can help you visualize your tale in the kind of vivid detail it takes to help create story worlds your readers feel they’re actually in, story people they feel are more real than the flesh-and-blood folk around them.
Finally, don’t forget that influences and inspiration come from all sorts of unexpected places: it’s not just within your genre or things immediately related to the art and craft of storytelling that will influence you. Be prepared for anything. Consider each moment, each experience, to be potential fodder. A writer never stops writing, even when they’re not putting words on a page; words aren’t always what influence our writing the most.
That said, words are important. Here is a list of people who are very good with words indeed, and books that may help you on the journey.
Books on Writing
A note on submissions: most of these books were written before the electronic age. Find another source for current submissions guidelines.
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. (No, I can’t stand him as a human being, but that doesn’t change the fact this book was invaluable when I was just starting out.)
Elements of Fiction Writing series by Writer’s Digest Books.
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas. Sounds like a gimmick, I know, but it’s solid advice by a good agent and helped me immensely.
Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy by the Editors of Analog and Asimov’s. It’s worth it for Connie Willis alone.
World Building by Stephen L. Gillett.
The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.
Redshift. Al Sarrantonio, ed.
Again, Dangerous Visions. Harlan Ellison, ed.
Flights. Al Sarrantonio, ed.
Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Datlow et al, eds.
Fairy Tale Series. Datlow and Windling, eds.