Advice for young aspiring writers

Here’s a guest post I wrote so long ago, I didn’t remember what I said till I read what I wrote.

The take-home message: in my opinion, you learn to write well by reading top-notch books. As a little boost in that direction, I included a short list of some great authors.

How old were you when you learned to tell the difference between great writing and mediocre writing? Or between mediocre writing and poor writing? I mean, I remember I liked The Sword of Shanarra just fine the first time I read it. I don’t remember how old I was at the time. Young. Later, in grad school, I found a friend of mine reading one of the dreadful Sword sequels. She thought it was fine. No offense intended to Terry Brooks, but that was when I realized that some people just never do learn to distinguish between great writing and, uh, less great writing.

I still don’t see how that’s possible. But certain bestsellers make it plain that the quality of the writing is not what matters to a good many readers. I would reference Fifty Shades here but in fact I haven’t read even a page of it, so I really shouldn’t. (But kind of did, yes.)

Here’s one category I left out in my guest post: for capturing the alien viewpoint — CJ Cherryh. Daniel Kerns (Jacqueline Lichtenberg). Martha Wells’ Raksura trilogy, actually, though that’s more subtle in some ways. I’m missing somebody, but I can’t think who. Who else does a great job with aliens that think like themselves and not like humans?

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8 thoughts on “Advice for young aspiring writers”

  1. For all my other problems with Orson Scott Card, I generally found the way the buggers are portrayed to be pretty effective. Not as much as Cherryh for sure, but certainly thought-provoking. And–I too feel like there’s something pretty obvious I’m forgetting here. Ack!

  2. K. D. Wentworth, who, sadly, passed away two years ago.
    I just love the Jao (Course of Empire) books. And Black on Black is very good as a rookie book. (The sample chapters include the whole book.)

  3. Somebody else is going to have to fill in this mysterious blank for us!

    I admit I think hive-minds are pretty thoroughly unbelievable, so that’s not my favorite alien trope.

  4. Some authors who probably aren’t the one you’re thinking of, because it’s one alien instead of being a theme in their writing:

    Octavia Butler: the oankali.
    Vernor Vinge: the tines.
    Stanley Weinbaum, Tweel from “A Martian Odyssey,” the golden-age classic.

  5. It was Octavia Butler! THAT was who I was forgetting! Yes!

    And, yes, I should have remembered the tines — the only “hive mind” in all of fiction that is actually believable.

    Uh, I’m sure I read “A Martian Odyssey”, but I have to admit, my memory of it seems pretty vague.

  6. Rachel, has Butler done other aliens I’m forgetting or haven’t read? (I guess some of her super-psychics end up pretty alien even if they’re human-descended, but I’d still hesitate to count them as alien.)

    Also, I tried to reconstruct when I started to distinguish between good and not-so-good writing, but I really couldn’t. I mean, I can set bounds, but they’re years & years apart: not useful.

    Pete, if memory serves me correctly, I didn’t think A DEEPNESS IN THE SKY was all that successful at giving an alien view. But the in-world declaration that the alien-viewpoint chapters were really “translations” into a more-human viewpoint was a neat technique to amplify the level of strangeness.

  7. Craig, yes, in SURVIVOR, although those aliens were pretty much humans with fur. I did like the book, though. Even though I know Butler herself didn’t.

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