Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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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 Comments Advice for young aspiring writers

  1. Maureen E

    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. Pete+Mack

    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. Rachel

    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. Craig

    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. Rachel

    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. Craig

    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. Rachel

    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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