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The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells

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Guides writers step by step through the major elements of SF storytelling, showing how to construct strong, editor-attracting stories and novels.


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Guides writers step by step through the major elements of SF storytelling, showing how to construct strong, editor-attracting stories and novels.

30 review for The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells

  1. 4 out of 5

    Brent

    Although the title threw me at first, this turned out to be one of the better books on writing that I have read. A lot of writing books are good as far as they go but often leave you wondering things like: "How do I apply this to a robot?" "Or a vampire?" "Or a transdimensional shape-shifting robot vampire?" But the author handles all that and a lot more, in depth. Important takeaways: * No matter if it's aliens, apocalypses, or apemen, all external conflict exists to highlight the internal conflict. Although the title threw me at first, this turned out to be one of the better books on writing that I have read. A lot of writing books are good as far as they go but often leave you wondering things like: "How do I apply this to a robot?" "Or a vampire?" "Or a transdimensional shape-shifting robot vampire?" But the author handles all that and a lot more, in depth. Important takeaways: * No matter if it's aliens, apocalypses, or apemen, all external conflict exists to highlight the internal conflict. Even science fiction is utlitmately driven by human emotion. * Use emotion vs emotion shorthand to help keep track of your character's inner conflict. Obedience vs Justice Ambition vs Self doubt Loyalty vs Love *Casual name drop, "Oh, and by the way, I wrote a book this one time, The Winds of Altair, you might not have ever heard of it. - OR - Just possibly, it might be that one book you read as a kid that blew your mind and forever hooked you on science fiction. That book you have been beating yourself over the head about, trying remember the title, or the author, or ANYTHING MORE USEFUL THAN THAT IT HAD SOME TELEPATHIC SIX-LEGGED TIGERWOLVES IN IT." (Sound of frantic key-clicks setting the all-time speed purchase record on Amazon) Bottom line: Time well spent.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    I'm not sure I'd recommend this book. First of all, I'm not sure if I'd recommend Ben Bova. He's from a bygone generation of hard-science writers, and I don't think emulating him will get you far today. He includes three short stories in this book, which I skipped most of because I don't much read short stories anyway. There's actually a lot to skip: The short stories, the exegesis of the short stories, and the section on marketing from before the internet age. That's half the book. The other hal I'm not sure I'd recommend this book. First of all, I'm not sure if I'd recommend Ben Bova. He's from a bygone generation of hard-science writers, and I don't think emulating him will get you far today. He includes three short stories in this book, which I skipped most of because I don't much read short stories anyway. There's actually a lot to skip: The short stories, the exegesis of the short stories, and the section on marketing from before the internet age. That's half the book. The other half is extremely variable, ranging from thoughtful to needlessly prescriptive to banal. It suffers from the scourge of all books on writing, which is that sometimes a lovely series of paragraphs will boil down to, "fully flesh out your setting," or, "think about your characters' lives so you can make them real." Not bad advice, but pitched a little low for someone who's been writing for a while. There are some real nuggets though, if you're willing to sift. Plus, as a major added bonus, the book is written in a jaunty, readable and sometimes even funny style. So I learned a little, and also had a little fun.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jonathon

    A really engaging read but I found it too rigid and prescriptive, especially in its tendency towards hard science fiction and discouraging pretty much all other subgenres of science fiction and speculative fiction. I generally don't read "how to write" books because they usually just try to sell hard-and-fast formulae and, while it was a really interesting read, this book is no exception. I did really like the idea of Bova shedding light on the 'construction' of stories, which apparently many wr A really engaging read but I found it too rigid and prescriptive, especially in its tendency towards hard science fiction and discouraging pretty much all other subgenres of science fiction and speculative fiction. I generally don't read "how to write" books because they usually just try to sell hard-and-fast formulae and, while it was a really interesting read, this book is no exception. I did really like the idea of Bova shedding light on the 'construction' of stories, which apparently many writers fail to grasp? I think in bringing my attention to this notion I can be more conscious of story construction with my own writing, it's just a shame it hadn't all been delivered in a less heavy-handed and proscriptive way. Nevertheless, a really interesting and quick read for the budding (hard) SF writer.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jaime

    Interesting and informative read. It was fun to see the breakdown and background of the included stories and how they related to the topics being discussed.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Eoghan Odinsson

    Ben Bova has amazing credentials, and really delivers with this book. His advice is eminently practical and easy to understand. Bova gives detailed advice, then illustrates it via a short story, which is then further analysed to ensure comprehension. Fantastic resource!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Larry

    This is a useful book. Bova presents the very basics of writing, in very simple language, using his own stories as illustrations. He lays out a theory of Character, Background, Conflict, and Plot; presents a story, and then discusses how that story shows the theory worked out in practice. The theory section has a checklist, the practice section reviews the checklist. You probably won't enjoy the stories--I didn't. I had to go back and force myself to read them and look for the points he illustrat This is a useful book. Bova presents the very basics of writing, in very simple language, using his own stories as illustrations. He lays out a theory of Character, Background, Conflict, and Plot; presents a story, and then discusses how that story shows the theory worked out in practice. The theory section has a checklist, the practice section reviews the checklist. You probably won't enjoy the stories--I didn't. I had to go back and force myself to read them and look for the points he illustrated in the practice section. It is just as well that the stories are not overly enthralling, because the reader can more easily study them dispassionately. They do, in fact, illustrate the points Bova is trying to make. You can tell that Bova was an engineer. Checklists, structure, rules (or at least, rules of thumb) -- these seem like the the essence of engineering. Bova provides guidelines for how to avoid mistakes that will sink a novel, but simple engineering will not produce great fiction. A writer must be like an architect. A good architect must be enough of an engineer that his building will not fall down, but enough of an artist that the building is beautiful. This is a book about the craft of writing, and helpful to that extent. I think you'll want to read other books about the art of writing.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Eugene Galt

    First, we should remember what this book is about. The clue is in the title: It is about writing science fiction that sells, by someone with a demonstrated ability to do so. It is not about writing great literature that students will have to read for English class two hundred years from now. Also, it is for the novice writer; established writers, if they bother to pick it up at all, will do well to skim much of it. The author steps us through the basics of character, background, conflict, and plo First, we should remember what this book is about. The clue is in the title: It is about writing science fiction that sells, by someone with a demonstrated ability to do so. It is not about writing great literature that students will have to read for English class two hundred years from now. Also, it is for the novice writer; established writers, if they bother to pick it up at all, will do well to skim much of it. The author steps us through the basics of character, background, conflict, and plot. He helps us avoid the pitfall of making the idea or the world-building the only thing. He reminds us that it’s the writer’s job to make the reader live in the story and tells us how to do that; too many novice writers take it for granted that the burden is on the reader. However, his advice has problems. For example, he contradicts himself by dismissing many sub-genres of science fiction. You may love those sub-genres, or you may hate them, but whether they sell is not up for debate. Also, he ignores the issue of diverse voices. Finally, some of his advice has aged poorly. His advice on marketing to the publishing market is out of date. He emphasizes demand for sub-genres of which there is now a glut.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Robby McAlpine

    Ben Bova is a seasoned and accomplished expert in science fiction writing. So any book about the craft of writing from Bova will be helpful, insightful, and practical to the aspiring author. Bova includes three of his own short stories to illustrate his points, and the dissection of each one was interesting and practical. That being said, parts of the book are out-of-date (it's from 1994, after all), such as the marketing and publishing advice. Self-publishing and e-books aren't mentioned because Ben Bova is a seasoned and accomplished expert in science fiction writing. So any book about the craft of writing from Bova will be helpful, insightful, and practical to the aspiring author. Bova includes three of his own short stories to illustrate his points, and the dissection of each one was interesting and practical. That being said, parts of the book are out-of-date (it's from 1994, after all), such as the marketing and publishing advice. Self-publishing and e-books aren't mentioned because (obviously) neither existed when the book was first written. Which is actually humorous, because in the book, Bova comments that "hard" science fiction -- his preferred genre -- doesn't always stand the test of time when technology catches up to what was previously speculative. Same goes for publishing/marketing advice, it would seem. I would still recommend this book, despite the dated parts. It's an entertaining read, practical without being dryly technical, and made me want to write more, not less.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Cole

    This guide is wonderful, and it doesn't only apply to science fiction or to speculative fiction, for that matter. It works for all types or writing. The author gives examples, in his own writing, of the elements he has reviwed in the previous chapter, and after the sample, he gives a detailed description of how those elements worked in the story, making the theory even clearer. What a great way to explain. The easy-to-apply checkpoint is a plus for a quick recap. There are tips for writing a novel This guide is wonderful, and it doesn't only apply to science fiction or to speculative fiction, for that matter. It works for all types or writing. The author gives examples, in his own writing, of the elements he has reviwed in the previous chapter, and after the sample, he gives a detailed description of how those elements worked in the story, making the theory even clearer. What a great way to explain. The easy-to-apply checkpoint is a plus for a quick recap. There are tips for writing a novel, taking into account all the elements that work for short fiction, tips on finding a publisher and an agent to sell your novel, and even tips on marketing. A complete, easy-to-understand guide for writers. No matter what level you are in your craft, if you are a writer, or want to be one, you should read this book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

    A nuts and bolts guide to the craft of writing science fiction from the viewpoint of a master of the genre. Unfortunately, the advice on agents is completely outdated. (See Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog.) The advice on marketing short fiction was also a little outdated. (See Playing the Short Game by Douglas Smith.) The skew seems to be because of an entrenchment in traditional (i.e. corporate) publishing which has become, at the top level, a toxic environment for authors. (Again, see KKR's blog A nuts and bolts guide to the craft of writing science fiction from the viewpoint of a master of the genre. Unfortunately, the advice on agents is completely outdated. (See Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog.) The advice on marketing short fiction was also a little outdated. (See Playing the Short Game by Douglas Smith.) The skew seems to be because of an entrenchment in traditional (i.e. corporate) publishing which has become, at the top level, a toxic environment for authors. (Again, see KKR's blog.) In the mid-levels, if you're lucky, it's still possible to find a good publisher, but for most new authors, the route will be self-publishing, which Bova failed to mention even once. This lack of industry awareness, coming from a long-time author, is disturbing.

  11. 5 out of 5

    K.R. Queen

    This book is decently helpful and certainly comes from a credible source. There’s lots of valuable advice and fresh ways of thinking about the broad elements that go into speculative writing. That said, the chapters of short stories were dull and hardly helpful to me, and when the advice shifted away from technical approaches to writing and onto the lifestyle of a writer, it was clear that he had a limited perspective that failed to account for the diversity of writers and personalities out ther This book is decently helpful and certainly comes from a credible source. There’s lots of valuable advice and fresh ways of thinking about the broad elements that go into speculative writing. That said, the chapters of short stories were dull and hardly helpful to me, and when the advice shifted away from technical approaches to writing and onto the lifestyle of a writer, it was clear that he had a limited perspective that failed to account for the diversity of writers and personalities out there. So, it’s a useful book but should be kept in perspective.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Kelly

    I am new to writing fiction of any sort. I am a fan of the "hard Science Fiction" genre. The first 20% of this book may be off-putting. It presents a formulaic style of writing an SF story that appears to have been successful for the author when he was editor of Analog magazine in the early 70s. Use the pieces that still make sense. The last 80% of this book is much better. It is full of useful information about writing entertaining fiction, and hard SF, in particular. Much of the advice I had he I am new to writing fiction of any sort. I am a fan of the "hard Science Fiction" genre. The first 20% of this book may be off-putting. It presents a formulaic style of writing an SF story that appears to have been successful for the author when he was editor of Analog magazine in the early 70s. Use the pieces that still make sense. The last 80% of this book is much better. It is full of useful information about writing entertaining fiction, and hard SF, in particular. Much of the advice I had heard elsewhere, but hearing it again, from the perspective of a successful SF author and editor gave me a practical perspective. His discussion of the creative process and working life of a writer sound more from the heart than Stephen King's.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Fritze

    OK, I admit that I skimmed this one and would like to go back and actually read more of it. I read the parts pertaining to sticking points in my own writing, and it was helpful. What's different about this as a craft book is that it includes complete short stories and discusses how to successfully approach one or another aspect of writing. If you're looking for something that analyzes good writing in SciFi, this is it. This is another one that I got used on AbeBooks.com. OK, I admit that I skimmed this one and would like to go back and actually read more of it. I read the parts pertaining to sticking points in my own writing, and it was helpful. What's different about this as a craft book is that it includes complete short stories and discusses how to successfully approach one or another aspect of writing. If you're looking for something that analyzes good writing in SciFi, this is it. This is another one that I got used on AbeBooks.com.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Geno Conte

    First off, did you realize Ben Bova discovered George RR Martin and Orson Scott Card?? I would listen to ANY advice he offers, and this book offers plenty. Bova presents each topic, shows an example of it in one of his own short stories, and finally discusses ways to put the topic into practice. So, you get a how-to and a short story collection in one book. Who could complain?

  15. 5 out of 5

    Amina Elidrissy

    a very useful book about how to write science fiction from a very experienced sci-fi writer highly recommended for anyone interested in writing sci-fi or even a well crafted story

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Bit outdated

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sheila Jenné

    Had some interesting insights. Very out of date on some things, especially the publishing advice.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Anderson

    He doesn't follow his own advice. Too much exposition in the short stories he used as examples, then tooting his own horn. DNF'D half way through. He doesn't follow his own advice. Too much exposition in the short stories he used as examples, then tooting his own horn. DNF'D half way through.

  19. 5 out of 5

    J. Martin, III

    I found it odd that Dr. Ben Bova does not claim to be a scientist. There are three great short stories in this book. Bova explains plenty of technique and the book is worth reading, even if for entertainment only. Not everyone has been or is an editor or part of a space program, yet Bova still encourages us to craft stories with appropriate technique, giving us both confidence and advice. I enjoyed reading this book and plan to utilize the techniques mentioned soon enough, if I have not already. I found it odd that Dr. Ben Bova does not claim to be a scientist. There are three great short stories in this book. Bova explains plenty of technique and the book is worth reading, even if for entertainment only. Not everyone has been or is an editor or part of a space program, yet Bova still encourages us to craft stories with appropriate technique, giving us both confidence and advice. I enjoyed reading this book and plan to utilize the techniques mentioned soon enough, if I have not already. It mentions a free writer's workshop in the end of the book where authors can submit and review stories. It is always an interesting notion to consider the writing of such experts as Bova, especially when they explain literary devices and their opinions. The text of this book actually explains a few notions of what makes great stories stand out among others and is not a total biography. I am thankful for this text and will probably read it again or at least re-read the end-chapter summary key points and consider the techniques with my own pursuits in writing. Great work.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Janett Wawrzyniak

    Ben Bova is the author of more than eighty futuristic novels and non-fiction books. He has been an editor and executive in the aerospace industry. Taught science fiction writing at Harvard University and has expertise in high technology and numerous areas. This book is a practical guide in construction techniques for writing fiction. The special requirements in the science fiction field are demanding. It is vital, exciting, and offers a close and immediate interaction between readers and writers. Ben Bova is the author of more than eighty futuristic novels and non-fiction books. He has been an editor and executive in the aerospace industry. Taught science fiction writing at Harvard University and has expertise in high technology and numerous areas. This book is a practical guide in construction techniques for writing fiction. The special requirements in the science fiction field are demanding. It is vital, exciting, and offers a close and immediate interaction between readers and writers. This book divides character, background, conflict and plot into three parts. With examples this shows how theoretical ideas were handled in an actual story. Then chapters on background, conflict and plot: theory first, then a short story, followed by a chapter on practice using the story as illustration. Then the different demands writing makes on the novelists, and how challenges are met. Next is preparation and the writing task. Marketing novels and short fiction, followed by ideas, style and other successful storytelling techniques. This book is a path of putting information into neural wiring that is basically unchanged. Homer, Goethe and Shakespeare used these techniques. I see this book as the fabric of successful writing, never simple or mechanic. This book offers valuable instruction, and would be perfect as a reference in a personal library. I own a copy of this book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    I find myself somewhat irritated throughout this book by the constant proscription. Throughout the entire book Ben Bova is saying "this is the way it is done, this is why, do not do it any other way. Ever." I always find that this attitude is somewhat limiting and always, I repeat always, guaranteed to get me offside. Because of this, I got a lot less out of the book than I could have. That aside, Ben Bova is certainly in a good position to make the claims that he does; he is a successful and tale I find myself somewhat irritated throughout this book by the constant proscription. Throughout the entire book Ben Bova is saying "this is the way it is done, this is why, do not do it any other way. Ever." I always find that this attitude is somewhat limiting and always, I repeat always, guaranteed to get me offside. Because of this, I got a lot less out of the book than I could have. That aside, Ben Bova is certainly in a good position to make the claims that he does; he is a successful and talented writer, experienced editor and married to a literary agent. He has had the opportunity to closely examine every part of the industry and if you can get past the preachy attitude, he has a lot of excellent advice to give anyone interested in writing science fiction (or writing at all). I would heartily recommend this book to aspiring writers, but like all books of advice, take with salt.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth

    From a writer's perspective this book is excellent. Ben doesn't sugarcoat the industry or the craft. If you want to be a writer, then write. He has chapters on Character, Background, Conflict, Plot and finishes everything with some hints on Marketing your new best seller. Ben has grown up writing science fiction and editing. He has many novels in print and a slough of short stories in various sci-fi magazines. He worked with NASA when we were sending astronauts to the moon. He knows the tech end From a writer's perspective this book is excellent. Ben doesn't sugarcoat the industry or the craft. If you want to be a writer, then write. He has chapters on Character, Background, Conflict, Plot and finishes everything with some hints on Marketing your new best seller. Ben has grown up writing science fiction and editing. He has many novels in print and a slough of short stories in various sci-fi magazines. He worked with NASA when we were sending astronauts to the moon. He knows the tech end of science and the craft of writing. I enjoyed the way he crafted the how to portions of the book. He begins with a chapter on theory. Then he would have a chapter of a short story he has written. Followed by an analysis of the short story in relation to the theory he was teaching. If you want to be a sci-fi writer, this book will get you up to speed in a few days.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Dobbertien

    I found this book to be too narrow-minded. Bova thinks there is only one way to tell a story and write a book. I'm not saying it's wrong, but it's not for everyone. There is good advice to be found, but be careful. His way is not the only way. There are better books out there to help aspiring writers hone their skills. This book is more a formula for how to paste your ideas into a commercial product - not how to broaden your understanding of the craft of writing fiction and thus aiding you in cr I found this book to be too narrow-minded. Bova thinks there is only one way to tell a story and write a book. I'm not saying it's wrong, but it's not for everyone. There is good advice to be found, but be careful. His way is not the only way. There are better books out there to help aspiring writers hone their skills. This book is more a formula for how to paste your ideas into a commercial product - not how to broaden your understanding of the craft of writing fiction and thus aiding you in creating your own novel experience.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Darusha Wehm

    While it is a bit out of date (entirely pre-dates the self-publishing revolution) this is a great resource on how to craft salable fiction. If you ar the next james Joyce, there won't be much in here for you, but if you want to get some nuts and bolts tips on writing commercial fiction, I highly recommend this book. While it is a bit out of date (entirely pre-dates the self-publishing revolution) this is a great resource on how to craft salable fiction. If you ar the next james Joyce, there won't be much in here for you, but if you want to get some nuts and bolts tips on writing commercial fiction, I highly recommend this book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dealyllama

    Not bad but repeated a lot of material I have seen covered elsewhere and done better. There were also a couple of sample stories that I didn't really care for. Nothing about the SF genre stands out here as needing a new book Not bad but repeated a lot of material I have seen covered elsewhere and done better. There were also a couple of sample stories that I didn't really care for. Nothing about the SF genre stands out here as needing a new book

  26. 4 out of 5

    Vee James

    A book for writers of the speculative, not just scifi. As many reviewers have said, practical, easy to implement advice, and sage words from someone who's been to the wars. Ignore his advice at your peril. Highly recommend this as a book you can go back to many times. A book for writers of the speculative, not just scifi. As many reviewers have said, practical, easy to implement advice, and sage words from someone who's been to the wars. Ignore his advice at your peril. Highly recommend this as a book you can go back to many times.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Fredrick Danysh

    Bova gives advice on how to write science fiction for publication. Some of the aspects include character developement, author's voice, and the role of science. Bova gives advice on how to write science fiction for publication. Some of the aspects include character developement, author's voice, and the role of science.

  28. 4 out of 5

    David

    The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells by Ben Bova is a how-to book on writing old school science fiction. The advice seemed decent.

  29. 5 out of 5

    R.J.K. Lee

    Hmm, the book was a mixed bag for me, but worth the quick read-through I gave it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Keith Cochran

    Awesome book on writing science fiction. Ben has examples of what to do and does a great job of explaining it.

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