Now Write!: Science Fiction, Fantasy, And Horror: Speculative Genre Exercises From Today’s Best Writers And Teachers, edited by Laruie Lamson
In reading a book like this one is going to have areas where one agrees and disagrees with the perspective of a given writer, where material will be stronger and where it will be weaker. Especially when it comes to speculative fiction, there are going to be elements where one finds greater resonance with the material and genre aspects one wants to do better and practice more and where one has less interest. Speaking personally, for example, I have an interest in fantasy that is relatively strong and a lesser but still-present interest in science fiction, but I have very little interest in horror, and so this book had varying degrees of interest depending on which elements were being focused on. There was an air of tension in this particular book between the desire of the authors to claim on occasion that they had no particular insight in how to write genre stories that was belied by the fact that they were being sought for this collection precisely because of their perceived insight in having been published in these genres, ranging from more mainstream to considerably more edgy options.
This book is a bit more than 350 pages long and is divided into several sections with short essays and suggested exercises from a wide variety of readers. So we begin with various writers discussing how it is that someone can understand the speculative genre that they are dealing with as well as the influence on subgenres on the plot and main characters. After that there is a discussion of various ways that would-be authors can find inspiration through discussion of magic or a look at one’s childhood or how it is to receive creativity on demand. After this there is a discussion on story development and plotting that also depends on the sort of material that is being examined, including putting other stories in space, dealing with dystopian fiction, and looking at story endings as a key element in the plot. There is also a discussion of high stakes and terror and the way that people can deal with diabolical evil and take advantage of cinematic beats to ramp up the terror and fear in the reader’s response. There is then a discussion of worldbuilding that looks at history as well as the importance of having some sort of rules in place for one’s world. Several essays then deal with theme and meaning. After that comes some discussion on how to make heroes, villains, and monsters memorable. Several essays deal with communication and relationships, before others talk about scene construction and style, and still others provide opportunities for readers to practice their craft. After this the book ends with a discussion of contributor websites/pages, information about the editor, and various permissions.
Speculative fiction has typically been viewed in a negative sense by many cultural gatekeepers, and the authors seem to think that this is mainly because of the popular nature of such genres. Yet on occasion some of the authors themselves demonstrate a lack of awareness of certain elements that make the genres they are writing about compelling. Even so, I frequently judge a book like this by how it inspires my own writing and this particular volume did give me the idea for some stories that I may try out in the future, and that is certainly something that I may have to consider as being worthwhile. If the authors of this book seemed more interested in social causes than in respect for the origins and traditions of speculative fiction, there are at least a few nods to the past in terms of referencing Tolkien’s work or including Mary Shelly’s discussion of why it is that she wrote Frankenstein in the first place and how she was inspired to do so. A knowledge of how it was that people in the past were inspired to create speculative fiction can help contemporary writers find the same sorts of inspiration themselves, and that is worth appreciating.