terça-feira, 21 de abril de 2009

The craft of writing Science Fiction that sells - Ben Bova


All my life I have been a writer.

Well, almost. As far back as I can remember I was writing stories or telling them to friends and
family When I was in junior high school I created a comic strip― strictly for myself; I had no
thought of trying to publish it. And I enjoyed reading, enjoyed it immensely. Back in those days,
when I was borrowing all the books I was allowed to from the South Philadelphia branch of the
Free Library of Philadelphia, I had no way of knowing that every career in writing begin with a
love of reading.

It was in South Philadelphia High School for Boys (back in those sexually segregated days)
that I encountered Mr. George Paravicini, the tenth-grade English teacher and faculty advisor for the school newspaper, The Southron. Under his patient guidance, I worked on the paper and
began to write fiction, as well.

Upon graduation from high school in 1949, the group of us who had produced the school
paper for three years and published a spiffy yearbook for our graduating class decided that we
would go into the magazine business. We created the nation s first magazine for teenagers,
Campus Town. It was a huge success and a total failure. We published three issues, they were all
immediate sellouts, yet somehow we went broke. That convinced us that we probably needed to
know more than we did, and we went our separate ways to college.

While I was a staff editor of Campus Town I had my first fiction published. I wrote a short story
for each of those three issues. I also had a story accepted by another Philadelphia magazine, for
the princely payment of five dollars, but the magazine went bankrupt before they could publish it. I worked my way through Temple University, getting a degree in journalism in 1954, then took a reporter’s job on a suburban Philadelphia weekly newspaper, The Upper Darby News.
I was still writing fiction, but without much success. Like most fledgling writers, I had to work
at a nine-to-five job to buy groceries and pay the rent.

I moved from newspapers to aerospace and actually worked on the first U.S. space project, Vanguard, two years before the creation of NASA. Eventually, I became manager of marketing for a high-powered research lab in Massachusetts, the Avco Everett Research Laboratory. In that role I set up the first top-secret meeting in the Pentagon to inform the Department of Defense that we had invented high-power lasers.
That was in 1966, and it was the beginning of what is now called the Strategic Defense Initiative, or Star Wars.

My first novel was published in 1959, and I began to have some success as a writer, although
still not enough success to leave Avco and become a full-time writer. By then I had a wife and
two children.

I became an editor by accident. John W. Campbell, the most powerful and influential editor in
the science fiction field, died unexpectedly. I was asked to take his place as editor of Analog
Science Fiction-Science Fact magazine, at that time (1971) the top magazine in the SF field.

I spent the next eleven years in New York City, as editor of Analog and, later, Omni magazine.
In 1982 I left magazine editing. I have been a full-time writer and occasional lecturer ever
since. I have written more than eighty fiction and nonfiction books, a hatful of short stories, and
hundreds of articles, reviews and opinion pieces.

THE SLUSHPILE

When I was an editor of fiction, every week I received some fifty to a hundred story manuscripts
from men and women who had never submitted a piece of fiction before.

The manuscripts stacked up on my desk daily and formed what is known in the publishing business as “the slushpile.” Every new writer starts in the slushpile. Most writers never get out of it. They simply get tired of receiving rejections and eventually quit writing.

At both Analog and Omni I personally read all the incoming manuscripts. There were no first
readers, no assistant readers. The editor read everything. It made for some very long days.
And nights. Long― and frustrating. Because in story after story I saw the same basic mistakes being made, the same fundamentals of storytelling being ignored. Stories that began with good ideas or that had stretches of good writing in them would fall apart and become unpublishable simply because the writer had overlooked―or never knew―the basic principles of storytelling.

There are good ways and poor ways to build a story, just as there are good ways and poor ways
to build a house. If the writer does not use good techniques, the story will collapse, just as when a
builder uses poor techniques his building collapses.

Every writer must bring three major factors to each story that he writes. They are ideas, artistry and craftsmanship.

Ideas will be discussed later in this book; suffice it to say for now that they are nowhere as
difficult to find and develop as most new writers fear.

Artistry depends on the individual writer’s talent and commitment to writing. No one can teach
artistry to a writer, although many have tried. Artistry depends almost entirely on what is inside
the writer: innate talent, heart, guts and drive.

Craftsmanship can be taught, and it is the one area where new writers consistently fall short. In
most cases it is simple lack of craftsmanship that prevents a writer from leaving the slushpile.
Like a carpenter who has never learned to drive nails straight, writers who have not learned
craftsmanship will get nothing but pain for their efforts. That is why I have written this book: to
help new writers learn a few things about the craftsmanship that goes into successful stories.

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