“How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy” & “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” Review

Rating out of 5: 5 each

I just finished reading two books on the art of writing: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card and On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. Their structure is completely different. While Stephen King embarks on a personal journey full of anecdotes and life experiences, Orson Scott Card is more discreet on the personal aspects of his life but specific on his advice. His book, as the title points out, is also more oriented towards speculative fiction.

Two years ago, I was lucky enough to participate to workshop taught by Elisabeth Vonarburg (The Maerlande Chronicles, Reluctant Voyagers). It was my first workshop ever and I had no idea what to expect. I had never read books on writing either. In one week, I learned a diversity of tools designed to build new worlds, to choose and design a point of view, to write characters with a past, intentions and desires. I learned that writing whatever comes to my mind is not enough. It is a start, but not enough. Then comes the art of banging your head into walls for weeks or months to make sure that your ideas and your world make sense, not just to you but also to your readers, and that you have written everything with ambition and attention to detail. I went from being a baby writer to being a toddler one: I knew the tools, now it was my job to make them mine and explore.

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card targets the same concepts that the ones I learned from that workshop. Card goes into specifics to show what is possible in terms of world and story construction in speculative fiction. The essay is well conceived and also gives terrific advice regarding life as a writer. Among others, Card talks about the importance of being in shape to keep the mind sharp. I decided to give a try. The result? I now practice yoga every single day and, yes, it somehow affects my writing. I feel good, full of energy and this boosts my imagination and my motivation.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King taught me something else: humility. I was deeply moved by how much King insists on this simple fact: writing is about life, and not the other way around. Writing can be a lonely profession, and isolating yourself to focus on your art is paradoxical; life needs to be lived, to be shared, and then only it will nourish your writing. The lesson is fundamental and empowering. The fact that he learned it despite (while?) struggling with alcohol and drug addiction makes his voice even more powerful. He fought his demons, he fought his ego, and then went back to his desk and wrote.


-Célia Chalfoun