Creative Writing Courses or Books?

I have an off-topic question — is there anyone out there with recommendations on books or courses on creative writing? (fiction)

Also, does anyone here write fiction? Feel free to post a link to your (fiction) books or writing in the comments below. :slight_smile:

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I used to write fiction and I found the book that helped me the most was Stephen King’s “On Writing” which you have probably already read.

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There are probably many excellent books on writing out there. What helped me the most in the beginning were

  • ‘On Writing’ by Sol Stein and
  • ‘Story’ by Robert McKee.

The two books provide a reliable basis to build on. As further reading I would recommend

  • ‘The Writer’s Journey’ by Christopher Vogler
  • ‘Becoming a Writer’ by Dorothea Brande
  • ‘Elements of Fiction Writing’ series by various authors

After twenty to thirty books on writing the advices will start to become repetitive. A good source for advanced learning are books on other topics, for instance repartee, charism, history and military strategy. They give lots of inspiration on how to improve plot and characters.

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Every now and then I make an attempt to write a short science fiction story, but I lose motivation before it is finished almost every time. It always goes in a simular progression:

  • getting very exited about an idea for a story;
  • not knowing how to translate the idea in a actual story;
  • second guessing the validity of the idea;
  • slowly forgetting about the project.

To give you an idea if the kind of stories I have tried, here is a summary of a failed project.

The time traveling magician

In an era where there are two rival magicians that rule the world of magic, one of them (Peter Infinite) attempts the greatest magic trick ever performed; a levitation act on the largest building of the world in full view of an audiance of fellow magicians armed with the latest magic trick busting technology. Something appears to have gone wrong as the magician falls to his death. Rumors of sabotage are spreading like wildfire and fingers are pointed at the other magician, Michael Starlight.

The career of Michael goes downhill from then on. Not only does he get blamed for the death of his rival, it is also painfully obvious that the “sabotaged” levitation act would have surely been the greatest magic trick ever performed.

In the years following, Michael drives himself nuts by trying to figure out how the levitation act could have worked, but can’t even get close to finding the answer. In a state of total despair he tries to find the answer using the latest very expensive, dangerous and strictly forbidden technology of time travel.

He has himself sent to the highest building just minutes before the desastrous levitation act. Here he sees his rival Peter, who does not appear to be suprised seeing the older version of Michael. The end of a conversation that follows is something like:
Peter: "So, you have travelled back in time, just so you can stop me from from performing my greatest magic trick ever?
Michael: "No, that’s not true. You don’t understand. It will not work. You will fall to your death.
Peter: “I know”.

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I make my living writing nonfiction articles and books, but I’ve also published a couple of novels and short stories. And I’d also highly recommend Stephen King’s On Writing. You don’t need to be a horror/King fan; it’s a terrific primer on being a novelist that includes anecdotes and insight from his own career (the first half) and then specific how-tos (in the second half). King has also done the audiobook for this one, and it’s great to hear the text read by the man himself.

I have a shelf full of other writing books, but there honestly isn’t another one I’d recommend as highly.

I haven’t read “Story,” which someone else also recommended, but I’ve heard nothing but good about it, especially if you’re needing help with structure and/or plot development. It was written for screenwriters—and it has had a noticeable impact on how movies are structured—but it should provide some valuable insight for fiction as well.

There are also several “Save the Cat!” books that may be helpful, although the StC approach takes structuring and plot development to an almost cynical degree. (“Save the Cat!” Writes a Novel is the best place to start.) For example: “Do these three things within the first five pages; at page 20, include this information…,” that kind of thing. Many, many published novels are based on this formula. It is successful. But it’s also just that: a formula. Depending on the kind of fiction you’d like to write, following the formula may provide useful structure (and help to ensure agent/publisher interest) or it may absolutely kill whatever creativity you’re wanting to explore.

My published fiction:
Lost Time (adult mainstream): https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Time-Robert-Bittner-ebook/dp/B01MG5EROQ/ref=sr_1_9?keywords=Robert+Bittner&qid=1575032341&sr=8-9
The Timespill (middle-reader adventure/SF): https://www.amazon.com/Timespill-Adventures-Book-ebook/dp/B01N7D27J9/ref=sr_1_15?keywords=Robert+Bittner&qid=1575032341&sr=8-15
“The Light in Cordelia’s Eyes” (horror short story): https://www.amazon.com/Light-Cordelias-Eyes-Robert-Bittner-ebook/dp/B004WOVK04/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Robert+Bittner+cordelia&qid=1575032425&sr=8-1

Bob

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This is a very interesting plot.

It’s the type of “hard” science fiction that I like - but which is now dead. The big three authors were Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Heinlein.

The new-style elves, wizards, and magic swords don’t appeal to me - with respect.

AC&H set some unwritten rules. People can visit the past - but not the future. Visitors can only observe the current inhabitants - they cannot communicate nor interfere. They don’t have the power to change anything. The current inhabitants are not aware of visitors from the future.

If you wanted to adhere to these rules, the ending of your story would need to be modified.

Of course, anyone can change the rules. But I think AC&H arrived at their rules after a lot of silly mistakes, and complaints from snitty readers. They were highly polished practitioners after some initial difficult-to-see disastrous gaffes.

Here are some suggestions:

Michael can observe a conversation between Peter and a third party, who could well be the third-highest magician in the hierarchy - and therefore someone to be respected.

[In order to levitate (= rise or cause to rise and hover in the air), Peter must rise from the roof. In order to fall to his death, he needs to move sideways until he is no longer over the roof.]

Peter (to third party): "You can’t stop me from from performing my greatest magic trick ever.

Third party: You don’t understand. It will not work. You will fall to your death.

Peter: I know.

So maybe both Peter and the third-party were aware that levitation (which is only a trick) is only possible when above the roof - but as soon as the levitee is no longer over the roof - wheeee !!

Maybe Peter wanted some spectacular suicide ?? The reason would need to be hinted at earlier. His partner has switched to the third-party? Incurable painful cancer perhaps? Maybe caused by radiation from the tiny futuristic atomic plant needed for the levitation? These tiny plants are already established by Asimov in the “Foundation” series.)

Just a thought :slight_smile:

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Maybe Peter wanted some spectacular suicide ?? The reason would need to be hinted at earlier.

You are absolutely right. This is in fact one of the reasons I failed to complete this story variation succesfully; if I hint at the poor health of Peter early in the story, the end will not come as a surprise and if I don’t, well the reader may feel the end doesn’t make sense.

People can visit the past - but not the future. Visitors can only observe the current inhabitants - they cannot communicate nor interfere.

I had a variation in mind in which time travel is organised by the government and that the rule of no intervention is connected to the death penalty (if you break it). Michael is allowed to talk to Peter, but not change his actions in a significant way (I know chaos theory predicts any communication will have large effects in the long run, but it’s just a story). And than in the end of his conversation he has to choose between letting his rival fall to his death or risk the death penalty for trying to save him.

Another problem I was unable to solve (in every variation of the story) is that I wanted the reader to question the concept of an illusion (or magic trick). Put in another way: I wanted the reader to ask oneself, when does something qualify as an illusion. I was inspired to do this after reading an article from philosopher Daniel C Dennett (https://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/dennett/papers/explainingmagic.pdf) in which he describes the Indian rope trick; a trick that propably nobody has ever seen, but many believe it has been done.

If by commiting suicide, Peter could convince the audiance that he was indeed capable of this impossible levitation act (despite failing in the actual excecution of it) you might argue that he has succeeded in the performance of the illusion. It 's just, like the indian rope trick, a different kind of illusion.

To make a long story short: writing the story in such a manner that most of the audiance gets it completely will also bring about the risk of insulting the intelligence of the reader by explaining to much. To little explanation will of course have the opposite risk of nobody understanding it.

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Sci-fi and fantasy are often grouped together these days. Harry Potter is fantasy, Tolkien is fantasy, Discworld by Terry Pratchett was fantasy, The Chronicles of Narnia are Christian fantasy.

I think a lot of folks think of Star Wars as sci-fi. I think it is “space fantasy”, as the original trilogy has a lot of the Hero’s Myth tropes (as Joseph Campbell discussed in his works) and it takes place in the past (in a galaxy far far away).

Sci-fi (in my definition) takes place in the future or present, and involves concepts like time travel, robots, and aliens. This makes the Wrinkle in Time series sci-fi. So is Carl Sagan’s novel Contact.

Isaac Asimov once said that Carl Sagan was one of only two people he’d met whom he considered smarter than himself. Sagan said his interest in astronomy and finding alien life was influenced by a lot of the now classic sci-fi he read as a boy.

The American animated TV series Futurama is also sci-fi. It’s the sci-fi series I am most familiar with myself, and I always wondered why they never featured Carl Sagan’s Head on the show.

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I think Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein avoided “explaining too much” by casually dropping bits of info here and there: a bit of conversation, something on radio, an advertisement on a passing bus.

During the denouement, the author might only need to add a couple of things to complete the explanation.

BTW: In the link that you posted, “Explaining Magic”, it says:

  • The magician doesn’t really saw the lady in half; he only makes you think you saw him do it! If a magician can somehow or other make you think you saw him climb a rope, disappear, dismember a boy, and bring the boy back to life, he has performed the Indian Rope Trick, has he not?

IMHO, these two examples might not be equivalent.

Anyone can saw a woman in half. It works for me most of the time. My pals assume that any blood is fake.

But I think the Indian Rope Trick is the other way round. This happened in the 1870’s. I suspect that many of the audience might have actually believed what they were seeing - until the magician spoiled everything at the end.

I hope you continue developing your story.

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You are right by saying that the two are not equivalent, but I like to point out that almost every trick performed on television is in the Indian rope trick categorie. Take for example the vanishing of the empire state building by David Copperfield. For this trick to work as a television trick, an audiance must be present (or appear to be) at the actual fysical location of the performance. Without the audiance the whole trick is stupid, like anyone with amature video editing skills can make anything disappear. So the “real” trick is convincing the tv audiance that the “real” audiance sees the magical act and is (or appears to be) blow away by the performance. It is possible that the suspiciously small “real” audiance actually saw a magic act, it’s also possible that they did not (and were acting). Either way the tv audiance believing the “real” audiance (even when they are fake) is the crucial element of this and almost every other tv magic performance.

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Thanks, I haven’t read any of those, but I’ll check them out.

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Very diverse genres.

Along with your non-fiction, you have all the talents.

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I have heard good things about Gotham Writers (though I have not taken any of these courses myself). Previously they only offered in-person courses in NYC and now are offering a variety of online courses as well.

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Save the Cat!” Writes a Novel

Stephen King’s *On Writing

I have just ordered both these books at the online shop (very cheap: 25 euro total).

I’m going to try making one of my short story ideas in to a novel.

thanks for the recommendation.

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I echo the recommendation for “On Writing”.
It’s the best I’ve read so far.

I would also recommend “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamont, “Negotiating with the Dead” by Margaret Atwood, and “Working” by Robert Caro.

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@Josh
Writing fiction for Dummies is worth reading. Why not follow the blog of one of the authors Randy Ingemarsson as well.
St. King’s book on the topic is as mentioned very good

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I’m a writer for work as well as fun. More about me and my work is at leticiamooney.com. I write in most forms: Essays, flash fiction, long fiction, screenplays, radio plays, etc. As someone who has also owned a couple of publishing houses, I also mentor writers if anyone here is looking for that kind of thing. :+1:

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