Re: Ideas

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I came across this the other day, and thought it apropos:

“My stories run up and bite me on the leg—I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off.” —Ray Bradbury

Questions About Writing #7: Will You Write It For Me?

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This one pops up every once in a while—in fact, it happened again not long ago. Someone emailed me saying, I’ve worked out this great idea for a story. Would you like to write it for me?

Well, actually, no. I wouldn’t.

The polite explanation of why I wouldn’t, to which I always refer correspondents, is on my web site at http://www.starrigger.net/advice2.htm.

It used to surprise me when people did this. I’m not surprised anymore, but I still find it very odd that someone who has an idea he or she is proud of or finds compelling would even want to turn it over to a complete stranger—even if the stranger were willing. Of course, most people who propose this think they’ll hand the idea to you, you’ll do all the work, and then split the vast earnings fifty-fifty. Right. (Of course, they probably also guess that writing is a lucrative business. Anyone want to take a second guess?)

Like most writers, I have files full of ideas for stories, things I might get to someday if inspiration strikes, and if I live long enough. Given that writing is very hard work, and very iffy in terms of financial payback, why would I want to take time away from my own stories to write yours?

Unless you’re offering to front the money, of course. And that’s why writers are willing to set aside some time to do things like write movie novelizations or spin-off novels (set in the same universe as a movie or TV show). It’s because there’s a certain amount of guaranteed income, because it’s fun if you enjoyed the original, and because it’s almost certain to sell well and be really good advertising for your own books. It’s not like everyone who reads your Star Wars or Star Trek (or Galactica) novel is going to run right out and buy your other books—but some of them will. And you’ve gained a lot of visibility.

But back to he-who-would-have-his-story-written… my bottom-line response is, don’t you want to write it yourself? It’s your idea, your passion. Don’t just talk about it, get in there and do it! Give it your voice, your personality. That’s what writing is all about. Yes?

Writing Question #6: What’s It Like to Write a Movie Novelization?

Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries was my first movie novelization, and a refreshing experience. First off, it gave me a welcome breather from working on the long-delayed Sunborn, coming as it did just as I finished the first draft of that book. Secondly, I enjoyed the miniseries and loved the acting (Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell were terrific, and so were the others). It was just plain fun to work in that world and sort through the details of the story. (Sidelight to that: my daughter Julia is homeschooling, and we made it an assignment for her to watch the DVD with me, and compare the action onscreen with the written script. Many differences.) Third, it forced me to work at a fast and furious pace, which was good. I didn’t have to make up the story—it was already there. Many of you have probably already seen it. If not, I recommend it, from the SciFi Channel.

But that doesn’t mean it was all easy-sailing, either. I found some unique (to me) challenges in writing this book. Turning a story on screen into a novel is not a simple matter of transcription, even though I was working from the actual show on DVD—and even though I tried hard to be faithful to the story as it appeared, including the dialogue.

When you’re writing the novel, you have to flesh out things that go by quickly onscreen, or get left out altogether, perhaps due to time constraints. This was a 4-hour miniseries—3 hours, without commercials. They had to work very hard to squeeze the story into 3 hours, and a lot wound up on the cutting room floor (either literally, or figuratively—in scenes not shot or perhaps not even written). This meant writing new material to bridge gaps or abrupt transitions, and there were many. Or to fill in background.

What surprised me more was the amount of… how shall I put it?… re-imagining needed to tell on the page a story that’s already been told on the screen. Things happen fast onscreen, and as a viewer, you don’t always have time to think about what you’ve just seen, and whether or not it makes sense. I’m not talking about large plot elements, so much as details and pieces of dialogue and motivation. The show’s writers are trying to compress the action, and sometimes the results—which might be perfectly acceptable to a viewer—are less persuasive when you see them laid out on the page. (This is not a criticism; it’s a fact of life.) Things have to be explained. Motivations for even small actions have to withstand a reader squinting at the page and going, Hmmm.

The challenge, then, is to tell the story without changing it (much), reproduce the dialogue without changing it (much), and tweak it or bolster it in just the right ways to make it work on the page as well as it worked onscreen (or better, if possible). It’s not always easy. But it’s generally pretty interesting.

Oh—and it gave me an excuse to write about flying. I always love writing about flying.

Galactica’s Done! Plus Other Cool News

That’s all she wrote: Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries: the Novel is finished and turned in. Big sighs all around. Initial reaction from my editor is very positive. (He’d read the whole thing less than 24 hours after I sent it to him—a first for either of us.) The book is going into an accelerated production schedule for publication next winter. I’ll post more definite details as they become official. The publication stuff is all tentative right now.

Meanwhile, the other cool news is that my younger daughter, Julia, just won national ranking in the middle-school category of an international SF short-story writing competition. The competition is sponsored by Eurisy, which as far as I can tell is an educational consortium of many European space organizations, including the European Space Agency. Students in 18 nations are submitting SF stories depicting life in space, each to go through a selection process at the national level, with each nation’s top two in middle school and high school going on to the international competition. The U.S. entries were judged through the National Space Society. Julia’s story is one of two selected by the U.S. judges to go on to the international competition. Excited she is, yes. And so are we.

Award Categories

Seems I created a little confusion with my post about the Nebulas. Here are the formal definitions, quoted from the Nebula® Rules:

  • Short Story: less than 7,500 words.
  • Novelette: at least 7,500 words but less than 17,500 words.
  • Novella: at least 17,500 words but less than 40,000 words.
  • Novel: 40,000 words or more. At the author’s request, a novella-length work published individually, rather than as part of a collection or an anthology, shall appear in the novel category.

I believe the Hugo Award uses the same (or very similar) definitions.

The Nebula, by the way, is awarded yearly by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and is a peer award voted on by the active membership of SFWA, or at least those who have time to read.

The Hugo is awarded yearly by the membership of the annual World Science Fiction Convention (worldcon), and is a fan award. (Some of those fans are also members of SFWA, but most are simply avid readers and, well, fans.)

If you’d like to know more about the Nebula Awards, browse the many entries on SFWA’s Nebula Awards page.

Nebula Awards ® 2005

The results are in from the Nebula Awards ceremony held last weekend in Chicago. Here are the winners:

  • Best Novel: Paladin of Souls, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Eos, Oct03)
  • Best Novella: “The Green Leopard Plague” by Walter Jon Williams (Asimov’s, Oct/Nov 2003)
  • Best Novelette: “Basement Magic” by Ellen Klages (F&SF, May03)
  • Best Short Story: “Coming to Terms” by Eileen Gunn (Stable Strategies and Others, Tachyon Publications, Sep 2004)
  • Best Script: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson (New Line Cinema)
  • Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement in the field: Anne McCaffrey

Congratulations to all the winners, and all the nominees!

More info at: http://www.sfwa.org/news/05nebwin.htm
Photos at the MidAmerican Fan Photo Archive http://www.midamericon.org/photoarchive/05neb01.htm

Young Adult Award Coming
Next year, for the first time, the Science Fiction Writers of America will be presenting an award for outstanding young adult science fiction/fantasy, with the first annual Andre Norton Award—to be awarded concurrently with the Nebulas.

Questions about Writing #5: Personal Perspective

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I got an email the other day from a college student, who said he was doing a paper on my work, and would I answer a few questions? Now, if that isn’t flattering, I don’t know what is. I wrote the answers to his questions, then thought—wait, this is blogstuff. (Is that a word? It should be, if it’s not.)

He asked why I became a science fiction writer. My answer:

Because SF was what I always loved to read as a kid, in college, and after college. I got some early encouragement from my family and a couple of teachers, who thought I had some talent for writing. So when I set out to write some stories, it was just natural that I wrote SF. It’s still my favorite form of literature, though I don’t have as much time for reading now as I once did. I love SF because it challenges the mind, stretches the imagination, and takes us to fascinating times and places that we probably won’t get to visit in the flesh. It lets me think about science and art and the human spirit, and a lot of other things, all wrapped up in one. (I also love, as a writer, sticking my characters into strange realities and seeing how they react.)

What’s my favorite book?

Oddly, it’s not SF–it’s fantasy. The Lord of the Rings. I’ve read it at least 15 times. I love Tolkien’s visions, and I love Middle Earth for its magical likeness, and yet distinctiveness from, our own world. I love the mountains of Middle Earth, the forests, the Ents, the elves. And somehow this book hooked me as no other book has in its portrayal of the eternal struggle between good and evil, and the price paid for victory.

Why do I live in New England?

I came East as a college student, and never left. I love the land here, the ocean, the history, the intellectual ferment of all the universities and the culture. And the New England fall–you just can’t beat it.

Thanks, Jeff from Plymouth State University, for giving me a blog topic!

Im Hyperraum

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Today’s mail brought me a small packet of very fat books, forwarded to me by my U.S. publisher, Tor Books, from my German publisher, Heyne. It contained a new German translation of: Im Hyperraum. It took me a minute or two to figure out what it was, except that it was by me. Finally I looked at the copyright page, and discovered that it was an omnibus edition, containing Panglor and Dragons in the Stars in one volume. It’s a little odd; I’m not sure why they did that instead of putting Dragons in the Stars together with Dragon Rigger. But that’s what they did. The two stories are set in the same future history (the Star Rigger universe), but are otherwise unconnected.

Only one reader has commented on it at Amazon-Germany, and he/she seems not to have liked it much, so I hope someone who did like it comes along soon.

Anyway, I love seeing foreign editions of my books. I can’t understand a word of them (and I took German for two years), but it really just feels pretty cool.

Here’s what it looks like.

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