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I am new to creative writing but have been an avid reader for years (mainly SF/fantasy). I have wanted to write fantasy stories for a long time and have recently started to build a setting for them in my head. I have a few ideas for characters, places, gods, factions… but as of yet no real idea of a plot. My aim is take these setting ideas and to use them to write a novel; perhaps starting with a few short stories first.

So my question is what resources would you recommend to help me get started as a creative writer, specifically in regards to using my setting ideas to generate a plot? I'm thinking of resources such as:

  • Books.
  • Websites.
  • Blogs.
  • Podcasts.
  • Online courses.
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closed as not a real question by Standback, John Smithers, Craig Sefton, Neil Fein, justkt Oct 12 '11 at 13:07

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Welcome aboard, Adam! This question is a possible duplicate of What are some online guides for starting writers? and What are good reads about writing?; I think you'll find a lot of great resources there! – Standback Oct 11 '11 at 13:54
@Standback thanks for the welcome. I did come across those but feel that my question is a little more specific than 'What are good reads about writing?' and 'What are some online guides...' is focused more on writing exercises, rather than general resources. – Adam J. Forster Oct 11 '11 at 14:27
@AdamJ.Forster - it would be helpful if you would focus your question to be more specific, because as it reads it seems like a broad question that does indeed cover the ground of the questions Standback mentioned. If you are looking for SFF-specific sources, please say so. If you don't edit, this will be closed as a duplicate. – justkt Oct 11 '11 at 15:43
@AdamJ.Forster: Could you explain what parts of your question the earlier questions don't adequately answer? Then we'd understand what's left to be addressed. – Standback Oct 11 '11 at 17:48
@Standback I have edited the question in order to clarify what specific guidance I am after. Does it make more sense now? – Adam J. Forster Oct 12 '11 at 8:07
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Beyond the awesome recommendations by Elizabeth, There are a number of great books out there that might help out along the way.

  • Writing Fiction: A guide to Narrative Craft, by Jannet Burroway - This is an awesome book that you can keep re-reading and learning new things from. Burroway sets out a series of guidelines for your prose which remain true to all genres. You don't have to adhere to all her advice, there is certainly room within her guidelines for experimentation, but you'd be wise to seriously consider Burroway's advice.

  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott - If you're looking for a bit of encouragement and life lessons, look no further. When I was first assigned this book I was really worried. It sounded like self help and I didn't want to read it. These days I still look over it every now and again. It reads more like a memoir than a writer's tips and tricks book, but certainly worth your time.

  • On Writing, by Stephen King - If you in any way enjoy him as a writer, it might be another way to go. He discusses many elements of the craft, but the first half of the book discusses his life as a writer. The whole thing is a very fast read, and his ideas and opinions on craft decisions later in the book are certainly worth considering.

  • How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, and Characters and Viewpoints, by Orson Scott Card - I haven't read them personally, but I've heard great things from people who appreciate Card. In 'How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy' I believe he deals a lot with world building and turning those worlds into plots, which sounds like it might be very helpful to you. I've heard they have something for everyone, including those of other genres. They're both on my reading list.

  • If you're interested in reading a bit more about the creative process for a number of writers, check out The Paris Review Interviews. You can find some of them online, and the rest are published in a series of volumes. It's always interesting to hear other people's opinions and takes on how they write.

There are also a number of books which include writing prompts. If you're looking for ways to come up with ideas, work on pre-writing, or just start the day off with some quick writing, try and find some prompts in a book or online. Burroway is good about giving a few exercises in each chapter which will certainly give you a foundation of exercises to work from

In the end, though, as long as you're reading some new books, reading something from these lists, and writing every day you will certainly improve quickly.

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Thanks Chris, it seems like How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy might be exactly what I am after. – Adam J. Forster Oct 12 '11 at 8:10

Here are some SFF-specific resources:

  • Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America - The professional organization for SFF writers. The website has a blog and articles about craft and business.

  • Critters workshop - Specifically for SF, F, and H. It's a free workshop. You have to critique to post. But a great way to start would be to join and read the posts and the critiques of them, even if you're not posting yourself.

  • Forward Motion - Giant collection of forums about writing and critique groups, all free.

  • Writing Excuses podcast - 15-minute long podcast by four writers (Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal). Sometimes on writing and sometimes on publishing.

  • Writers of the Future anthologies - Not only is it a quarterly contest that you can enter, but the books have essays about writing in them.

  • Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing podcast - Interviews with authors, editors, agents. Some writing advice, but also just what's going on in the industry.

  • Locus - Print and electronic magazine that covers the SFF industry. Book reviews, books sold, interviews, and news.

  • There are so many blogs... Currently I like Magical Words (a group blog about writing). Pick some of your favorite writers and see if they have blogs. The SFF blogosphere is very active and diverse.

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Thanks Elizabeth, this is a great list of resources. – Adam J. Forster Oct 12 '11 at 8:14

What I did: Picked an author I had read so much of that I felt I could competently rip off his style until I knew what I was doing. Conjured a plot in which the antagonist killed as many people as he could in as many violent ways as possible - NB: I did not worry overmuch about why, it was the event that I concentrated on, motivation seemed unimportant. Conjured a protagonist who wore a trenchcoat and fired a lot of guns and drove a cool jeep. Ground it out until it was finished. 30,000ish words of complete and utter half-built, derivative, barely imaginative tripe with a plot so thin it could have given your mind a paper cut.

Great practice.

It's not about research, or getting it right. It's about writing more than you ever thought you could. After you've ground it out is time to think about trying to do something proper. Trying to get it all perfect first time out will just scare you and put you off.

It's not about being brilliant, it's about being done. Pick something you think you should be able to knock off without too much trouble and find out how much more difficult than you ever thought it could be it is.

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Another resource I've mentioned before is "The Fire in Fiction" by Donald Maass. It's fantastic because it analyses excerpts from recent books, and is also a great way to learn to analyse other books for certain elements yourself. At the end of each chapter is a series of writing exercises based on what's just been covered, which I found incredibly helpful. It's a great place to start writing if you're unsure of where to begin.

He's written another book called "Writing the Breakout Novel" which covers novel writing in much broader strokes, but doesn't have writing exercises and the like.

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