Monday, August 30, 2010

Some Insight and Advice (Plus Bonus Resources)


What follows is a set of resources that you may or may not find useful in your own writing, be it fiction or RPG-oriented stuff.  I make no distinction, as most such things can be fine-tuned to your own purposes without too much effort.  Poul Anderson's article (Thud and Blunder), Howard's Hyborian Age essay, and Lovecraft's Supernatural Horror in Literature are classics, must-haves and required reading for anyone engaged in Weird Fiction, speculative fiction, adventure RPG writing, etc.  The letter-extract/essays by Clark Ashton Smith are definitely thought provoking and hardly as well-known or well-worn as HPL's viewpoints and that makes them doubly as valuable in my opinion.  The links at the end of this post are like sprinkles on an upside-down sundae melting away in some abandoned alley-way strewn with the necromantic debis of a post-modern zombie holocaust.  Use them or ignore them as you so will.  Now that I have these golden nuggets out of the way, I can wrap-up my work on a very special series based upon the All Time Best Article For Writers that I've ever run across.

Poul Anderson's excellent essay On Thud and Blunder is one of the best bits of advice from a professional author who knows what they are talking about that you're  likely to find anywhere  Read it.  If you want to write short stories, novels, intricate Setting Guides, exciting adventures and modules for any rules-set and any genre (but especially and triply-so if you're anywhere near high fantasy, sword & sorcery, or the like)--you need to read this essay.  Really.  While you're there, SFWA offers a ton of other resources that might make life easier and your work more interesting (in a good way).

Robert E. Howard drafted an amazing bit of pseudo-history for his Hyborian Age.  This one piece of writing established Conan, his world, and the seeds for most of his stories in one fell swoop.  You can find a copy of Howard's Hyborian Age essay here, and at Project Gutenberg (Australia), as well as an illustrated version adapted from the work of Roy Thomas which is located at Xoth(dot)net.  (As a side note the following list is also a good resource for Conan-ophiles in terms of the 'canon.')  The original publication of this essay was in an obscure fanzine, ran about 39 pages, and was extraordinarily ground-breaking.  It still is.  Read it and you'll see a master at work, crafting one of the best and most enduring examples of a Setting Guide ever managed.  It is easily the gold standard.

H. P. Lovecraft wrote an essay called Supernatural Horror in Literature,  which is still an impressive document well worth reading.  Hippocampus Press brought out a very nice Annotated version, but the Dover edition of this essay is still available fairly cheaply (and a truncated version of the Dover edition is available at GoogleBooks), and it's still out there on the internet at the Yankee Classic site, hplovecraft(dot)com, Wikisource, the Lovecraft Library site, and at Answers(dot)com, where it is broken-down into installments by chapter, which might make it easier to skip the parts you find boring or irrelevant and to get to the meat of the matters most appealing/intriguing to you personally.  If you want to track down any of the works citred by HPL, especially in respect to The Weird Tradition in America, Britain,and Modern Masters; you might consider starting here at this SFF Chronicle post.  It's very helpful, for getting started in collecting all those creepy-weird tales referenced by HPL.  You can also find a lot of these stories at Project Gutenberg.  Most of them are quite good.  But then, HPL ought to have some idea of what made the grade in terms of cosmic fear, right?  There's also a handy set of links to everything Lovecraft wrote that is online via Locus Magazine's site.  (Just in case it comes in handy...or you need a distraction to do some research.)

Clark Ashton Smith was a genius, even HPL lauded him repeatedly in print.  The Eldritch Dark site is an amazing and wonderful collection of all things CAS and it is highly recommeneded in general.  The letters/essays Atmosphere in Weird Fiction, On Fantasy, The Philosophy of the Weird Tale, and Planets and Dimensions in particular are well worth your time, especially if you are at all interested in Weird Fiction or the art and craft of developing your own Weird Adventures.

Ten Rules for Writing Fiction.  This is one of the few such articles that has some teeth, some depth, and is actually worth reading.  Don't miss Part Two.  There are a ton of 'Rules for Writers' articles/lists all over the place, both in print and online.  I'll compile a selection of such articles in a future post because some of them are actually entertaining, educational or ocassionally worthwhile, but most of them are not.  Though a writer can make a quick buck writing a list of 5-10 rules for other writers, whether they actually use the stuff themselves or not.  Advice for writers is one of those areas where Caveat Emptor really comes into effect right away.  One other potentially relevant advice article is Robert Sawyer's revision of Heinlein's famous 5 rules.  So far the only Rule for writing that I've heard that works absolutely and without fail is simply write.  One word.  Write.  It's hard to get paid very much for a one-word article though.  Even if you're Stephen King...speaking of whom...

Stephen King at YouTube:

People are lazy.  King's On Writing is an excellent book filled with real lived-in advice that takes the hokum out of the mix and tosses the reality in front of you like an alley cat dropping a dead bird at your feet.  Read this book if you want to write, either fiction or gaming-wise.  Even if, or especially if you don't much care for his work itself.  This one book will make you re-think a lot of cherished nonsense notions and start the real work involved with actually writing.

Ray Bradbury at YouTube:

Persistence.  If there's one word to sum up all the advice out there, it is Persistence.
(Oh...and have you seen the F*k Me Ray Bradbury video yet?  Do NOT play it at work.  It's vulgar, disturbed, sexually graphic and funny as all get out...but to each their own...)

Some Bonus Online Resources
Mark Twain's Ten Tips For Writers as compiled by Richard Nordquist.  George Orwell's Six Rules for Writers.  Leigh Brackett on her Screenwriting experiences at the GoIntoThe Story blog.  Hugo Gernsback on Writing a 'Science' Story.  Horror can be educational.  The Horror Writers of America host a load of resources, articles and links at their site that might come in handy.  Another site that contains more links than you can shake a typewriter at is the aptly named Internet-Resources site.  The SpecFic World site offers a bunch of links to writing advice that isn't all just for SciFi.  If you're experiencing insomnia you could do worse than check out E. A. Poe's essay on The Philosophy of Composition which offers adice that many doubt Poe himself ever really followed.  I only include it here just in case someone else finds a kernel of wisdom in there that they can use.

So why hasn't there been a Johnny Cash/H.P. Lovecraft crossover story?  Or was there one and I missed it?


  1. If there was a Johnny Cash Lovecraft crossover it should be called "When the Man Comes Around" or "R'yleh Prison Blues." ;)

    Actually, Manly wade Wellman imagined Silver John looking like a young Johnny Cash, and his stories get a little Lovecraftian by way of Appalachia, so maybe we get close.

    Good list of resources, I'll second all the ones I've read (Anderson, Howard, Lovecraft) at least. Alan Moore's essay on comics righting is also good writing advice, too.

  2. @Trey: Wellman's stuff is getting its own post and figures prominently in another project very heavily. You're right they get close, but most of those stories were written years ago...and it might be fun to see a story like you pointed out "The Man Comes Around," that'd be cool.

    Alan Moore is getting his own post in teh near future, good call--his essays on writng, comics, etc. are pretty information-dense and full of good stuff.

  3. Good stuff! For contemporary weird, I like Thomas Ligotti, although many people don't know who he is, which is a shame.

  4. Great links here. Thanks for the one to On thud and Blunder, I immensely enjoyed reading that: Especially the section on horses...that's a pet peeve of mine and mades me totally unpopular with some people I gamed with (I chose a mule and people laughed at me, until I pointed out in how many ways my mule kicks their horses' ass) :)
    I'm looking forward to the Alan moore post!

  5. @Yesmar: Thanks. I'm compiling a list of Contemporary Weird authors/artiss, so I appreciate you mentioning Ligotti. Several other people have mentioned Ligotti to me recently, so I'm definitely going to go check his stuff out once I finish the pile of work stacked in front of me. He's mostly a modern Lovecraft-pastiche kind of guy, like Lumley used to be before he re-discovered Vamphyri, right?

  6. @Jedidiah: Thank you very much! On Thud and Blunder is absolutey one of the funniest and yet essentially educational pieces I've ever read and I recommend it to anyone who writes, reads or plays RPGs and even some who do none of those things. Mules, donkeys, burros...those critters have earned our respect a hundred times over. My favorite Mule of all time is Heinlein's Jack. Only people who have never ridden a horse or mule would make fun of your choice. Make them read Anderson's article, then take them to a hobby farm or riding school. A mule can and will go places that a horse can't and won't and most likely probably shouldn't. And that's just for starters...


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