Book review: The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction.

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Science fiction and fantasy is one of the most challenging–and rewarding!–genres in the bookstore. But with “New York Times” bestselling author Philip Athans and fantasy giant R. A. Salvatore at your side, you?ll create worlds that draw your readers in–and keep them reading!

Just as important, you?ll learn how to prepare your work for today’s market. Drawing on his years of experience as one of the most acclaimed professionals in publishing, Wizards of the Coast editor Athans explains how to set your novel apart–and break into this lucrative field. From devising clever plots and building complex characters to inventing original technologies and crafting alien civilizations, Athans gives you the techniques you need to write strong, saleable narratives.

“Plus!” Athans applies all of these critical lessons together in an unprecedented deconstruction of a never-before-published tale by the one and only R. A. Salvatore!

There are books on writing science fiction and fantasy, and then there’s this book–the only one you need to create strange, wonderful worlds for your own universe of readers

-Excerpt from Goodreads

Coming off the inspiration high from the last how-to book on writing that I had finished, I decided to jump into my favourite genre and found this book. Although I had never read anything that Philip Athans had written, he is/was? the managing editor of Wizards of the Coast, which, being a huge MtG addict (and having dabbled in the Pokemon TCG back in the day), meant of course that I immediately loved him. Also, the foreword was by R. A. Salvatore! How is that not an instant read?

Since Wannabe a Writer?, the first how-to guide on writing that I had actually finished reading, was quite unconventional in how it was written (a Goodreads reviewer termed it “put through the Bridget Jones filter” and dammit I wish I had thought of that first), reading this book required a bit of adjustment.

The Guide… is written in a way that is much closer to how I imagine most how-to guides to read. While Athans does inject his own witticisms once in a while, in general the book is written in a textbook format, filled with serious pointers and illustrating examples (as opposed to Wannabe a Writer?, which was comprised largely of personal and friend-provided anecdotes). Like Wannabe, though, it is chocked full of precious tidbits from other authors (the difference being that this time I actually recognised many of the names).

When I had originally started, I found the book rather droll. Which is why I was startled to find out that I was, despite actually reading the pointers and thinking about them seriously (as opposed to just blowing through them for the sake of it), actually finishing the book at an astonishing rate. In the end, I completed the entire book in an even shorter time than it took to finish Wannabe! Athans writes simply and, despite the nature of the material, in a way that is accessible and easy to understand. Also, he keeps each section (and subsection) quite short, focusing on the main few important points rather than generating an exhaustive laundry list of things to take note of that nobody would actually be able to remember.

While perhaps not as entertaining a read as a book like Wannabe, The Guide… is way more informative and achieves quite the impossible – reading like a textbook and yet not boring the reader like one (which, I guess, is proof that Athans really does know his stuff). Also, that never-before-published R. A. Salvatore short story attached to the end of the book? One of the best shorts I’ve ever read and worth getting through the book just to see.

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction would perhaps not be as helpful for aspiring authors of other genres because it eschews general writing tips to focus on elements specific to these genres (e.g. worldbuilding, technological limitations, magic systems etc.) but it’s a must read for all budding SF/F writers.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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