and a Dragon or Two

I’m Tom Crepeau. I tell lies for a living.

That means I write fiction. Specifically, I write fantasy. Some of what I write is considered science fiction. I didn’t set out to write science fiction, I set out to write fantasy. Science fiction is just what came out that particular time. If you want to know how to write science fiction, I can’t tell you. That isn’t that I don’t know how to write it; but since I was writing fantasy and sci-fi is what came out, I don’t know myself how I do it. I can tell you how to write fantasy. That’s what I do.

That isn’t my first career. I made a living typing up budgets for a government agency, back before desktop computers were in common use. I had a computer of my own before that budget organization had one. They had a word processor, it sat in a closet and used gigantic floppy disks.

I finished at that same agency, but doing computer support. Governments generally are capable of providing good health plans. And back then, Government had good retirement plans. I retired in 2008.

Originally, I described myself as a fantasist. I write fantasy. When asked what kind of thing I write, I usually say I write Sword-and-Sorcery, which used to be well-known, if not well-respected. It’s fantasy, but it isn’t tales of princes, dukes, royalty and aristocrats. It’s stories where the characters get their hands dirty. It’s stories of war, about the people in the front trench in battle. Sword and sorcery isn’t about kings carrying unused swords that never come out of their sheaths or strike in anger. Sword-and-Sorcery is about about people who do things.

I’ve been writing since I was small. I’ve written all my life, and in adulthood I began writing a lot. I’ve been submitting novels to publishers since the 1980s. I have a collection of novels that now I know aren’t really all that good, and they aren’t going to be published. I didn’t know they weren’t good when I wrote them. I didn’t know that until after people read them, and they weren’t raving about how good they were.

Can you write novels?

Yes. There you go, you have my permission. Come on out, and play. Write a book you’d like to read, that I’d like to read, too.

But, perhaps, you’re asking a different question, like: how can I tell if I can write a good novel?

That’s easy. You’ll know the day after ten thousand people have paid to read it, and recommended it to their friends, and it keeps selling. If their friends start reading it, you will then know that you can write a good novel.

I know, I know, you’re saying, gee, thanks. How can I tell RIGHT NOW if I can write a novel?

And, I’ll ask you: how many novels have you already written? Are they any good?

That’s not the question it looks like. Good writers have tell me that the first million words you write are crap. They may very well be right (about me, at least). They also say that if anyone can stop you from writing, you probably aren’t cut out to face the disappointments of trying to write and sell novels.

Is that a rule? Well, yes, it is a rule. But remember, most rules were made to be broken. Some fourteen-year-olds produce good, successful novels. And yes, there are some people who HATE those writers. They decry what they’ve done, say the books aren’t any good, give them terrible reviews.

Are you going to let me stop you? If so, you probably aren’t cut out to be a novelist. Not everyone is going to like your books. Are you going to let them stop you? Some people will write jealous, complaining criticism about you.

Lots of people complained about Jo Rowling’s Harry Potter books. They were shallow, weren’t any good, weren’t literary enough. Reviewers said that Harry isn’t really the protagonist of his own books. That they’re written simply, and badly, and for younger children. The original name of the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had, in England, been Harry Potter and the Alchemist’s Stone (the name loses something when translated into American).

Right. Nowadays, they’re studying those stories in English classes.

What have those critics written? Right. They aren’t good novelists. The good novelists aren’t writing bad reviews about Jo Rowling’s books.

Good novelists usually don’t have TIME to write negative reviews like that, unless someone is paying them for their reviews. Good novelists are, typically, writing. When they aren’t writing, they’re reading. Good novelists sometimes write reviews of books they like, mind you. And they’ll discuss writers they like, along with those writer’s stories and books, for hours- or for days.

Do you read? Good. I haven’t read of a successful novelist who doesn’t read fiction. Or of a successful writer of history who isn’t deeply steeped in the field in which he writes. Or a successful stort story writer who doesn’t read short stories. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any, but I haven’t heard of them.

What should I write, you ask? Write what you read.

What if what I read is romance? Then, write romance. Write whatever genre you enjoy. Don’t worry that I’m going to turn my nose up at whatever genre that is. I won’t! And, I don’t insist the only stuff worth writing is literary fiction. The stuff to write is: what people read. There’s good reason they’re buying it. THEY LIKE IT. And, by the way, I’m an associate member of the Romance Writers of America (ordinary members have careers writing romance, and I don’t, but they let me in anyway. They do not, as I’ve heard claimed, insist that I write either Happily-Ever-After or Happy-For-Now endings. Of course, they want the tropes of romance to be followed when people say that they’re writing romance. I don’t write within the romance genre (more accurately, the romance genres), so that’s a trope I don’t have to follow. Nevertheless, happily-ever-after, or HEA, and happy-for-now, HFN, are excellent endings. There are also romances in my writing. They can be good things to have in your fiction.)

Write that story you wanted to read, but didn’t read because you couldn’t find it. Write that version of a story you read that you liked, but wasn’t the story you hoped it was. Write your version of the story you read, where after you read it you said, “I can write better than this!” So, do it.

There are classes which teach plotting, characterization, story structure. who teach what it’s like to be a discovery writer, who, after laying their careful plans of the world in which they are writing, write to discover their characters, their plot. (sometimes these are known as ‘pansters,’ as in writing-by-the-seat-of-their-pants. Others plot carefully, script an outline that might run 180 pages, and then write their story from that. They’re known as ‘plotters.’ While plotters is a fine name for them, I do prefer the term “discovery writers” for what some are calling ‘pantsers,’ because to me, there’s just something wrong about referring to someone as a ‘pantser.’ I own lots of good books on writing, and I read extensively in them. I’ve taken a lot of courses, too, over the years. I took a course in criminal psychology, I call it my course in bad guys.

But the main good way to learn to write is: to read good writers, and then write. That’s where I’ve learned most of my craft, and put it to use.

They say there are differences between science fiction and fantasy. I’ve heard it said that sci-fi has rivets, and fantasy has trees (and then Larry Niven wrote The Integral Trees, which is science fiction about some very large trees, and it is absolutely science fiction. Myself, I classify steampunk stories as fantasy, and I’m not alone, although others call it science fiction. Sometimes it depends on the story which it is. Either way, steampunk is definitely in ‘rivet’ territory.

I’ve heard that in science fiction, dragons can’t hover like a helicopter, but that in fantasy, they can. They’ll also tell you that dragons can’t fly in science fiction. I think they’re trying to say magic can’t happen in sci-fi.

There’s usually a dragon hovering about in my stories. They’re just there, a more-or-less essential part of my worldbuilding. Sometimes they are quite integral to the openings, or show up only once the the story is traveling on, but there are almost always at least references to dragons.

So, feel free to call what I write fantasy, as most of my dragons can hover if the story needs them to.

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