Friday, May 2, 2014

Poul Anderson Shares Clifford Simak's Advice On Overlong Stories


In the latest (May) issue of the New York Review of Science Fiction, there's a transcription made by Darrell Schweitzer of a 2001 speech by Poul Anderson to the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society.  Many warm reminiscences of bygone science fiction greats, some forgotten and others still celebrated.  You'd be well advised to buy a copy or a subscription (NYRofSF website here).  But that's just mentioned in passing.  I wanted to share with you some advice that Clifford Simak gave Anderson, back when he was young and in need of it.

Here it is:

He was just plain Cliff to everybody.  I will always remember a piece of advice he gave me.  Writers and aspiring writers here would all do well to remember it.  I had a story that had been bounced around from place to place, being rejected on grounds it was too long for its content, and I remarked to Cliff on this -- remember I was very, very young and didn't have much skill yet -- and he said, "The way to shorten the story is to write the end of it."  He was right.  I just cut out all the preliminary material and got to the point and it sold immediately and was well received.

New writers tend to start their fictions with way too much expository material.  (How much should you have?  None is about perfect.)  So this was an elegant lesson on writing that Simak offered Anderson.

Note, however, that Poul Anderson had taken the necessary preliminary step:  He had written the story all the way through to the end.  He wasn't a good enough writer -- yet -- to do it right.  But he was good enough to write it anyway.

Young, unpublished writers, go thou and do likewise.


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