Top 10 tips for better stories


Hello, Readers! So happy to be blogging on IslamScifi. This will be my debut post and I am super excited to get started so that I can hear from you and get to know you better. From my bio, you will come to know that I write my own Islamic SF stories. That’s why I was eager to throw in my hat in the recent Islamicate Short Story contest. Who was selected or not selected is beside the point. What was humbling was the number of submissions. This shows that there is a community of writers who are inspired by this genre of fiction.

Which is wonderful but I want to raise the bar. That’s why I am reviewing Robert Silverberg’s Science Fiction 101. I adore this book as it gives readers a how-to guide to writing science fiction. The insights given by Silverberg have helped my writing and I wanted to share with the rest of you. Here goes:

1. Suspend Disbelief
Why do you believe Lucas when he says that there is a galaxy far, far away? Because he backs that up with actually showing you that galaxy. He inhabits it with characters that are believable with motivations that are relatable. What’s more the structures and ships he creates look lived in. Which adds to the realism.

“Evoking suspension of disbelief is the basic trick of the trade. ” – Robert Silverberg

2. Use dialogue as a form of exposition
No one wants to read transcripts. It is dull and boring. Anytime the reader comes across a passage with dialogue don’t give them a dull narrative. Rather move the story forward. Perhaps you can reveal a chilling secret from the character’s past. Or perhaps through the recounting of a character’s childhood, you learn more about the world they inhabit. Make sure the information you reveal is needed and will be made use of later on in the story.

3. Have an agile plot with a lot of twists and turns
This one is hard to do. I must admit this is something I am working on in my stories. For now, my stories can be pretty linear. But I am eager to learn and improve my craft. One of the ways you can tell that you have a good plot is if the reader can not put the story down. That means they are being stimulated by the various twists and turns. A good example would be the 2016 election. You know you don’t want to but you are magically drawn to the headlines. You just have to see what the candidates are saying and doing now. What gaffe or incredulous insult was given today? The allure is too great and you are sucked in.

4. Don’t focus on technical competence attain excellence
Don’t write with your brain. Don’t get me wrong keep your brain you need your brain. But don’t rely on it to give you your story. Remember storytelling is a sensual experience. You want to draw the reader in and keep them close. You can do that by tugging their heartstrings. Work on your emotional intelligence, your empathy for others. It is only then that you can tune your heart waves to your readers. Basically, work on being a better human being and the rest will follow!

5. Subplot. A story within a story. Used to keep the main storyline interesting.
Remember your favorite sitcom? There always was a story within a story. The grownups were struggling with their own problems while the kids had their own issues. As viewers, we constantly switched between the two. With each passing scene, the drama grew and grew . Until finally both stories converged in often humorous circumstances. This constant back and forth helped to keep us engaged, adding variety to an otherwise linear narrative. You want to do the same. You can have many subplots all related to each other. To get a better feel for this technique I would recommend the Dune books by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson.

6. Infuse your writing with  your culture to stand apart
I have been told that I am of Pakistani heritage. ugh. I hate that term. It is too sterile and cerebral. Do you know that Indians, Bengalis, and Pakistanis self-identify as Desis? Loosely translated Desi means someone from the homeland. Desi culture is loud and vibrant. Go to our weddings, festivals and you will see a common thread of colors and music. But you would never know that if you weren’t part of that culture. That is why it falls upon me to share my culture. Especially today when we are being taught to fear the “other”.

7. Minimalist. Give only those details that impact your character
When I started out, writing my first novel. I was guilty of giving too many details. You see I am a super geek and love reveling in the technical details of my favorite starship or space station. I brought this same enthusiasm to my writing. Which is great as it gets me to write but not so great for the reader who has to learn about the finer points of how my space station is powered by a thermonuclear reactor, housed in its own containment shield that has dual operational modes as well as a host of security….oh boy I did it again didn’t I? Now I know the containment shield is only important when it is failing and our hero must save the day otherwise his crewmates will be irradiated by the ensuing radiation flood.

8. Dialog. Each character with their own voice
Your voice is how you arrange words. The order in which words have used the type of words use all combine to create a voice. It is important that each of your characters have their own voice. That way we know who is speaking just by the dialogue. John Scalzi has a great article on his blog where he shares with us the process by which he developed the voice for zoe. Now Zoe is a young teenage girl going through a traumatic experience. He had to inhabit the heart and mind of a 16-year-old girl. No small feat for a middle-aged man. But he attempted it and kept at it until he got the right mix of words, thus bringing his character to life.

9. Confidence. Nervous and apologetic writers are rarely successful
When I first started writing I suffered from imposter syndrome. “I am not a writer.” “I shouldn’t be wasting my time.” “What would people think?”and so on. All this self-defeating thinking did wonders for my writing. Silverberg’s remedy is to approach writing like you would a lover. There is no need to be nervous or apologetic. You may suck but so what?! You have committed to be with this other person. With each attempt, your skills will grow. So rather than getting frustrated, enjoy the process!

10. Outline. Work out your story ahead of time.
I swear by this technique. Before writing, I always fill out an excel sheet where I plan out each chapter and each scene. I know which characters I want to use and what I want to do. Then I switch over to my manuscript, where it is just a matter of filling in the details. This is also a great way to save your sanity as your creative juices keep pumping. You know what to write next and you just go at it. Don’t be surprised to pump out several hundred words in one sitting!

So there you have it. To learn more be sure to pick-up his book. Above all start incorporating his techniques into your writing. I know I will. It is my humble hope that through this article I can inspire writers to raise the bar. Producing content that will have greater impact. In this day and age when minorities are routinely marginalized it is very precious to hear diverse voices. Let’s be those voices. It is a great service and makes for a better world. So get out there and write!

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