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on July 27, 2010
Pros: A good section on world building, some nice tips on the business side of writing, wisdom from different authors, a great short story by R.A. Salvatore.

Cons: Not in-depth enough in the sections on characters and plot, a little too much promotion.

I was pretty disappointed in the first couple of sections of this book. While the advice given was solid and it was presented in an authoritative, yet humble way, it wasn't nearly specific enough to actually tell me anything. If a topic is worth bringing up at all in a book, it is worth devoting more than a paragraph to it. And yet, many of the tips this book has to give on story and character are given barely a paragraph of very general information -- and that's after the author has quoted another writer and plugged R.A. Salvatore yet again (was it really necessary to promote this man's books on every other page?).

The book's tips on world building are much more specific and much more useful and since world building is the main way in which writing a fantasy/science fiction novel is different from writing any other type of novel, this is a good thing. The book gives excellent tips on all the different little things you'll have to think of when writing in the genre, some of which aren't immediately obvious, such as systems of weights and measures. The rest of the book was also strong, with some good information on the nuts and bolts of writing such as how to avoid anachronisms and some good information on the appropriate way to approach agents and editors.

As a side note, the short story at the end of this book, "Hugo Mann's Perfect Soul" by R.A. Salvatore is excellent -- one of the best pieces I've read by that author.

I should probably also mention that this book is geared slightly more toward the fantasy writer than the science fiction writer.

Even though it's a little short on information in places, this book still has some invaluable tips for fantasy writers, particularly concerning setting and world building. 4 stars.
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on February 29, 2012
Longtime Wizards of the Coast editor and fantasy author Philip Athans is certainly qualified to write a guide to writing Fantasy and Sci Fi. He has gone through the entire process as an author but, more importantly, he has seen what works--and what doesn't--from behind an editor's desk. He puts his experience to good effect, recruiting R.A. Salvatore to provide both the introduction and an original short story, telling frequent war stories, interviewing industry contacts, regularly alluding to his favorite genre works, and engaging in ongoing brainstorming efforts to show us how each piece is done. In resistance to the current trend to focus on the business side of getting a book published, Athans devotes about 8x more space to the actual craft (hard to sell a book that isn't very good). Which makes the guide much more interesting to someone who, like me, is more interested in reading about the writing of fantasy and Sci Fi than actually writing it.

Genre and sub-genre definitions are likely as not to produce 4 opinions from 3 geeks, but Athans manages to put together a genre and sub-genre guide that I find myself returning to far more often than the rest of the book. He starts with a few basic definitions: "fantasy is fiction that depends on magical or supernatural elements not specifically meant to scare you--if it scares you, at least as its primary goal, it's horror. If the magical elements are replaced with imagined technologies, it's science fiction." Fantasy gets divided into Epic Fantasy, High Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, Dark Fantasy, Contemporary Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, and Erotic Fantasy. Sci Fi is divided into Hard Science Fiction, Military Science Fiction, Space Opera, Slipstream, Cyberpunk, Steampunk, and Alternate History. Each is given a short description with examples.

From there, Athans divides the process into six steps: Storytelling, Characters, The World, Details, Nuts and Bolts, and Finishing Touches. Each step is comprised of several chapters. As I stated earlier, Athans takes a variety of approaches to demonstrate each point. He's nothing if not thorough, expansively discussing each element of a spec fic novel. I found the world-building section and Athans's personal brainstorming to be particularly enlightening. He is sometimes a little too insistent on bright-line rules without either pointing out that there can be exceptions or giving the general principle that the rule is an imperfect proxy for. E.g., Athans insists you must write in third person limited. This is Robert Jordan's and George R.R. Martin's world and we just live in it so I can understand the dominance of third person limited rotating POVs, but it can hardly be said to be a requirement of good spec fic--it didn't seem to hold Tolkien or Mieville back.

Athans includes an original short story by R.A. Salvatore. It's not great (one can understand why it was originally rejected for publication), but it's certainly good. What makes it much more interesting are the musings on it by Salvatore that are included.

Athans runs a blog updated on a weekly basis as a supplement to his guide, featuring deleted portions, annotations, full-length interviews with authors, etc.
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on January 10, 2011
I purchased this book, naturally, because I want to write a fantasy novel. I wanted a book to teach me how to write fantasy, not one that teaches me how to write a book (I already have a very excellent book for this: Writing Fiction For Dummies). This book does exactly that. If you're interested in writing sci-fi, just about everything I say in this review will still apply to you. The information is fairly balanced for both. Though there are a couple chapters that seem more heavily balanced toward fantasy writing, they are worth reading if you're writing sci-fi because concepts they deal with are the exact same as you will find in writing sci-fi.

So what's different about writing a novel and writing fantasy, and why do you need a book for this? Well, first of all, keep in mind this is written by Philip Athans, who is the Managing Editor for Wizards of the Coast, and he also writes his own fantasy. That's important to note because editors, in the writing world, are experts at finding what's wrong in your writing (such as anachronisms). They're going to be the ones who, in the end, tell you what you can and can't do. One biggest rules in writing is listen to your editor. Don't confuse this paragraph as meaning he's a bossy editor in this book, though. He's very modest about it.

This book is a high-level guide to writing fantasy and sci-fi. It deals a lot with the polishing over in your fantasy world and narrative. Major strong points of the book are (but not limited to): how to deal with issues such as the use of archetypes, how to avoid anachronisms, identifying what kind of sci-fi or fantasy you're writing, ways to guide your research in topical matters, how much of the mundane (animals, weights and measures, units of time, foods, diseases, et cetera) you should create or leave alone, and how to approach an agent or publisher with your completed works. It is all presented in a very casual and easily read tone.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is that Athans uses article references and quotes of other authors in the fantasy and sci-fi genre, presenting a broader scope than his own. This is something I look for in any "guide" or "how to" book because many who claim to know the special secret and only their method works are trying to scam you.

Also remember, because this book is a high level view of writing fantasy, it's short. I consider that a good thing because I don't want to be sifting through pages and pages about creating languages, diseases, magic systems, or other things that are research topics when trying to find answers to very simple questions about writing my fantasy world.

Overall, I recommend picking this book up if you plan on writing sci-fi or fantasy. It's a great supplement to add to your personal writing library. After reading through it, it's improved my confidence in my ability to world build and reviewing my own writing. Also, excellent short story by R. A. Salvatore included at the end!
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on May 8, 2011
Overall a decent read... I ate it up in a couple of days. There are certainly some solid pieces of advise on a variety of things, and the author has a good sense of humour (I guess you'd have to trying to make a living in this genre).

It does in my opinion weigh a bit more to the Fantasy side of things, than the Sci-fi side, but that didn't bother me personally.

What I didn't like is that it's fairly vague on some major issues. The section on publishing was very high-level, what one would expect in a "Publishing for Dummies" book. The guy is (was) an insider, so I wanted a few more juicy tidbits and secrets. He only hinted at some brutal realities in the industry, so I wonder if the editor held him back there. Regardless, I started reading his blog, which is a bit more bold and answers more questions.

A solid 4 stars.
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on August 14, 2013
This isn't a bad book. Don't look at the three stars and think I'm saying that this book isn't well written. It is. But my problem is it is quite simplistic, and obvious, and only delves into the basics. It is not going to take your writing to the next level. Bottomline this is for beginners. If you are an absolute beginner, then this will serve you well; otherwise, no. There is nothing in here that is new. It's all old news. You won't read through it and go, "Wow. I can't believe I missed that." Really. There are tons of books like this. Even though its focus is on fantasy and fiction it doesn't say anything that isn't obvious. If you've read any half decent book on writing you will not need this.
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on January 4, 2015
With humor, blunt advice, warnings, and fantastic examples, the author shares insights into the craft of creating a story and how to best work with agents and editors, specifically in the science fiction/fantasy genre. The suggestions for improving characters and creating consistent and plausible worlds are helpful and motivating. I am inspired to continue working on my story. I've learned more about how to keep on writing even when I feel stuck, how to liven things up, how to evaluate my progress, and how to direct my efforts when revising. The guide reads like a personal conversation with an expert. Grab a drink, get ready to take notes, and make like a sponge to soak up wisdom from a collection of well-respected professionals.
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on January 5, 2015
Much of the challenge of doing something new is figuring out what you don't know. Athans explains what kinds of questions you need to answer for your book in all stages, from developing the first idea to submitting for publication. This book is about the big picture, not details. That said, it's a very worthwhile resource. Because of this book, you'll know which direction to go and what questions to ask, and that is well worth the asking price.
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on September 24, 2011
I am not a fan of either of the main authors, however this book turned into an amazing resource as well a great read. Each chapter is full of quotes and words from other authors with lots of helpful information.

Chapters 1 and 2 they lay out the the genres and subgenres of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I do not fully with everything the authors has to say about the genres and subgenres however this was the first time I have seen someone say this is how THEY VIEW the genres and subgenres.

Chapter 3 Talks about audience, although I feel they have a great beginning I wish they had more, possibly short examples or something a bit more than what was put in just a few pages.

Chapter 4 - 8 are great at helping you form more solid ideas for a book if you are having trouble forming your thoughts into writable content.

The rest is for you to discover.
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on September 29, 2013
I've read a lot of these "how to write" genre books. This one is hands down my favorite.

It's great for those reading their first how-to book on writing fantasy and science fiction. In the clearest language and using good examples, Athans makes plain what young writers need to look out for when crafting such stories. He identifies which barriers can be broken and which should be obeyed.

Keep in mind, however, this is NOT a nuts and bolts approach to writing or submitting. It's more of an overview with general guidelines. Appropriate mostly for those just getting into the craft.
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on March 2, 2015
Thanks so much helping me strategize and build depth into what I'm trying to write. What started out as a two page start to short story, has now expanded to sixteen plus pages and lots of notes. I'm currently working on some layouts of structures to help the action flow. I'm also doing a lot more research. Again, thank you for all the help.
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