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How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
Book Name: How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy
Author: Orson Scott Card
Publisher(s): Writer's Digest Books
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback
Genre(s): Writing
Release Date: 1984

Firstly, I would like to point out the reason as to why I picked up this book: I would like to one day, become a published FANTASY AUTHOR. Therefore, my review will be from the perspective of a wannabe fantasy author.

Well Orson Scott Card is certainly a good writer. No one can really say otherwise. He was the first person ever to win both the Hugo and Nebula for the same book* and is one of the best selling writers in the world today. In more recent times he has become a bit of a hated figure for certain views he holds and perhaps upon learning about them, your views of his work’s content may change – however, if you can separate man and work – he is a damned good author whose quality of writing you should aspire to.

Just because the man is a great author though, doesn’t make him a great teacher, does it? Well, not always, but I believe you will find Mr. Card fairly credible. He has been a lecturer and also held numerous panels over the years and it really shows. He puts across his points very well, doesn’t give too many tedious examples and gladly he doesn’t comment too much on his own work. I think when you pick up a writing book and people simply use their own examples it can feel very, very like they are trying to market themselves and get you to a point where you feel like rolling your eyes. The examples he uses are very good and kept to the minimum – awesome!

I will now go into a summary of the content.

Chapter One, The Infinite Boundary

Basically, this chapter explains to you what science fiction is and what fantasy is. I think perhaps the book shows it’s age here, because where as people may not have known the difference in 1984 when it was first published, now most people do know the difference. Already we begin to see a huge emphasis on sci-fi and fantasy kind of gets shunned to the side. There is also a big discussion on magazines and anthologies that pretty much don’t exist in the same way anymore. Really, a chapter worth skimming over and although it was enjoyable as a reader, but as a fantasy author it was, I am sad to say, useless to me.

Chapter 2, World Creation

The general point of the chapter was that: ‘you need to really think about how x happens.’ For example, if you say this species climbs walls very well – why? What caused them to evolve this way? Basically, every action has a reaction and if you are writing about reactions (which in sci-fi and fantasy you are) you need to explain the original action. Everything has to have rules and you should take time thinking about them. However, there is again a massive, massive emphasis on sci-fi. We get a lengthy discussion on building alien worlds, traveling across space or time and just about a page on magic systems. I felt the discussion on how spaceships can cross space was very good and very scientific – but again, useless to me.

Chapter 3, Story Construction

Orson Scott Card tells us about the four different types of story. Basically, whether your story is based on characters, events, worlds, or ideas. It is a pretty good theory and one that will perhaps even make you sad that any novel you can think of will fit one of the four – however, is it really helpful? I guess to an extent it is useful to know which one your story fits into, but there isn’t much discussion as to how the writer needs to adapt their style depending on which they are writing.

Chapter 4, Writing Well

This was one of the better chapters. We are treated to some good examples on how to subtly explain a world to our readers and also some basic rules that you should follow as a writer. I found this chapter to be one of the better ones because, although it was again sci-fi orientated, the rules all seemed to work for fantasy too.

Chapter 5, The Life and Business of Writing

This chapter could probably have been left out of the book post 2000. The chapter talks about extinct markets and sums of money that are no longer relevant. I guess some people might enjoy the pep talk, but for me I don’t feel I need to know how to live as a writer in 1984. Things have changed so, so much in 25 years that it just sounded redundant.


So, although I have kind of slated the book here – it is worth a read. It is certainly aimed at sci-fi authors and I do wonder why the word fantasy is even mentioned on the cover. However, if fantasy writers are willing to read it and modify Orson Scott Card’s rules and thoughts on sci-fi and bend them slightly to fantasy the book could help you out.

I think coming away from this book, the most important thing I took from it was that ‘everything I write about has happened for a reason.’ I therefore need to work out what that reason is, so that what I am writing about is credible. More importantly though, I need to know how much of that reason I should explain to the reader (i.e. how much is relevant and necessary in order to enjoy the story).

*Editor’s Note: It was pointed out in the comments that Mr. Card was not the first author to win both the Hugo and the Nebula for the same book.  He was actually the first person to win the Hugo and Nebula awards for the same book two years in a row (Ender’s Game and its sequel, Speaker for the Dead).



  1. Avatar Jared says:

    Good review! And I’ll pass on buying the book 🙂

    Card definitely wasn’t the first person to win the Hugo and Nebula for the same book. He’s like the 12th or 13th, even. The first was Frank Herbert – Dune won the Hugo and the first ever Nebula.

  2. Avatar Bets Davies says:

    Finding it slightly odd you would even pick up a book by Card if you are fantasy. His book, as you’ve described it, since I am not buying a book on writing by card when I write urban/fusion fantasy for the most part–shows some views I just really won’t find helpful. I, for instance, am a total character gal. I start with characters before anything else. Which puts me in a character story line, I know. But my characters aren’t my story line. They are my book. Their world is born out of who they are. The plot is born out of who they are. Interesting he wrote it, but not for me.

    Though actually I am constantly amazed by people’s misconceptions of speculative fiction.

  3. Avatar Khaldun says:

    I think The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference with an introduction by Terry Brooks is more helpful for fantasy writers, although I’ll note that I also own OSC’s book too. If a writer’s skill depended solely on how many books on writing they owned, I’d be reaching Rothfussian levels of awesomeness. Alas, that is not the case.

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