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Charles Stross’ Five Rules for Cold-Bloodedly Designing a Fantasy Series

Here’s an interesting read about a SF author Charles Stross‘ experiences in writing his latest novel The Family Trade. He likens it to writing a fantasy novel, a genre of which he is not too enamored. His rules for designing a successful fantasy series are:

Rule 1: Don’t steal from living authors, their ecological niche in the publishing jungle is already occupied. (Alternatively: nobody needs another Robert Jordan.)

Rule 2: Steal from the best. There’s no point stealing from the worst.

Rule 3: If you steal an entire outfit from one writer’s wardrobe, people will mock you for being imitative. So steal from at least two, and mix thoroughly.

Rule 4: When choosing the themes to pilfer, only pick ones that you, personally, find interesting — if you pick something boring you’ll only have yourself to blame if it’s successful and you end up chained to the desk to write more of it for the next decade.

Rule 5: However much you’re stealing, make sure it doesn’t look stolen. Genre publishing is a beauty show, and originality wins prizes (but not too much originality).

Anyway, it’s an interesting article that touches upon writing, the publishing business and booksplitting.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

6 Comments on Charles Stross’ Five Rules for Cold-Bloodedly Designing a Fantasy Series

  1. Speaking as a published author, I wholeheartedly commend Mr.Stross’ five rules. The advantage of stealing from two sources is also manifested in the selling: you can describe your work as “WORLD OF NULL-A meets LAST AND FIRST MEN” (The Golden Age) or “LITTLE, BIG meets DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH” (Last Guardian of Everness).

  2. Speaking of selling. πŸ™‚

  3. “Why be original? I’m too lazy. I’d rather steal.”

    Gee, Mr. Stross. You make me so much want to pick up your books. Not.

  4. Mr. Stross here is indulging in a bit of self-depricating humor. One need only read his description of the book he intends to write to see that he is an original thinker with an original take on the subject matter.

    Don’t be mislead by a humorous terminology. All artists steal: it is the nature of our craft. Good artists steal from genius, and combine the ideas and themes with their own philosophy and sense of life to come up with something original.

    Bad artists also steal; their crime is that they steal unoriginally. Read SWORD OF SHANARA, and you will see someone stealing the rind from Tolkein and leaving the pith behind. Read Plutarch’s Life of Julius Caesar and then Shakespeare, and you will see someone stealing in a way that ennobles the source material.

  5. I love those 50-cent-word burns. You slay me! πŸ˜€

  6. Fred Kiesche // February 26, 2005 at 3:29 pm //

    I’ve read Brooks…and Tolkien…

    I’ve read the Immortal Will and Plutarch. Heck, I’ve even read Julius in Latin.

    And I’ve read Stross. He hasn’t struck me as original yet. He has struck me as a middle-list hack who has delusions of being a better writer than he is.

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