fiction / science fiction / writing

Warning Signs and Hope

Eric S Raymond nails a list of symptoms to look for as warnings signs that a book may be unreadable…

1. Evinces desire to be considered “serious artist”.

2. Idea content is absent or limited to politicized social criticism.

3. Heroism does not occur except as anti-heroic mockery.

4. All major characters are psychologically damaged.

5. Wordage devoted to any character’s interior monologues exceeds wordage in same character’s dialog.

6. Repeated character torture, especially of the self-destructive variety.

7. Inability to write an unambiguously happy ending. In advanced cases, the ability to write any ending at all may be lost.

There are more at Warning Signs of LSE, very funny, and on point!

Jonathan Lightfoot muses on Human Wave on the small screen over at his blog. ” “Science Fiction is metaphorical, a way to study ourselves.” Which is one good way to see it. The question is what type of metaphors does it choose? Which ones are the popular ones?” 

So here’s my take-away from these, quickly…

1. Have fun with it! If you aren’t having fun, your reader likely isn’t either. Although serious moods are important, so also is that inappropriate laugh-out-loud moment when they are reading in public. Don’t be afraid to be labeled a hack, be proud!

2. Have big ideas. Not politics, which are narrow-minded, petty, and fleeting, but “what will become of humanity when we reach the stars?” or “What makes us human?” or “Freedom!” But for heaven’s sake, story first, then slip a little message in there. NO preaching!

3. Have a real hero. Corny, sappy, romantic in the old-fashioned sense… male or female, make this character someone they will want to jump to their feet and cheer for.

4. How about a regular joe plunged into a bad situation? How avant-garde would that be: a character who grew up in a happy, nuturing family and is in a stable relationship? I can hear the gasps now.

5. Um… yeah. see what I said about not having fun. Don’t bore your reader. navel-gazing is NEVER exciting.

6. Look, no one likes a whiner. And no one likes to be made to flinch all the time, either. If your character is too stupid to live, thake them out behind the woodshed and put them out of our misery.

7. Endings are important. This ties into the hope… you might be able to get away with killing a mian character, but there must be a PURPOSE for a death, or a major sacrifice. Don’t leave the reader dangling off the cliff with no hope.


15 thoughts on “Warning Signs and Hope

    • And there are characters who need to grow up during the story… but don’t take too long about it! One example is the “March UpCountry” series by Ringo and Weber, I handed the first copy to a friend, who loathed it. He hated Prince Roger as whiny brat far too much to ever connect with him. But for most people that ‘larval stage’ was a blip compared to watching the character develop through the rest of the book.


  1. Thank you Cedar!!!

    I don’t remember a better, more spot on post from anyone! I haven’t aspired to write, but if i ever do, this will be my Bible.

    You are the BEST!!

    Love you, Rosalie


  2. Yeah. I have a kind of whiny character. Fortunatley, she expresses it in snark rather than being actually whiny. She just got her first bitchslap. Dunno why it took so long. Too bad it’s published serially… I should have inserted it a lot sooner.


  3. #1 Is John Crowley’s biggest downfall. He has great prose, but his attitude as a writer is appalling, and I’m hesitant to feed such an ego with my cash.


  4. But, but…no politics? at all? I’ve been in a dither all morning.
    How can you avoid them? Doesn’t every character, every person, fall into one or another political persuasion, whether they know it or not?


  5. I would have thought this truth to be self evident; give your readers an enjoyable entertaining experience and they will throw money at you.


  6. I’ve always felt that things like symbolism, social and political commentary, and examining existential questions can make a book richer and more enjoyable – but ONLY if they are in the background! First and foremost, the story must be *entertaining*. If I’m not entertained by the story, I won’t bother reading it, let alone contemplating any larger ideas mixed into the backdrop.


  7. Pingback: Review: Bread has a Hero | Cedar Writes

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