September 13, 2015

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT With “Oath” (Stupefying Stories, 2013) Guy Stewart #23

In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers. Since then, I figured I’ve got enough publications now that I can share some of the things I did “right” and I’m busy sharing that with you.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote above will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

If you’d like to read it, this story is still “up” at:

The following is an abridged version of an essay the editor asked me to write to go with the story:

Worlds are supposed to be long-lasting, apparently eternal to those who live on them and even in fact whirling around their stars for a long, long time. This is what I’ve always wanted to do when writing science fiction: create long-lasting worlds so that I could return to them again and again.

“Oath” was the first story to grow from a seed planted by Bruce Bethke and Henry Vogel—though that wasn’t the title then—that eventually became a convoluted intertwining of multiple ideas, characters, and fictional events. It’s not the same story I wrote three years ago in response to their Friday Challenge in March of 2010.

From this challenge, I wrote the original story as my entry to a contest I lost—for very good reasons. “Oath” languished because I’d gotten another idea based in the same future. I abandoned “Oath”—I can’t even find a “Notes” file, so the fragment was obviously written on-the-fly—and wrote “Technopred” (April 2013, AURORA WOLF), a complete story, set in the same place as “Oath”. One of the comments on “Oath” was that “the setup leading to that ending needs considerably more work to support [it]...”

I dug deeper and built a more complete foundation. I had to understand the forces that had created the situation. I made it so that The Wilds came about as a result of the forced relocation of most of the world’s population to the Villages and the machines that were sent out to deconstruct and recycle every village, town and city identified as unneeded. I made the inhabitants of the Villages oblivious to the Wilds and the lands supporting them not in active ignorance, but because they no longer think of where their food comes from.

The background had finally grown big enough to contain “Oath”. It had spawned not only “Oath” and “Technopred”, but combined with an entirely different idea produced “Invoking Fire” (PERIHELION, June 2013 which I wrote about here – All of these led to a novel I’m in the middle of editing called OUT OF THE DEBTOR STARS; all this spilled out of the world-building that was sparked by Bruce and Henry’s Friday Challenge in March of 2010. I rewrote the fragment, placing it in the future history that had grown over the years, changed the title to the now more-appropriate “Oath,” and sent the short story to Stupefying Stories with deep sense of coming back home.

Years ago, I made a promise to myself that I would resist the urge to create disposable worlds where I’d write a single story to make a point, and then abandon it. “Oath,” seeded by an idea tossed out by Bruce and Henry and incorporating the DNA of another idea, has become a complex, rich, and deep world that I have started to feel very comfortable in. I expect there are many more stories in this place, and for that especially, I thank Bruce and Henry.

So what did I do right?

First, I rose to meet a challenge that gave parameters vague enough for me to do something original.

Second, I wrote and submitted a story – which lost the contest. But because I’d made a promise to myself to avoid disposable worlds...

I, Third, went back into the world and kept building.

Lastly, I persisted in sending the stories out. There are now three published stories in this place with more both on-the-way and in submission.

What do you think?

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