What is so challenging about writing fiction? How could that be hard?

That was the question an acquaintance asked me recently. I was mildly annoyed at the question, but I realized that to many people, fiction is simply entertainment. And to many of them, entertainment comes to them easy so it must be easy to create as well.

You see, I write fiction, in a variety of genres, all of them among the “speculative” genres of fiction. I currently have five novels nearing completion, and several other long-term projects on the back burner. No this is not a shameless plug (although I won’t object if you want to know more). This is about the responsibilities of a writer, from my perspective.

Not many people know that Gordon Dickson linked the helix shape and genetics long before DNA was discovered and photographed. Some of our current medical technology closely mimics the ideas of Phillip K. Dick. Ursula K. Leguin and CJ Cherryh both proposed principles of governance that our leaders still haven’t acknowledged.

Can change be brought about through what is often dismissed as juvenile?

Is it possible to build a society and government where tolerance of all religions is required by law, as in the books of Mercedes Lackey? Is it possible that Robert Heinlein was right when he said a leader that was not targeted for assassination was not doing his or her job?

In the case of my own fiction, is it possible to build an “aristocracy of altruism”?

I am used to getting patted on the head when I talk about writing fiction. I try not to feel superior to the people who underestimate the power of new and strange ideas.

Is there an inherent value in stories about superheroes? Does reading Superman give a young child anything except dreams of flying through the skies and lifting heavy objects? Are there people in this world whose principles of service to others were shaped by tale of the Man of Steel? (or, more frightening, Lex Luthor?)

While I know a few young men (and some women, and some not-so-young) who dream of being Jedis and Siths, how many people went into politics because of the example of Senator Organa, Leia’s adopted father?

One of the earliest books of science fiction I ever read was from the Danny Dunn series by Raymond Abrashkin and Jay Williams. A young boy who daydreams of going to the moon in a spaceship… does. After being punished by his teacher for believing that travel to the moon was possible, mind you.

The idea that my daydreams could come true, when I had not had much faith in it before, was powerful. It scared me, it excited me, it gave me hope.

Wherever Danny Dunn is today, I would like to tell him what he did for me.

This was written almost 30 years before Robert Heinlein proposed the “World as Myth” – where every alternate universe is reflected as the myths and fiction stories in our own. A corollary to this is somewhat terrifying and electrifying: our world is made from the stories of another universe (wave to the readers, dear).

But “World as Myth” has… complications. Sometimes I work too hard to make everything nicer for my characters. After all, somewhere, it really is happening to them. I have a lot of empathy for them. I invest a lot in their lives, loves, troubles, tribulations, and growth.

What Heinlein did went beyond writing. It was meta-writing. In fiction. He changed fiction for the people writing fiction, within a fictional setting. Try calculating that one!

I’d be surprised if a number of people, terrified by the sudden responsibility, did not quit writing altogether. It was tempting for me to run away from that onus.

It was no longer enough to say “my characters are real to me.”  Because, theoretically, they were now real, someplace, living, loving, and dying.

Killing a character, or allowing them to die, has real consequences now.

Somewhere Doctor Shane Vassad grieves for his daughter Sekhmet. ‘Poly Nuke’ screams for Huck, as Phade cries over the body of Grindski and Violet says good-bye, for the last time, to her son Myth.  Spoor has reacted to his abuse by becoming something less than human, and Cheshire wants revenge for her boyfriend.

I spend days working out my grief, guilt, and shame when my characters die, or something traumatic happens to them. They are no longer fictional. They are, somewhere, real people.

But today, somewhere/somewhen, Pax, Max, and Pyr are exchanging vows of “marriage” in front of their friends and loved ones, a simple acknowledgement of who they already are and who they choose to be. Ziian has broken through Rinaldo’s barriers, so that they can (finally!) have a relationship. The guys of the DaVinci Rangers are throwing a party. Talks-to-Turtles, along with the rest of the people of his homeworld, is celebrating the end of the war. The crew and passengers of the Athame have arrived at Pentaklus, and Kaba has left the drugs and porn smuggling behind to begin her new life as an animal breeder. Rafaela is nursing her newborn twins, as she is held by her husband. Ben has cast his first spell, as his adopted father and his adopted uncles watch with broad grins.

I also get to share in their joys and victories. I get to help them evolve into better people, into something more than they were. I bring friends and lovers into their lives.

S’ythe has been united with his a’amorziklai, his “lifemate-in-spirit”. Spellblade and his teammates have repelled the invaders. Dreth and Tosk have each found their birth-families. Brennan and the crew of the Oberon have finally brokered a peace treaty, saving the human race from genocide. Ziyanne and Kliarra are riding to the rescue of an orphanage under attack.  Nick Fairechild and his family have vanquished a misogynistic, psychotic mage.

I have to find ways for them to get out of their troubles, solutions for (virtually) every problem. I am their mother and father, the god they never pray to, and the devil they despise.

I doubt Mack will ever thank me for the problems I have given him. Ennis will never forgive me for the abuse he endured as a child. Violet and Myth probably would have preferred more time together. Aera Procyon is sick of not finding a lifemate. Pagan is tired of being alone, in all but spirit. Tosk would rather not go through the constant pain of being a shape-shifter. Shady would probably choose to not be melancholy all the time, or to put up with the exhaustion of his particular genius, and Grunt would have liked to have parents who cared about him.

But, I have been told, science fiction and fantasy are so trivial. They are escapist flights of fancy. Because of a few elements of the story, those stories are considered inconsequential in the art of narrating people’s live.

The presence of nanotechnology does not minimize the issues in Dev::Project. The unholy mating of clockwork, steam engines, and alchemy doesn’t really change the social problems in The Clockwork Hart. The continuing war between Heaven and Hell doesn’t negate the issues confronting the guys in the Myth and Nightmare series. Just because it’s 70 years in the future, Three Dog Pack still deals with issues of poverty and “illegal” immigration. There are still valuable lessons to learn in Lifeforce, even if magic “isn’t real”.

As Tells-Tales-in-the-Shade tells Talks-to-Turtles, “There are more possibilities in the world around you than you can guess, and the Great Spirit has yet to run out of them.”

In paganism, there is word we use as greeting and good-bye, or simply as a statement of understanding.

“Namaste.” “The divine in me greets/sees/recognizes the divine in you.”

When I sit down to write, a part of me says “Namaste” to everyone I write to life. Namaste, Alan; welcome to the afterlife. Namaste, Grindski; thank you for your sacrifice. Namaste, Captain Abawa; may your burdens be lighter. Namaste, Dafyd Siream; enjoy your new life.

And I am not just responsible for mortals. I am responsible for other entities too.

Namaste, Lucifer, Nox, Loki, Mnemosyne, Kernunnos. Guard these worlds well.

But does it matter than I, and a number of writers who believe as I do, have changed?

Does anyone else combat police brutality, harassment, and profiling “in real life”, as the DaVinci Rangers do in The Clockwork Hart? Does it matter that the religious intolerance of the Hegemony happens in our world, not just in the pages of Arcane Exodus? Who cares about the violations of civil rights and basic human decency, like in Terra Firma: Solid Ground? Is education of children who are different something we should value, or do we leave it to Zakolaeus, Loretta, Graydon, and Cerise, in Wizard’s Call?

I was once a political activist, starting on that path at the age of 17. As much as I detest politics and “business as usual”, as much as I would like to “opt out”, it’s not something I can put aside easily, anymore than I can stop crying over a character who is in pain. Both are equally a part of me.

I have a responsibility to work toward a better day, because there are a lot of people, most unknowing, who depend on me to do so.

And some of them live in this world.

I have more than this world to change. I have more worlds than I care to count, counting on me. And I have more worlds clamoring to be born.

I am not sure if Heinlein ever considered some other implications of his theory. If our world is, like he proposed, a story being written by some unknown author (let’s call him Yahweh, for fun), then som serious questions become relevant.

Is Yahweh writing on a deadline? Is he writing “on spec” (one of the least attractive and most abusive forms of publishing)? Does he care about his characters and their situations? Does he remember their names after he mails off the manuscript? Who is his agent? Is he valued by his editor, or does she just think he’s a pretentious bastard? How late are his royalty checks?

Because the answers to these questions could explain how Yahweh feels about his characters. I would also wonder if perhaps there were some volumes to this story that got rejected by the publisher, because that would definitely explain a lot of things.

In the play “Five Characters in Search of a Play,” five people are left stranded, without life or progress, because a playwright decides not to finish their stories.

If nothing else, my children will have their stories told.

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SequimBob2Questinia2ndClassCitizenPunditCaruwhatsthatsound Recent comment authors
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Greetings, Vancouver, from Sequim!

The thing I like about reading and writing Fantasy / Science Fiction is that the author can enlarge a particular aspect of the human condition beyond “normal” proportion. Once enlarged or magnified, the condition can be explored and manipulated in ways that are difficult to accomplish in traditional genre fiction. It is a wonderful, powerful, fascinating and versatile genre.

An author who has created an alternate world and societies to populate it has accomplished something unique and extremely difficult — over and above the normal hard work of beginning and finishing a novel. Anyone so arrogant and condescending to ‘pat you on the head’ has probably never accomplished either task.


Gordon Dickson may have written splendidly about DNA, but it was Watson and Crick who described the helical nature of it in 1953. DNA was, in fact, “discovered” 100 years earlier when a substance dubbed “nuclein” was found in cells. I know these things because as a bio major, it was drilled into me.

BTW, please don’t mention the name Gregor Mendel. Or peas, for that matter.



It’s always been one of my greatest fears, that writing something bad happening to a character will make it happen in another universe.

It’s always freaked me out.


I can pretty much go all the way with you on this. Your characters ARE real, certainly to the degree that you have cultivated very real relationships with them and concerns about them. And who is to say that it doesn’t go further? Nobody really knows where a thought begins and where it ends. A thought I have now may have been thought two seconds ago by somebody in Greece, or even on another planet, before making its way to me. All chemistry is “recycled”, after all, why not thoughts. So it could be very possible that as you work out solutions to real problems in your fiction, even people who don’t read them will have that idea seeded into their own consciousness, and that may help the solution to actually manifest in this (perhaps not so real) reality.


I have yet to find a genre that allows a writer to explore the nature of humanity better than science fiction, and it’s by far my favorite. I don’t read as often as I should, and I don’t read as fast as many do (I subvocalize with full context — it allows for excellent comprehension, but it takes a long time), but I really get into the books that I do read. Anyone who thinks that sci-fi is “easier” to write than other genres simply isn’t making an effort to conceptualize the process. The writer may not have to stick to “reality” to start things off, but that just means they must create a new one, from scratch — brick by brick. I don’t envy peforming such a daunting task. Then they must introduce characters into that “homemade” reality that the reader can identify with (and often some they can’t), and create a series of events that makes those characters come to life — all of it being juggled within that individual writer’s mind. I think that anyone who refers to science fiction as “simple” is really just labeling themselves.


I LOVE to read…and read anything I can get my hands on. Some days I feel like reading fiction other days I prefer non fiction..other days I like to combine the two…and read about politics. 🙂

I believe that fiction and the telling of stories regardless of genre provides an opportunity to think the real world with the fantasy world. In my opinion the two work together and are very relevant and purposeful.

I also believe that through ‘entertainment’ and all forms of artistic expression, especially fictional writings, can provide so much opportunity to learn different perspectives and provide much food for thought. So while it is entertaining it is also educational and thought provoking.

The tale of Elphaba and her experiences in OZ in “Wicked” provide the reader with the concept of seeing “two sides” to every story and provides another perspective on the Emerald City from that we learned in L. Frank Baum’s OZ books.

Tolstoy in “War and Peace” provided the reader with a better understanding of what life was like in tsarist Russia during the Napoleonic wars. Much more than what one learned from reading the official history of the time.

Ian Fleming’s James Bond series, provided the reader with many concepts of fantastical devices that many would never realize are possible to actually create. As well as providing some incite, while far fetched into what may be going on behind the scenes of political discourse.

Robert Ludlum went even further and provided a more realistic view of what may be going on behind the scenes with spies and counter intelligence agencies and gave readers a sense of cynicism about just what really goes on and is being kept from us…thus enabling the reader to sense there is more than meets the eye in any international relationship.

Gore Vidal (my personal favorite) is just out there…and has provided many interesting perspectives on quite a bit of social and political concepts. From a Jim Jones type character who succeeds in ending mankind in Kalki to his interesting interpretation of media, corporate dominance and religion in “Live from Golgotha” and his flirting with time travel and the issue of paradoxes in “The Smithsonian Institute” and his take on historical events in “Lincoln” “Washington DC” and “Empire”…his perspective and imagination provide not just entertainment but exceptional philosophical ideas that make you really question much about what IS possible and what may not have been told properly about the past or what might be being mis-communicated(on purpose) now.

So basically, I think that fiction writing is a gift and provides MUCH for society in many ways.

Keep up the good work…I’m jealous! 🙂


I believe there can and is great value in fiction. As you can see, I am a big fan of Kurt Vonnegut’s work. I’ve also read a good deal by Heinlein, Aldous Huxley, Asimov, Bradbury, Mark Twain and many others I cannot remember now.
Fiction, good fiction, contains very relevant thoughts and ideas about religion, science, sociology, law…….etc.
A person, in a debate on a blog once told me that he, “outgrew,” Vonnegut while still in high school. I am sure it was meant as a put-down, but I found it to be utterly ridiculous. Vonnegut’s work is brilliant, and relative, not only in the 20th century, but the 21st as well. The same goes for Heinlein and many others.
Fiction is pure creation. And anyone who tells you that it must be easy, has most likely never sat in front of a blank page or computer screen.


Ahhhhhhhhhh………. Science fiction and fantasy formed me. That’s as close as I can come to explaining why I am the way I am in my head. From Blish to Clarke to Asimov and Heinlein, Campbell, McCaffrey, Lackey, Jordan, even Rand(!) and all the rest. They have been my teachers and my friends, have allowed me to mentally explore ideas in social issues, technology, the human mind, and how they relate to each other in ways no other genre possibly could. By somehow making me read their propositions, I became a better person, more thoughtful, understanding, perceptive, and imaginative than I would have on my own. I sincerely believe that.

Besides, they keep my belief alive that, somehow, there IS magic in the universe.


I really enjoyed this article. I’m not an author but I do love to write, and I like hearing about other people’s processes. How they approach what they do.

Sci-fi has always been my favorite genre, mostly because it is somewhat rooted in reality. No matter how crazy the story, you can find a bit of truth in the science behind it. It COULD happen. I do tend to blend in bits of fantasy though, as it opens the door to just about anything.

I guess I don’t take characters or “worlds” I create very seriously because of the reason I’m writing. I’m just trying to get it out of my head. Same with the articles I post here. I’m compelled to write it down. Once it’s all written down, I feel like I’m “free” from it. It’s done.I can move on now. I dunno. Sounds weird but I can’t explain it any better.


I believe it was T.S. Elliot that once described the writing of poetry as some sort of exorcism. I tend to agree.


I absolutely understand ‘feeling free’ after it’s written. Sometimes I’m just afraid I’ll ‘lose’ it; other times- like you, I just want to get it ‘out’ of my head.. or heart.