The science of writing SF

For anyone embarking on their first adventures in this kind of writing, these guides offer very useful pointers and warning signs.
Please share your own useful lessons below.

So you want to write sci-fi, eh? Some claim that creative writing cannot be taught, but it can certainly be learned. And a good guide, be it a teacher or a handbook, can help shave hundreds of hours from your learning process. Of course the best sci-fi is just great writing by any measure, so it behooves any young writer to look at the best guides for general fiction writers. But sci-fi writing brings its own special challenges, and has its own canon of teachings to help overcome them.

Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer and illustrated by Jeremy Zerfoss is a wondrous book of advice and inspiration for writers of imaginative fiction. VanderMeer's warm and generous voice guides writers old and young through the creative process, but always gently leading us back to the essential "sense of wonder" that inspires great sci-fi writing. And with contributions from George RR Martin, Neil Gaiman, Ursula Le Guin and many more, including editors Liz Gorinsky and Ellen Datlow, Wonderbook is arguably the most exhaustive cataloguing of sci-fi writing wisdom yet complied.

At the other end of the spectrum Parietal Games, the collected non-fiction of M John Harrison, challenges writers to consider how that sense of wonder can become a problem. Harrison's critical writing has been infuriating sci-fi fans and writers alike for the best part of 40 years, as it pokes holes in the very idea of escapist fantasy. Harrison famously debunked the act of world-building, beloved by fantasists since Tolkien penned his first map of Middle Earth, as "the clomping foot of nerdism". But if you want to discover the true wisdom of sci-fi, Harrison's clear-eyed insights are priceless. You'll have to go on a mini-fantasy quest to find this out-of-print classic, but Parietal Games is well worth the reward if you succeed.

If you do decide to build a world for your fantasy epic, then beware the dark realm of cliché. Diana Wynne Jones, a true great among fantasy storytellers, makes affectionate but razor-sharp fun of Tolkienesque fantasy in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Written in the form of a tourist guidebook, it catalogues all the tired old tropes fantasy stories roll out time and again. Dark Lords, magic swords, haunted forests. It's not that you can't play with these motifs in your own stories, but if, after reading, you hear her ironic whisperings as you write, you're well advised to find fresh ways to present old images.

Are you guilty of calling a rabbit a smeerp? Is there a squid on your mantlepiece? Have you resorted to telling a shaggy God story? If you have no idea what I'm talking about, then you need to read the Turkey City Lexicon. Written as a primer for students attending the Clarion writer's workshop, the aim of the lexicon is to help you avoid the mistakes that all new sci-fi writers make. "As you know Bob, character dialogue should never be used to infodump and handwave your way through an Adam and Eve story." Said the columnist, authoritatively. If you can't see what I've done wrong there, make the Turkey City Lexicon your new best friend.