Kat caught one of my characters out on a minor biological pecadillo
regarding the black color phase of the Carolina Grey Squirrel. After some though, I've decided to leave it in, because the character isn't a biologist, and it amuses me to allow her to repeat a bit of Northeastern US "common knowledge" that happens to be wrong. I do plan to stick an author's note in the book to the
effect that she is wrong, however.
The author is a story enters a contract with the reader of that story. The contract, boiled down to its short form, is this: You, the reader, will permit me, the writer, to manipulate your emotions and intellect to the purpose of providing you with entertainment. You will bring your imagination, your discrimination, and your brain. You will provide me with
sufficient time to tell my tale.
In return for that trust, I will offer you escape and recreation in the form of a "fictional dream"--a story so engaging that it takes on a reality. I will sustain that reality to the best of my ability, dazzle you with my hard-earned skill, make you laugh and cry and repay you richly for your willingness to open up your
emotional and intellectual life to my control.
I will make it look easy.
Writers who don't fulfill that contract for a sufficient number of readers won't find those readers coming back. That means--
--learning your craft well enough to make the writing look easy, natural, and so forth: from characterization and plot and worldbuilding to the slightest details of sentence-level decisions. This includes mastering grammar, dialogue, narrative
technique, structure, characterization, sentence-level choices, rhetoric, storytelling, tension, plot....
--learning to think like a writer, to observe closely, to notice and record the telling detail, the "fabulous reality," the moment of truth.
--trusting the reader to bring his 50% to the table. Writing is not a passive art: you do not project your world wholesale into someone else's mind. You guide and manipulate his perceptions in such a way that his imagination produces a world with a striking
similarity to your own. However, his is never going to look exactly like yours. Nor should it: people bring different values, experiences, and squids to the table, and no two people can ever read the same book.
--getting your facts straight. Not making careless errors. These are even more unforgivable in this era of the Internet than in previous years, when you had to find the right actual book or the right actual person to answer a hard question.
--telling a damn story
Is accuracy of detail important?
Because anything--anything--that shatters that fictional dream is a chink in the armor of your story, and they add up faster than you might imagine. It's not about being good enough, guys. It's not about not making mistakes.
Success in writing is about excelling. About being the best. About superlatives.
If you want to be a consistently published SF&F writer, you will have to be one of the two or four hundred best *IN THE WORLD.* If you make excuses, if you think "good enough" is good enough.... you are writing for yourself and your friends, and you might
as well accept that now and enjoy your hobby rather than breaking your heart in the publishing industry. Because learning this craft and learning it well may take then, fifteen, twenty years.
Nobody ever said it was easy, automatic, or fair. It's my estimation that writing fiction well is as hard as brain surgery or quantum mechanics or sculpture and a hell of a lot less precise.
The good news is you have all the time in the world, and practice does make perfect. But I wouldn't be doing you any favors if I lied to you and told you this was something you could do well without working at it. For years. Unless you are one of the rare,
freakish gifted sorts who do in fact seem to be born knowing how. (When Keats was my age.... he was dead. When Beagle was Hannah's age, he'd written two brilliant books--one fiction, one nonfiction.)
And the other good news is that you can take it one lesson at a time, which makes it a bit less scary.
But Steven King is right about the million words of shit you have to write before you know how to write something that isn't shit. And even an experienced writer can turn out drek if she's hurried or stressed or blocked.
Whoever told you this was easy was lying. It may take most of a lifetime to learn to do it well.
It is, however, worth doing anyway.
And as Charlie has been known to say--there is *always* room for excellence.
So my benediction: get out there and be excellent unto one another. And excel.