To the pointy-eared among us

The ultimate highlight of the ACFW conference, in my opinion, was the two-parter Science Fiction and Fantasy course taught by John B. Olson. I can’t give away all his secrets; we were sworn to secrecy. However, we didn’t perform any ritual handshakes involving spit, so I think I can share the highlights without offending John. I found him extremely personable, humorous, and genuinely interested in all his students. When John spoke, I felt empowered to continue writing in my genre, as opposed to flushing it and migrating over to prairie romances. (Note: there’s nothing WRONG with prairie romances, but I’m not the right gal to pen them.)

But enough of the ooey-gooeys. John gave us MEAT to chew on:

The world needs sci-fi and fantasy (SFF). Like no other genre, SFF fulfills the need to search for transcendence, to find something new, to escape the real world, to find all our wishes fulfilled. If we, as writers, keep these things in mind, we can write the stories that help fulfill these needs in our readers. Especially as Christians, we can help our readers find meaning in the universe. Life is not random. We are significant. We have hope.

In order to fulfill these needs within our reader, we must write BIG stories. Unfortunately, John didn’t mean 150,000 word epics. Which is unfortunate for me, because my first drafts always come out around 155,000 words or so, and then I’ve got to cut 25,000 – 30,0000 just to catch the eye of an agent or editor! What John meant by BIG was HIGH CONCEPT. The basic hook of the story must be meaningful, unique, and bigger-than-life: too exciting to walk away from. And within SFF, this high concept will involve fantastic elements: engaging characters, world-shaking (or universe-shaking) goals, immense opposition, and exotic setting. Without the “fantastic,” the story isn’t SFF.

I probably shouldn’t say any more than that. If you need to know it all, attend the next conference and sit under the teachings of Master Olson. But I want to sum up the most important thing I took away from the course: What makes my protagonist SO SPECIAL that it’s his story and not someone else’s? What makes him unique, fantastic? Why is he the “chosen”? What’s the “hook” of my story, the basic concept that, when I say it aloud, every head in the vicinity whips around and asks me to say more? Once I can answer these questions, I’m ready to write.


(posted with permission from Master Olson)

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