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Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy at The Novelry

fantasy science fiction Oct 10, 2021
writing SFF

If you're writing speculative fiction, ensure your first reader is an experienced SFF editor to master your magic and future proof your science fiction.

Craig Leyenaar joins The Novelry from Titan Books, the famous publisher of science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller and speculative fiction including graphic and comic novels. He joins us as an editor – and with his amazing SFF (science fiction and fantasy) expertise – as a tutor too. He's ready to turn your writing dreams into – well – something bigger and better than reality. Over to Craig.

Hello everybody! It’s been a pleasure to see how many speculative writers there are here. And I want to say: I’m here for you. I’m here for the writers with the weird ideas, the silly ideas that you’ve not wanted to tell people about for fear of being looked down upon or thought of as ‘not a serious writer’. I call bullshit on all of that, and I say: be proud of writing speculatively!


How do they feed all their dragons? How come that entire magical race that has existed for hundreds of thousands of years only has a single language and a monoculture? If they’re travelling faster than the speed of light how do they see where they’re going? How come everyone refers to The City as The City? Is there only one? Why?
Craig Leyenaar

 To me, it’s the most imaginative and all-encompassing of all the genres. There’s nothing silly about it, and even if there is it can be seriously punchy. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels are just a couple of examples of serious literature written not-so-seriously.

And remember, the most successful stories of all time have all been pretty much speculative, right from the word go with the Epic of GilgameshThe two biggest-selling individual books of all time are fantasy titles. And nine of the ten top-grossing films of all time are fantastical in some way.

I’m here to provide editorial support, help, guidance, and cheerleading on your writing journey. As well as to provide insight into the weird and wonderful world of writing SFF. World-building (which is an entire series of posts on its own); metaphor and allegory; subverting tropes; the endless genres and sub-genres; how long is too long when it comes epic fantasy; why the Chosen One should be chosen last; is science fiction just fantasy with plausible deniability; committing to your story; the Hero’s Journey as tragedy; insight into The Mysteries of Publishing; and the use and abuse of Proper Nouns in fantasy writing, or, when does the book become the Book? I’m here for it all!

As both a reader and editor, I’ve always found SFF’s fecundity endlessly fascinating. Science fiction, fantasy and horror are frameworks in which you can tell any kind of story you choose. They’re environments in which you can play without restriction. China Miéville has said that he wants to write a story in every genre (Embassytown is hard SF, Perdido Street Station is a classic quest narrative, Railsea is YA, etc), Zen Cho’s Sorceror to the Crown is a Regency romance with wizards, Alastair Reynolds’ The Prefect is a police procedural, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke is alternative history. These are all such vastly different novels it becomes strange to think of them categorised as simply science fiction or fantasy. And so, when it comes to SFF I would suggest writing your story and then figuring out which genre it is later (there will be one that fits, don’t worry).

And now, I suppose I ought to tell you a little bit about myself. I moved to Cape Town at the age of eight, but only began reading sometime later when – for reasons still unknown to me – we had no television in the house for a year. It changed my life and I never stopped, even after our television privileges had been reinstated. I had the honour of being reprimanded for reading in class by teachers, which seems rather counter-intuitive. I didn’t know anyone else who read fiction as I did, as it wasn’t that sort of place, even at university and so the world of publishing wasn’t something I had ever considered; it was like when you’re a kid and think about the Arctic or Antarctica – you’re aware of their existence as large, blobby places on the map, but they’re concepts rather than real locations and you certainly don’t think you will be visiting them.

It was only after several years of travelling around, seeing all the wonderful strangeness of the world and finding myself filled with ideas that I first began to consider: who were these people who created the books I’d spent years of my life reading?

And so a decade ago, I came back to the UK and undertook an MA in Creative Writing at Warwick. It had the opposite effect than I imagine was intended. It made writing no longer enjoyable. But it did demonstrate the joys of the editorial process to me and so led me to becoming an editor; it also showed me how not to teach writing.

If you’re here with us at The Novelry, or thinking about signing up for a creative writing course with us and weighing it up versus an academic creative writing degree, an MA or MFA in creative writing, all I can say is if I had the choice now between the two, I know which I would choose in a heartbeat.

Having experienced authors and editors look at your work critically yet supportively is so crucial that if you only ever remember one piece of advice it should be this: Find Chidi. If that makes no sense then stop what you’re doing and go and watch The Good Place! But it just means you should find someone both supportive and constructively critical who takes your work and your career goals as a writer seriously. That is truly transformative.

Yes, there may be some segues into writing craft at times as the poetics of each genre are key to writing them effectively, but the fundamental difference is that the craft theory is there to service the story. If it doesn’t work, toss it and try something else. Tools not rules as I’m sure you’ve heard here at The Novelry. And I’m excited about helping you break the rules and craft some new tools.

The editorial process takes time and there aren’t any shortcuts. The one common trait of every published author I know is that of persistence. 

It’s a marathon not a sprint. And as an editor and tutor my role is to be cheerleader and coach, but it will be you who crosses the finish line. Because it is your story. Remember that. Yours is the last word on anything you write as it is your name on the cover.

Editing speculative fiction involves all the standard feedback and more: looking at voice, style, dialogue, pace, character, plot, world-building, etc but also often means playing the role of first reader and asking those obvious questions, such as: How do they feed all their dragons? How come that entire magical race that has existed for hundreds of thousands of years only has a single language and a monoculture? If they’re travelling faster than the speed of light how do they see where they’re going? How come everyone refers to The City as The City? Is there only one? Why?

I look forward to exploring all the worlds you have created and all those you will create in The Novelry.



When you sign up for one of our Book in a Year plans at The Novelry, you'll have a year to create your science fiction or fantasy masterpiece for adults, young adults or children with our amazing team of tutors and editors, our fantasy and science fiction writing workshops and a devoted SFF online writers' community. Sign up and start today.


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