01/05/2011. Contributed by Tomas L. Martin
Nascence: 17 Stories That Failed And What They Taught Me by Tobias Buckell. self-published Ebook, available on Kindle and other stores. 432kB. Price: GBP 4.53 (UK).
check out website: www.tobiasbuckell.com
Tobias Buckell has always been a writer who likes writing about his experience of learning to be a better writer. Even early into his fiction career, he contributed the interesting ‘Getting Past Being Joe Blow Neo-Pro’ series of blog posts and podcasts about his attempts to break through from selling a few stories to being a consistent professional writer. That’s something he’s definitely achieved, with three well-reviewed novels in his ‘Xenowealth’ series (‘Crystal Rain’, ‘Ragamuffin’ and ‘Sly Mongoose’) as well as a tie-in to the universe of the video game ‘Halo’, ‘The Cole Protocol’, which hit the New York Times Bestseller List when it appeared in 2008.
He continues to document his experience of being a writer on his website’s blog at www.tobiasbuckell.com/ , including a number of surveys of professional authors on business matters like the average advance for a novel and sales statistics for his self-published short fiction collection, ‘Tides From The New Worlds’. Recently, he has published a new collection of short fiction with a difference, combining some of his work with the analysis of writing seen in his online blogging.
‘Nascence: 17 Stories That Failed And What They Taught Me’ is a really interesting concept for a collection. In it, Buckell gathers together seventeen stories from his discarded pile of writing that hasn’t sold. Some of the stories almost work but fall short in really connecting, whilst some just flat out fail to entertain. Presenting fiction that the author admits himself doesn’t work shouldn’t seem like a recipe for a good book, but the way it’s presented makes it a really fascinating book for aspiring writers.
The stories are presented in chronological order of when they were written, beginning with ‘Spellcast’ from 1996 when Buckell was just starting to seriously pursue fiction writing, through to ‘Slow-Burn Passion’, which was written in 2004 as the author was starting to make the breakthrough into an established writer of Science Fiction. Before each story, Buckell spends a page or two talking about where he was in his understanding of the writing process when the story was written, what he feels he’d learned and where he feels the story failed.
The experience for a writer such as myself who is firmly in the ‘Joe Blow Neo-Pro’ status of having sold a few short stories but not getting consistent results with every story, is a how-to manual on what a short story needs to achieve that is incredibly useful and interesting. By exploring some of the bad stories he wrote on the way to learning to be a successful writer, Buckell shows the reader why it’s important to pick an appropriate viewpoint character, to show and not tell and other pieces of advice that how-to books on writing frequently advise but rarely demonstrate. Most writing books explain how to write using excerpts from widely-acclaimed brilliant work. By using less successful attempts at storytelling, ‘Nascence’ is far more effective at teaching what not to do.
Although the stories at the beginning of the book are definitely not great, the quality of the fiction grows as the collection goes on and some of the stories towards the end, such as ‘Vacuum Cures Everything’, are still enjoyable reads despite their flaws. The last three stories are actually re-written versions of the same story, including the final version which went on to be published in Clarkesworld Magazine last year, which is another good teaching in moment in how a story could be changed to improve it.
I’ve read a lot of books on how to write fiction and few have been as consistently useful as ‘Nascence’ was in explaining where stories can go wrong. Writers everywhere will find this a useful reference and even non-writers who like Buckell’s work will find the autobiographical story of how he came to be a successful author interesting. A very interesting concept for a collection that’s been produced very well.
Tomas L. Martin
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