A few days ago, the SFWA blog reposted Terry Bisson’s article “60 Rules for Short SF (and Fantasy).” Given that Mr. Bisson has sold many a short story, whereas I am tiny and unpublished (so far!), his opinions are probably more interesting than mine, so I’ll only comment on a few of his rules.
“20. The main character should be a little stupid. This flatters the reader.”
Personally, I love reading about characters who are more intelligent than I am. Make the protagonist stupid, and you run the risk of making me lose my patience. I’d much rather be enthralled by a competent protagonist than flattered into thinking I could do better in the same situation.
“36. No magic carpets or Once Upon a Times. A fable is not a short story. A joke is not a short story.”
In other words, check your premise before you write 3000 words or more about it. Allison Jamieson-Lucy, a fellow alumna of the Alpha SF/F/H Workshop for Young Writers, had an excellent article about this, “A Pun Is Not a Premise,” over at the Alpha blog (which, disclaimer, I edit).
“40. Fights are only interesting in real life. They are boring in stories.”
I’m inclined to agree, but I would hesitate to call it a rule, more a personal preference. I’m not a military SF kind of girl, but I know people who are. (I assume Mr. Bisson is talking about action scene-type things. If two characters with compelling but opposite motivations are in an argument, that’s the opposite of boring to me.)
“55. After you finish your story, go back and cut your first paragraph. Now it is finished.”
I’ve critiqued stories that started in exactly the right place. I’ve also critiqued stories in which the first few pages seemed unnecessary. So, I would amend this to say, “Know your own writing process well enough that you have a general idea of how much fluff you tend to write at the beginning, and cut all of it before you’re through.”
“60. Peril is the SF short story writer’s accomplice, adversary, and friend.”
I couldn’t agree more.
So, fellow writers (and readers), what do you think? Do you disagree with any of his rules, or think any of them are especially apt?