Blast from the Past: Writing with Hope

Sorry about the retread, but I’ve got a sinus monster in my head, and he’s squeezing my brain in his coils and thought is… elusive. Besides which, this is a timeless topic. 

Eric S Raymond nails a list of symptoms to look for as warning signs that a book may be unreadable…

1. Evinces desire to be considered “serious artist”.

2. Idea content is absent or limited to politicized social criticism.

3. Heroism does not occur except as anti-heroic mockery.

4. All major characters are psychologically damaged.

5. Wordage devoted to any character’s interior monologues exceeds wordage in same character’s dialog.

6. Repeated character torture, especially of the self-destructive variety.

7. Inability to write an unambiguously happy ending. In advanced cases, the ability to write any ending at all may be lost.

There are more at Warning Signs of LSE, very funny, and on point!

Jonathan Lightfoot muses on Human Wave on the small screen over at his blog” “Science Fiction is metaphorical, a way to study ourselves.” Which is one good way to see it. The question is what type of metaphors does it choose? Which ones are the popular ones?” 

So here’s my take-away from these, quickly…

1. Have fun with it! If you aren’t having fun, your reader likely isn’t either. Although serious moods are important, so also is that inappropriate laugh-out-loud moment when they are reading in public. Don’t be afraid to be labeled a hack, be proud!

2. Have big ideas. Not politics, which are narrow-minded, petty, and fleeting, but “what will become of humanity when we reach the stars?” or “What makes us human?” or “Freedom!” But for heaven’s sake, story first, then slip a little message in there. NO preaching!

3. Have a real hero. Corny, sappy, romantic in the old-fashioned sense… male or female, make this character someone they will want to jump to their feet and cheer for.

4. How about a regular joe plunged into a bad situation? How avant-garde would that be: a character who grew up in a happy, nuturing family and is in a stable relationship? I can hear the gasps now.

5. Um… yeah. see what I said about not having fun. Don’t bore your reader. Navel-gazing is NEVER exciting.

6. Look, no one likes a whiner. And no one likes to be made to flinch all the time, either. If your character is too stupid to live, thake them out behind the woodshed and put them out of our misery.

7. Endings are important. This ties into the hope… you might be able to get away with killing a mian character, but there must be a PURPOSE for a death, or a major sacrifice. Don’t leave the reader dangling off the cliff with no hope.

Books This is exactly how they work

This was originally posted at, in 2014. 

23 thoughts on “Blast from the Past: Writing with Hope

    1. The only breakable rule of writing was laid down by C.J. Cherryh: never follow any rule off a cliff.

      I pulled off a story (here) that hit rule 5 — chiefly because there WAS no dialog — and no one’s ever called it literary, whether as a compliment or an insult.

    1. Eh, I’ve seen (and quickly put down) some excessively experimental magical realism where the character names were all lower case to show that they were downtrodden un-people. I later learned that the author was inspired by Prof. bell hooks (who eschews capital letters for Reasons.)

      1. To indicate how Special and Wonderful she is, and how Put-upon. Why, she once was at an airport, and one employee was so racist as to make a mistake about something.

    2. Haven’t been all that fond of e. e. cummings since high school, but I’ve like small doses of the archie and mehitabel stories. At least, he gives a plausible excuse for decapitalization.

  1. I went to ESR’s place and followed a link in the comments to “Sci Fi and Fantasy 101” at It’s what you’d expect from

      1. I went there too. People overthinking stuff and being proud that they were so advanced that they didn’t like the Belgariad.

  2. Hey Cedar, thank you for the link to my post from years ago again. Had to read it to remember what i said (or should I say, what I learned/borrowed from others).

    This may be a way off tangent, but since my musing concentrated on the metaphors, I think another good clue is how well the writer understands and gets metaphors an analogies. Do they twist them into painful shapes to make them mean what they want, or do they naturally resonate?

    Tangent on the Tangent: I have a Facebook friend who talks about “President Turnip” all the time, and makes other similar disparagement without restraint (then says we need to love instead of hate). The other day he posted this: Trump and the Brain…”What’re we going to do tonight, Brain?

    I know he meant that as an insult to to Trump, comparing him to Pinky, but if anything, its a compliment. He has no understanding of who Pinky is. I replied to him: “I am glad to see you are finally mellowing on Trump. To make him the likable, companionable, genius sidekick that saves the world from domination by an insane lunatic each night.”

    All he said was “umm”.

    After all, we are writers, someone can talk nonsense in politics all they want, but if they malign one of our favorite characters, the guns have to come out.

      1. Well, the other commenters said Brain was actually Russia, since they are trying to take over the world, which means that Trump is the one who foils Russia’s plans to take over the world each night by being their best friend. Gotta love that one.

    1. I’m still shaking my head at that time I saw someone use Scrooge’s “Are there no poor-houses?” speech in favor of Obama-care.

      1. Quoting it at leftists who explicitly say that they pay their taxes to care for the poor — seldom penetrates.

      2. Often they are also advocates of so called criminal justice reform. We’ve abolished poorhouses, which leaves prisons. “But some would rather die.” Tiergarten 4 style socialized medicine permits the abolition of both prisons and poorhouses.

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