Posts

Writer judges Hal Clement, Robert Silverberg, Frederik Pohl and Jerry Pournelle

Why Is Writers of the Future the Top of the Top Writing Contests

If you are an aspiring author or know someone who is, then this article is for you. Find out for yourself why Writers of the Future is the top writing contest in the world and why you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by checking it out.

Created by L. Ron Hubbard to Provide for the Future of Science Fiction & Fantasy

Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg

“What a wonderful idea—one of science fiction’s all-time giants opening the way for a new generation of exciting talent! For these brilliant stories, and the careers that will grow from them, we all stand indebted to L. Ron Hubbard.”Robert Silverberg

For over three decades, Writers of the Future has grown to become the premiere writing competition of its kind in the world.

The Contest is free to enter with the ability to upload one’s submission online making it available to anyone anywhere on the planet. (English language only.)

The Contest is open to those who have not professionally published a novel or short novel, or more than one novelette, or more than three short stories, in any medium.

But, it’s a review of what Contest judges and past winners turned-to-Contest-judge say about the Contest that makes it clear why it is now the top writing contest in the world.

Kevin J. Anderson

Multiple New York Times bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson, a Contest judge since 1996, notes that perhaps L. Ron Hubbard’s greatest legacy is that with this Contest he has created another generation of writers.

Rebecca Moesta

Bestselling YA author Rebecca Moesta, a Contest judge since 2007, discusses how the Contest provides for the future of Science Fiction and Fantasy. 

Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Writers of the Future winner from the first year and Contest judge since 2000, Nina Kiriki Hoffman talks about the importance of paying it forward. 

Dr. Doug Beason

For Contest judge Dr. Doug Beason, the Contest provides a sense of family and a sense of togetherness, everybody there to help each other out. 

Tim Powers

Multiple World Fantasy Award Winner, Tim Powers explains how the Contest takes promising writers and provides a future.

Dr. Jerry Pournelle

New York Times bestselling author Dr. Jerry Pournelle was originally mentored by Robert A. Heinlein and became a Contest judge in 1986 to follow in Mr. Heinlein’s footsteps of paying it forward.

 

Proven Track Record for Over Three Decades

The Winners

For 34 years, the Writers of the Future Contest has established itself as the top merit competition for speculative fiction. Hear it from the winners themselves what it means to win the Contest.

It Levels the Playing Field

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Participant in the first workshop in Taos, NM in 1986 and now Contest Judge, Kristine Kathryn Rusch was interviewed by SciFi Magazine about the Writers of the Future Contest.

“To my knowledge, it’s the longest-running contest currently going on in science fiction,” says Rusch, when asked why Writers of the Future is such an influential force in the sci-fi world. “It’s anonymous—which is important—and it only deals with new writers, which levels the playing field a bit. It’s also had tremendous success. The writers chosen have for the most part gone on to have great careers. I think that comes from having professional writers as judges and not academics. Writers know what makes good fiction.”

Robert J. Sawyer

The only thing the judges will see is the story itself with a number assigned to it. They have no inkling of age, sex, nationality or ethnic of the contestant. So it is only by the merit of the story alone that will determine a finalist or winner. Contest Robert J. Sawyer explains how this is: 

Judged by the Best in the Industry

From its inception, the judging panel of professional writers have been some of the most celebrated names in the science fiction and fantasy field. The judges for the first Writers of the Future volume in 1986, included Gregory Benford, Algis Budrys, C.L. Moore, Robert Silverberg, Theodore Sturgeon, Jack Williamson and Roger Zelazny. The panel of judges has continued to grow with many of today’s masters of science fiction and fantasy who were themselves winners in the formative years of the Contest.

Judges at the 1996 Writers of the Future Awards ceremony at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

(Left to Right): Doug Beason, Kevin J. Anderson, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, Algis Budrys, Jack Williamson, Frederik Pohl, Tim Powers, Gregory Benford and David Farland.

For a full list of Contest judges past and present, go to the Writer Judges section.

Judges at the 1996 Writers of the Future Awards ceremony at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

 

The Judging Process

Here are Contest judges David Farland and Robert J. Sawyer discussing how the judging process works.

 

Writers & Illustrators of the Future:

The Search for Tomorrow’s Legends

Click here to enter the Contest.

Sign up for our Writers of the Future newsletter for writing tips and updates from Contest judges and winners.

 

International Space Station

Science fiction is the herald of possibility: How fantastic fiction has become science fact.

Science fiction—earlier termed fantastic fiction and later speculative fiction for its probing, multi-sided search of the world of “What If?”—has anticipated major developments in science and technology for decades.

Concepts now gaining widespread scientific recognition—ranging from microchip implants, robot drones and teleportation to the existence of other planets at the rim of the observable universe—were initially conceived of and written about in short stories and novels decades ago by science fiction writers such as Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, to name a few. To the general reading public, these were good books to read. But to aspiring scientists, engineers and astronauts, such fantastic fiction was the fodder of dreams.

First skywriting

Castrol created the world’s first skywriting advertisement at the Epsom Derby in 1929.

In 1889, Jules Verne wrote his short story, “In the Year 2889,” where he predicted skywriting, which became fact in 1915 and began being used commercially in 1929. He also predicted video chatting which became fact in 1964.

In 1903, H.G. Wells wrote his short story “The Land Ironclads” where he predicted tanks that became fact in 1916.

First Tank

The first official photograph taken of a Mark I Tank going into action, at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, 15th September 1916. The man shown is wearing a leather tank helmet. Copyright: © IWM.

In 1911, Hugo Gernsback predicted radar and solar calculators in his short story “Ralph 124C 41+.” Radar became science fact in 1935 and solar calculators became fact in 1978.

And there are the science fiction stories that are only now becoming science fact.

In 1897, H.G. Wells, in his story The Invisible Man, originally serialized in Pearson’s Weekly, predicted making a person invisible. Only recently has this started to become science fact as in this video

In 1930, take the instance of Charles W. Diffin with his story “The Power and the Glory” where ray guns were postulated. While we don’t have “ray guns” per se, laser cannons do exist which you can see in this video.

In 1949, L. Ron Hubbard’s “Conquest of Space,” is a series of short stories published which, told from the future looking back, reveal that space was finally conquered by heroic individuals through privatization of space flight and the incredible risks they took to accomplish it. This is only now becoming science fact with the likes of Elon Musk (SpaceX), Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic) and Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin).

And what of the future?

That remains to be seen. But what we can say is that it will still be the inspiration from great books to be read by writers of the future.

Keynote speaker for the 2015 Writers of the Future Awards Ceremony, William Pomerantz, Vice President Special Projects Virgin Galactic, spoke to the annual winners about how science fiction provided his initial vision and it was again science fiction that enabled him to persevere in the realization of his dream of space flight. He stated, “I owe a huge debt to you and to those who have come before you. It was through science fiction that I learned that optimism, and through science fiction that I reclaimed it rather than falling victim to that jaded skepticism of our modern world.”

Want to discover what fantastic fiction is inspiring tomorrow’s science fact?

For more information on science fiction, fantasy and those who create it sign up for our newsletter HERE.

Larry Niven at the Writers Workshop

Tell Me a Story by Larry Niven

I can’t help you sell your early work in the 1980’s. To enter the field my way you’ll need a time machine set for 1964. That’s when every novice was trying to write New Wave, except me, and an ecological niche was left wide open.

I can’t tell you how to write, not in a thousand words. I’ve been telling what I know as fast as I learned it for twenty-two years. My collaborators now know everything I do. I’ve spoken on panels and published articles on writing. Is there anything left to say?

Maybe.

I

If you want to know that the story you’re working on is saleable, try this: I tell it at a cocktail party. I dreamed up “The Flight of the Horse” one morning, outlined it that afternoon, and by that night was telling the tale to a clutch of cousins. I held their attention. I didn’t miss any points. I kept them laughing. The noise level didn’t drown out anything subtle and crucial. Then, of course, I knew how to write it down so I could mail it and sell it.

I told the sequel the same way (“Leviathan!”) and sold it to Playboy for what was then fantastic money.

This makes for good memories. It’s also a useful technique.

Some of the best stories simply can’t be told this way, and I can’t help you write those. Nobody can. They are rule-breakers. Try some early Alfred Bester collections. But any story you can tell as a cocktail/dinner conversation, without getting confused and without losing your audience to distractions, is a successful story.

So. You want to write a story, and be paid for it, and know that it will be read? You want that now, no waiting? Tell me a story. Tell your brother/wife/cousin/uncle a story: tell anyone you can persuade to listen. Persuading is good practice: you need skill with narrative hooks. Watch for the moments where you lose your listener; watch for where you have to back up and explain a point. Your audience will tell you how to write it. Then you write it.

You won’t need this forever. You’ll learn how to tell the tale yourself.

(My normal audience in the beginning was my brother. Thanks, Mike.)

As for the untellable story, that one depends on subtleties of phrasing or typographical innovations … that one you can postpone. You won’t have the skills to write it for a few years anyway.

II

We working writers, we’re not really interested in reading your manuscripts. We can be talked into it, sometimes, via the plea of relatives, or sex appeal, or someone to vouch for you.

Do you know how difficult it is to persuade, say Ray Bradbury to read one of your stories? Have you tried yet? You’d be a fool not to, if you’ve got the nerve. An hour of a successful author’s time could be worth a lot to you. What he says will apply to most of your stories.

Ray turned me down twenty-two years ago. He said he didn’t have the time, and he was right.

But we can be persuaded. So here you are, a novice who’s sold a few stories or none, and somehow you’ve talked an established writer into reading one of your stories. What do you do then? Give him your worst story, the one that most needs improving?

A novice writer did that to me when I was also a novice. He told me so after I told him that if I could think of a way to make it saleable, I’d burn it.

Give him your best story! The best is the one most worthy of improvement. It’s the one where your remaining flaws shine through without distractions, and you’ve picked the man who could spot them.

This shouldn’t need saying, but it does. I’ve heard counterarguments. Look: even if you’ve sold one or two, they just barely passed; they could have been better. You know that. He knows how.

(But don’t bother Ray. A thousand novices have broken their hearts trying to write like Ray Bradbury. He has a way of implying a story in insufficient words. It looks so easy, and it can’t be done.)

III

If the story you’re telling is a complex one—if the reader must understand the characters or the locale or some technical point to understand what’s going on—then you must use the simplest language. Your reader has his rights. Tell him a story and make him understand it, or you’re fired.

This is never more true than in hard science fiction, but it never stops being true.

If you don’t have anything to say, you can say it any way you want to.

IV

Do your research. There are texts on how to write, and specialized texts on how to write speculative fiction.

Learn your tools. (For instance: the indefinite pronoun is “he.”) You can create imaginary languages, but it’s risky.

Always do your research. One mistake in hard science fiction, in particular, will be remembered forever. Remember: you’re on record.

V

Start with a story. Tell yourself a story. Are you in this to show off your stylistic skills? They’ll show best if you use them to shape the story. Calling attention to the lurking author hurts the story. The best character you ever imagined can be of immense aid to the right STORY; but if he’s getting in the way, drop him.

A good stylist really can turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse; and he’ll be forgotten in favor of the average yokel who had just brains enough to start with silk.

VI

Don’t write answers to bad reviews. It wastes your time, you don’t get paid, and you wind up supporting a publication you dislike. Granted it’s tempting.

VII

Every rule of writing has exceptions, including these, and I’ve broken many.

You’re not good enough to do that yet.

This article by Larry Niven was originally published in Writers of the Future Volume 2.

 


Larry Niven

Larry Niven

Larry Niven was working on his master’s degree in mathematics when he dropped out to write science fiction. He broke into professional SF writing in 1964 and has been going strong ever since. Now a giant in the world of science fiction, he is best known for his Known Space future history, a still-growing series of more than thirty novels and stories. Ringworld, the most famous of these titles, won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards. He later co-authored a series of novels with fellow judge Dr. Jerry Pournelle, including the celebrated national bestsellers The Mote in God’s EyeLucifer’s Hammer and Footfall. Larry Niven received the L. Ron Hubbard Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Arts in 2006. He has been a Writers of the Future judge since 1985.

ShaunTan. Photo by Stefan Tell.

Advice for a New Illustrator by Shaun Tan

Illustration is a very diverse and scattered profession, a practice that takes many forms, sometimes even hard to define, and it’s very unlikely that the careers of any two illustrators are alike. It’s mostly freelance work where an illustrator moves from one opportunity to the next, often in an unpredictable way week to week and certainly unpredictable throughout a working lifetime. If nothing else, markets, technology, culture, personal skills, and interests will change and develop all the time. That’s the first thing to be aware of, especially when either giving or receiving specific advice—every artist’s experience and circumstance is different. The most I can do is reflect on general principles gleaned from my own successes and failures over the years, tips that might be relatively universal, useful and encouraging.

Challenge Yourself

Perhaps the first and most important tip is one that applies to all work: enjoy what you do, to the extent that it is a pleasure to go beyond the call of duty. Creating work that is more than sufficient, that exceeds expectations and even the demands of the client, has always been something that I’ve not only tried to do but learned to enjoy doing. I rarely consider any job “run-of-the-mill” or just “bread-and-butter” if I can help it. Given time and energy (admittedly not always available!) I like to treat every creative task as a unique experiment and don’t always go for the easiest solution, or the one most dependent on existing skills. Every piece of work should involve an element of innovation or novel difficulty. This is what I’ve come to understand as “doing your best.” It’s really about trying to do a little better than your best. I’ve always been surprised at the results, and that in turn has fed my self-confidence as an illustrator.

It also explains my success as a creator of picture books. When I first entered the genre, I was very interested in challenging both myself and this narrative form rather than executing good, safe and “appropriate” illustrations according to an agreed fee or royalty.

I was inspired by other artists and writers with similar intentions, creating artistic problems for themselves, and investing seemingly unnecessary hours for very little pay, sometimes reaching only a small audience, in a genre that’s often critically overlooked and sometimes disrespected (true also of SF illustration from a mainstream viewpoint). That didn’t matter: what most concerned me was the opportunity for some experimentation that may not have been possible at the bigger commercial end of the spectrum, where higher pay usually equals less creative freedom. For the same reason, I devoted most of my energy and passion early in my career to small-press science fiction, because it offered the best opportunity for artistic development, weird visual challenges, and ultimately came to be the place where I could fine-tune my practical and conceptual skills as an illustrator in the absence of formal training. Making almost no money, mind you, although it’s paid off in the long run. I’ve learned to be patient and stick with it!

So it’s very important to pursue personally challenging work, and small jobs can be just as significant as high-profile ones for that reason. Although people are often impressed by an association with high-profile projects (especially film) perhaps my most significant achievements are modest landscapes and portraits painted in my parents’ garage during my early twenties, work which remains unexhibited and unpublished. I still enjoy creating paintings that have no commercial concern or public dimension. I think it’s very important to have this stream of work alongside commercial practice, a separate stream—again, it’s all about strong personal development. A good artist is (I think) an eternal student, and even when most confident, never feels like a master. They are forever pottering in their backyard spaces, trying to explore their craft with modest integrity. That’s how unusual and original work emerges, not by chasing markets or fashionable movements or wanting to be conventionally successful.

Be Versatile

But speaking of chasing markets, for a practicing artist this remains, of course, an essential pursuit, if only to survive. It’s the other, parallel course of creative practice: economic sustainability, making money. I think this area is the most difficult to cover with simple advice because there are so many types of working environment: adult, young adult and children’s publishing, advertising, editorial and genre illustration, film design, animation, theatre, fine arts, games and other forms probably not yet invented. Most visual artists will cross over several of these, especially in a digital, multimedia environment. Therefore, versatility is paramount. That doesn’t just mean being adept at working in known styles and media, but also unknown ones—you need to be able to learn and adapt, to remain flexible, diverse, open-minded.

Be Professional

The principle of versatility also applies to working with people, since nearly all commercial work is collaborative. Even if you are writing and illustrating a book in uninterrupted solitude, it’s still a collaboration with an editor and other publishing staff. It’s important to be reliable and easy to work with, as much as with any other job. This is the main reason clients will continue to give you work, and almost all of my early assignments came to me through the recommendations of others. A lot of preceding illustration produced for little payment in small-press magazines and anthologies proved to be worthwhile, both as training and exposure, a demonstration of my willingness to follow a brief in a dependable and imaginative way. That’s also true of one of my very first “jobs” as a teenager, an illustration for the Writers of the Future anthology that needed to complement a story about a time traveler who kills kittens!

Be a Good Speaker

Communication is very important, even though so much time is spent working alone on what can otherwise seem an introverted profession. You need to be able to talk and write about everything you create in a clear and explanatory way to help others understand your ideas, especially when they are not immediately visible, especially to non-artists and the aesthetically blind. Empathy and patience almost always win the day, even in tough situations. You need to be open to discussion, revision and compromise, while at the same time maintaining your own artistic integrity—these are not necessarily incompatible, as so many people often believe.

Maintain a Broad Interest

Technical competence as an artist is, of course, essential, but this is only ever a tool for the realization of ideas; without a strong imagination, the display of skill is just that—and “style” is interesting only if backed up by content. Too much illustration looks great, but leaves little resonance in the mind; it’s brilliant in style yet thin on conceptual relevance to real-life concerns.

It helps to remain interested in all forms of art and have a good grasp of art history as well as some knowledge of art theory, both past and contemporary. Understand the relationship between art and life. My own background is quite academic, and although I initially worried that studying art criticism might have been a bad choice (having no real idea what I wanted to do as a career), it’s actually been very useful. A knowledge of history and theory, and interest in art beyond making attractive pictures: this can really boost your artistic thinking. Developing a visual sensibility and vocabulary, rather than just technical skills, means that you can be perspicacious enough to deal with many different projects and find original solutions.

Don’t Despair!

As long as you are doing something, even if it isn’t successful, you are not wasting your time. The greatest achievement of so much creative work is simply finding time and dedication to do it, especially when it seems difficult and less than enjoyable, particularly as almost every project seems to involve some kind of confidence-wounding “crisis.” Good ideas and talent aren’t worth much if they aren’t put through the wringer of actual hard work. Ideas are not really ideas until they are translated into labor. Failure is also an essential prerequisite for success.

Pay attention to criticism, and don’t pay attention to criticism! At the end of the day, you are the ultimate judge of your own work, so learn to be critical in an affirmative rather than negative way. All creators—if they are any good—suffer from periods of disappointment, even depression with their own achievements (or lack thereof); that’s perfectly normal! Just keep going, if you want to cross that threshold. You also never find out if you’ve really failed until you actually finish a piece of work. Each success, regardless of quality, will build confidence, and confidence is the key. You also need to protect that sphere of confidence from unwelcome opinions or minor setbacks.

Draw, Draw, Draw and Then Draw Some More

Finally, for anyone interested in being an effective artist, illustrator, designer, even a film director—you should really learn to draw well. It’s a valuable foundation, something you’ll always use, regardless of technology or genre. Drawing is more than just wielding a pencil with precision, it’s a way of seeing well, something that takes several thousand hours of practice, and even then, never entirely mastered. Good drawing is a timeless skill, infinitely adaptable, and will never become passé. My entire career rests on my ability to draw well, to think effectively using simple pencil marks. All other visual skills and techniques, from oil painting to CG animation, are elaborations of this fundamental skill.

Tips on Getting Published

Being a competent artist is one thing; getting published represents a rather different set of problems. The most important advice I can offer is this: please consider the publisher. What can you offer them with your work? Research the area you are interested in and know what a prospective editor might be looking for, what other work is out there. A picture book text might be as brilliant as its potential illustrator, but if it does not suit the list that a publisher is pursuing, both are quite likely to be rejected. Unfortunately, publishers do not exist to supply a canvas for free artistic self-expression—I wish!—they are primarily a commercial business. Many young artists don’t pay enough attention to this important fact.

Be aware too that there is a “culture” of illustration in any genre that you need to be familiar with (which can vary from country to country). One good way of finding out about this is to study recent works that have won major awards and think about what they have in common. Recognize trends, but don’t bend backward to imitate them, or try to be something you’re not. Rather, look for the point of intersection between your creative interests and the kinds of books that are being successfully published.

As a contemporary illustrator, you can accomplish a lot by having a very good website and a well-presented folio. I would keep both of these quite simple, showing only your best work; young artists always seem to err (as I did) on the side of excess. A good folio needs only about twelve pieces—be very selective. These should represent technical skill and diversity, color and monochrome, and especially anything featuring human figures, something editors usually look for. Where possible and appropriate, it is good to arrange a face-to-face meeting with a relevant editor or art director. I’ve personally found this very useful, to get to know each other as people rather than less memorable e-mail or web addresses. Success as an artist, especially in publishing, has much to do with warm relationships. But don’t believe anyone who says “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”—it’s what you know and who you know.

And, last of all, good luck, but don’t just wait around for it to happen: make your own!

This article was initially published in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 28

 


ShaunTan. Photo by Stefan Tell.

Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan grew up in the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, and began drawing and painting images for science fiction and horror stories in small-press magazines as a teenager. He has since become best known for illustrated books that deal with social, political and historical subjects through surreal, dreamlike imagery, such as The Rabbits, The Red Tree, Tales from Outer Suburbia and the acclaimed wordless novel The Arrival that have been widely translated and enjoyed by readers of all ages. Shaun has also worked as a theatre designer, as a concept artist for the films Horton Hears a Who and Pixar’s WALL-E and directed the Academy Award-winning short film The Lost Thing. In 2011, he received the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, honoring his contribution to international children’s literature.

Shaun became a judge for Illustrators of the Future in 2011.

Illustrators of the Future Contest

Illustrators of the Future 4th Quarter Winners Announced for Volume 34

Here are the 4th Quarter Illustrators of the Future Contest winners for Volume 34.

 

Congratulations to you all!


Winners:

Quintin Gleim from Ohio
Sidney Lugo from Venezuela
Kyna Tek from Arizona

 


Finalists:

John Armbruster from Texas
Rakhi Bisen from Vermont
Leah McKay from Washington
Vytautas Vasiliauskas from the United Kingdom

Semi-Finalists:

Chloe Buffington from Florida
Anna Engel from Oklahoma
Patricia Jacques from Massachusetts
Natalia Kurpiel from Oregon
Gillian Maurer from North Carolina
Michael Meusch from Maryland
Mariah Wood from Texas
Jieun Yu from Indiana

 

“Starcave” by Paul Lehr

Science Fiction & Fantasy Art: Three Keys

“Starcave” by Paul Lehr

Pictorial art in science fiction and fantasy means different things to many people. I will try to give my personal outlook on the field, which has come about through nearly forty years as a working illustrator. What I have to say will not be etched in stone for everyone; my peers have their own procedures in work, some of which differ from mine. I can only present personal guidelines collected through my own experience.

First, I consider illustration to be a high art form. It has the capacity to enlighten and to project feelings of emotion. It can do more than illustrate an incident in a story. (Although that is of primary importance.)

Just look back to the great illustrators of the past: Daumier, Winslow Homer, N.C. Wyeth, Remington, Howard Pyle, and Chesley Bonestell, to name a few. All were powerful painters whose book and magazine illustrations reflected their own times and move us even today. Redon, Rousseau, Goya, and Paul Klee could be called artists of fantasy. It is far-seeing work that carries us beyond our own time, and into the future with dreams and realistic speculation.

We have the imagery of science fiction all around us in our own world—and it has always been so. With the kitchen light on during a summer evening, look out through the screened window, and you will see what I mean: myriads of insects of all shapes, sizes, and colors, with designs undreamed of—creatures that boggle the imagination. Trees and stumps, forming strange and mysterious shapes. Reflections in water—stones and cratered rocks—it is all there. If we are to become successful in projecting images of other worlds, alien creatures, and the concept of time, we must study our own surroundings first.

I start with the presumption that you want to create convincing depictions of real worlds, even though they may be alien or futuristic in concept. The dominant element in the work of many illustrators is the human figure. Be it in costume or semi-nude, their illustrations revolve around the action of the figures. It is central to the drama in their pictures. Other illustrators make space and starships their specialty and produce dramatic pictures which revolve around that motif. Many depict scenes with dragons and landscapes, and a fantasy theme as their favorite subject.

I have chosen to look upon science fiction as an opportunity to display epic scenes with vast spaces, structures, and armies, along with celebration and conflict; these are the themes I feel at home with. Sometimes I will build my picture around a meaningful symbol found in the story.

Whatever your choice in subject matter, take the one that excites your individual imagination—try not to copy others. To be influenced by other artists is natural, but in the end, to be successful you must create in a personal way. Your work must be your own.

In offering help to aspiring science fiction and fantasy artists, I present three important keys:

KEY I

You must live to create visual images. It should be a great passion in your life. Creativity as an artist comes first—science fiction or fantasy illustration comes after that.

KEY II

You should read—history, mythology, newspapers, fiction, science fiction. Be curious about past, present and future. Draw-draw-draw, and paint-paint-paint from life. Use and enlist the real objects, people and subjects around you. You will never know how to properly interpret photographs and scrap-pictures in a realistic way for your illustrations unless you do this.

KEY III

Take Keys I and II and dream. Use your imagination, and grasp an image that the story presents—one that excites you. You will know when you see it and read it. If you do this, your personal style will evolve, unlike any other. You will build images that are wonderful and different—even alien—but they will carry force and reality, and be much more convincing to the viewer than the shallow and false feeling that the contrived image will present.

I have been a judge in the Illustrators of the Future Contest since its inception, and have had the opportunity to see hundreds of entries. Now, as coordinating judge, I get to view all submissions and have some thoughts to express about what I see.

My personal experience is with the realistic (and surrealistic) three-dimensional picture with a light source, revealing form, shadow, and atmosphere—not the cutout-looking or flat, decorative style, which is certainly legitimate for the illustration of some stories, but simply not my forte.

If I have one major criticism, it is this: I see too many fragmented pictures with poorly considered ideas. It is nearly impossible to present more than one idea in a single picture (unless you are creating an all-over pattern or a purely decorative piece). In a dramatic illustration, representing a focused scene, one dominant idea will do. Anything more will confuse the viewer. It will not work to portray David slaying the dragon in one corner and having the fantastic spaceship off to one side, next to the necromancer peering into his crystal ball—all of approximately the same size and importance. What is the picture about? What does it mean? Remember, that no matter how well you paint and draw, the most important function of the illustration is to communicate—and do it clearly. One idea is difficult enough to get across.

Another problem that I have observed is a lack of understanding about the use of color. The entries received are executed in black and white, and some are outstanding. However, in the workshops, when we get to look through portfolios, it becomes evident that few of the artists handle color very well. This deficiency brings me back to Key II. The observations that painting from life brings are not manifest in these works.

The influence of direct and reflected light are what make color. Many entrants paint the objects and people in their work in purely local color. Trees are green, branches are brown, metal is gray, flesh is tan, shadows are black or blue or flat purple and cloth is white. Think of your picture as taking place in a shadow box, with the walls painted green, and the floor painted red, for instance—and set a white egg upon a white saucer within it. Shine a warm light down through the top, and observe it closely. You will find that the surrounding colors are reflected around, and influence the color of all objects in the box. A white egg on a white plate, which sits on a white cloth, is anything but pure white. It is a riot of subtle color, and if carefully observed, will make a painting that looks real—not chalky or gray The reflected light of the blue sky from the window will invade the shadows, and the warm light of the sun will give strong form and color to the objects, and pull things together, making a cohesive painting. Think of light as being warm or cool, and of how it influences the local color of the elements in your paintings.

In order to have a successful career in science fiction illustration, you must be able to produce full-color work. It’s fine to do quality black-and-white illustrations, but the livable money is in full, color art.

Another shortcoming for some is poor drawing. There seems to be excessive emphasis put upon rendering figures and objects—concern with technique. If you will observe closely the real world around you, as well as the rhythm and structure of nature, technique will take care of itself. Don’t concentrate on technique and expect it to solve your problems—it will simply act as a cosmetic that tries to cover weak perception. The viewer won’t be fooled—bad drawing is bad drawing, no matter how well the surface is rendered.

I am going to conclude with the admission that most of the aforementioned criticisms have applied to me, personally, in my career growth as an artist, and that now, even at the age of sixty-five, I sometimes forget a basic key here and there. Don’t become discouraged. Don’t give up. Remember, illustration is a noble profession, unlike any other. Be proud, love what you do, be yourself, and always be reminded that better work lies ahead. Enjoy it.

This article was initially published in Writers of the Future Volume 12

 


Paul Lehr

Paul Lehr

Paul Lehr’s (1930 – 1998) illustrations have appeared on literally hundreds of science fiction books during the 1950s and 1960s. His “Grok” cover for Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land was a cult treasure of the 1960s. Lehr’s illustrations have appeared in magazines around the world in such publications as Time, Fortune, Playboy, Reader’s Digest, Omni, Analog and many others. His painting of the first moon landing, which appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1959—ten years before the actual event—now is in the permanent collection of the National Air and Space Museum in the Smithsonian Institute. His work has been exhibited in many museums and galleries.

Writers of the Future logo

Writers of the Future 4th Quarter Winners Announced for Volume 34

 

Here are the 4th Quarter Writers of the Future Contest winners for Volume 34.

 

Congratulations to you all!


Winners:

First Place – Erin Cairns from Texas
Second Place – Cole Hehr from Oklahoma
Third Place – Jonathan Ficke from Wisconsin

 


Finalists:

Lou Berger from Colorado
Aiki Flinthart from Australia
L.P. Melling from the United Kingdom
J.C. Pillard from Colorado
Gilad Seckler from Rhode Island

Semi-Finalists:

James Beach from California
O.E. Fine from Massachusetts
Samuel Marzioli from Oregon
Kessia Robinson from Utah
Robert Ryder from Arizona
John Walters from Washington

Silver Honorable Mentions:

Steven R. Brandt from Louisiana
Steve DuBois from Kansas
J.G. Follansbee from Washington
Kyle Kirrin from Montana
Allen Kuzara from Tennessee
Ellen Saunders from Oregon
Paulo de Silva from Germany
N. Immanuel Velez from Virginia
Neal T. Williams from Colorado

Honorable Mentions:

Mike Adamson from Australia
Kia Addison from Oregon
Sarah Allen from Utah
Van Alrik from Utah
Michael Anderson from Ontario, Canada
Jaymie Andre from Maryland
Julia V Ashley from Mississippi
Charity Ayres from Virginia
Nikki Baird from Colorado
Robert Bagnall from England
Taylor Banks from Texas
Matthew Baron from Georgia
Corey Barracato from Pennsylvania
Ryan W. Benson from Georgia
Scott Benting from Oregon
Mark Bilsborough from the United Kingdom
Rebecca Birch from Washington
Amy Bisson from South Carolina
Stephen J. Blake from New Hampshire
Matt Bosio from Florida
Morgan Broadhead from Ohio
Victoria Brock from Australia
Diogenes C. from Thailand
Diane Callahan from Ohio
Alicia Cay from Colorado
Tracy Cembor from Georgia
Jordan A. Chase from Oregon
Harriet Clifford from North Carolina
Mary Coldren from Colorado
Alexei Collier from Illinois
Tyrell Collins from Louisiana
James A. Conan from Ontario, Canada
Stephen J. Cooper, Jr. from Virginia
Leigh Ann Cowan from Arkansas
Coleman Cox from California
Brennan Craig from Kentucky
Claire Czotter from Massachusetts
Brenden Kahil Davis from Wisconsin
Lance Dean from California
Benjamin DeHaan from Illinois
Hillary Dodge from Colorado
Iona Douglas from Spain
C.P. Dunphey from Mississippi
Frank Dutkiewicz from Michigan
Jason Evans from Illinois
Mckayla Eaton from Nova Scotia, Canada
Judith Everett from Utah
Brianna M. Fenty from New York
Michael Feramisco from North Carolina
Anne Fleeson from North Carolina
Cassiopeia Fletcher from Nebraska
Courtney Floyd from Oregon
Leah Marie Fox from Alabama
Jennifer A. Friedl from Indiana
V.H. Galloway from Texas
K.L. Garzone from Tennessee
Amanda H. Geard from South Africa
Jude-marie Green from California
Faustine A. Guerrero from California
Leslie Haig from Maryland
Brian C. Hailes from Utah
Philip Brian Hall
C.J. Harper from Florida
Carolyn Harris from Ontario, Canada
John-Michael Hawley from Texas
J. D. Haymaker from Minnesota
Russell Hemmell from Scotland
Brendan Hiles from Ontario, Canada
Cathy Humble from Oregon
Ife J. Ibitayo from Indiana
Rebecca Inch-Partridge from California
Mitchell Inkley from Utah
Bascomb James from Michigan
Stephan James from Missouri
Jeran Jenks from Idaho
Ashley N. Johnson from Virginia
Cameron Johnston from Scotland
John F. Keane from the United Kingdom
Christopher Keene from New Zealand
Kian Kelley-Chung from Maryland
Thom Kenison from Utah
Seth W. Kenney from California
Joshua Kidd from California
Benjamin C. Kinney from Missouri
Cass Sims Knight from Oregon
HRT Knight from South Africa
B. Koch from Illinois
Andrew Kooy from Louisiana
Marysia Kosowski from California
Megan Kraus from Connecticut
Andrea Kriz from Massachusetts
Kalen Kubik from Texas
Xavier Lastra from Spain
Laura Lavelle from New York
Sam Lefar from Georgia
Colton Long from Maryland
Roger Mannon from Colorado
Robert J. McCarter from Arizona
Phillip McCollum from California
Durwood MacCool from Washington
Guy McDonnell from Texas
Shane Patrick Meagher from Florida
Rebecca Mix from Michigan
Kathleen Monin from Pennsylvania
Wulf Moon from Washington
Marta Murvosh from Washington
Ethan Nahte from Arkansas
John Noel from Illinois
Arella Noreen from Texas
David O’Hanlon from Arkansas
Rosie Oliver from England
Kirstie Olley from Australia
Tyler Omichinski from Ontario, Canada
Sarah Ortega from Texas
Toluwani Osibamowo from Texas
Kurt Pankau from Missouri
Vernie Pather from South Africa
William C. Peragine from Pennsylvania
Karen Pepin from Virginia
Brittany Rainsdon from Idaho
Vani Rajh from Malaysia
Avery Ramuta from Washington
Melanie Rees from Australia
Nim Riel from Texas
Sarah Rose from Utah
Jelena Rutter from New Hampshire
Sebastien Sacre from Ontario, Canada
Edward Sammons from Florida
Caroline Sciriha from Malta
Spencer Sekulin from Ontario, Canada
Gary Sharp from Virginia
Camille Singer from California
Robert Anthony Smith from New Jersey
Joshua P. Sorensen from Utah
Robert N. Stephenson from Australia
Blake Stone-Banks from Colorado
J.P. Sullivan from California
Troy Tang from New Zealand
Clive Tern from the United Kingdom
T. Tate Thorpe from Utah
Joseph Tyrrell from New Jersey
Jack M. Ventimiglia from Missouri
Emefa Victorious from Florida
R.W. Warwick from Japan
Kristi Weisgerber from Alberta, Canada
Robert Christopher Weissenberg from California
Thomas Michael Welsh from Washington
Melvyn R. Windham, Jr. from North Carolina
BJ Wingate from Arkansas
William R.D. Wood from Virginia
Michael J. Wyant, Jr. from New York
Neil V. Young from California
Tannara Young from California
Bill Zaget from Quebec, Canada

 

man doing research

Analyzing What to Write

When you decide to write a novel, screenplay, or any tale at all, you should look at a number of things:

1)  Do you like the basic concept? If you aren’t excited about a novel, chances are excellent that you’ll lack the energy to finish it. Your subconscious will rebel at the idea, and you’ll sit wishing that you were working on another project. So you have to find story ideas that thrill you. You want to write from the heart. If you don’t, you’ll just be going through empty motions.

2)  Will the story sell? You should look at the story and ask yourself, “Is this story marketable?” If it is, how marketable is it? Seriously, you might find yourself with an idea that really sounds fun to you, but which just won’t sell in the current market. For example, back in the 1920s there were a lot of magazines that featured “Thrilling Pilot Stories.”

Maybe you decide that it’s time to start a new trend, and you write a screenplay about Ulysses Samuel Adams—a bush pilot in the Everglades who has rousing adventures that feature drug smugglers, alluring swamp goddesses, the Fountain of Youth, and a dinosaur. So you spend a month writing and polishing the story. Seriously, where are you going to sell it?

The story might be fun—incredible even—but if you’re looking to make a living, it probably needs to be something that you can take to market.

So you need to understand the markets. This means that you must survey your field before you ever write a story.

This means that if you are writing a book, you will go to your bookstore and look at the books in your field that are doing well. Look at the following things:

1) How long is the book?

2) What is the reading level of my audience?

3) What are the standards of taste? For example, how much violence, profanity, sexuality, and so on is acceptable in this field.

4) Who published the bestselling titles in this field?

5) Who are the agent and editor that brought this book out?

6) When was it written? (If it wasn’t within the last five years, the information may be dated.)

7) What is the sex and age of the major protagonist?

8) Who are the viewpoint characters?

9) What are the ages and sexes of the secondary viewpoint characters?

10) What is the primary emotional draw for this book? (Wonder, romance, humor, horror, mystery, adventure, drama, etc.)

11) What are the secondary and tertiary draws?

12) What kinds of settings do the bestsellers of this type of book have in common?

13) What kinds of conflicts do they have in common?

14) What kinds of themes do these tales explore?

15) What kind of tone do the bestselling authors put across?

There will, of course, be some variation even among bestsellers, but you will find a lot of similarities, too. For example, bestselling thrillers almost always have male protagonists. Romance novels have female protagonists, but the “fascinating male” is what the protagonist seems to dwell on. In young adult novels, the protagonist is almost always 16, while in middle-grade novels the protagonist is normally 14.

In short, before you write anything, you need to take an adequate survey of the field. What’s “adequate?”

The agent Richard Curtis once addressed this topic, and he suggested that if you as a writer haven’t been reading in a field for 10 years just for enjoyment, you’re probably not grounded well enough in your genre to break in. The person who reads just one novel and then wants to break in with something similar is likely to be very disappointed.

 


David Farland

David Farland

Guest Blogger, David Farland, Coordinating Judge of the Writers of the Future Contest.

David Farland is an award-winning, international bestselling author with over 50 novels in print. He has won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for “Best Novel in the English Language” for his science fiction novel On My Way to Paradise, the Whitney Award for “Best Novel of the Year” for his historical novel In the Company of Angels, and many more awards for his work. He is best known for his New York Times bestselling fantasy series The Runelords.

Defining yourself

Defining Yourself

I’m going to talk a bit about audience analysis. It’s always good before you begin to write to really understand who your audience is and that their needs are so that you can better meet those needs. But it’s also important to understand who you are as an author, and what it is that you want to achieve.

Yesterday I was helping an author write a query letter, and as I did, I was thinking, “Now what more can I say about his book? What sets this apart from other books in its genre?” Those are the same questions that I ask myself anytime I’m looking at a query letter, but I don’t just ask them about the book. I ask them about the author.

A few years ago, an author I knew flew to New York to be interviewed by the legendary agent Al Zuckerman, the founder of Writers House Literary Agency. As they spoke, Al suggested that the author “define his niche in the marketplace.” For example, you might say, “I’m the John Grisham of Middle Earth.” By that, you might mean that you’re writing political/legal thrillers in a brilliantly devised fantasy setting. Is there a market for such books? Maybe. And if you think of a potential mixture that excites you, one that energizes any agent or editor that hears about it, you can instantly command a fortune in advances.

For example, years ago my former student Dan Wells mentioned that he wanted to be the “Stephen King of young adult fiction.” I thought that was an odd and interesting combination. Yet when his first novel, I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER came out, it earned him huge advances overseas and led to the start of a brilliant career.

So you as an author, when you prepare to write a book, might consider whether you want to brand yourself.

Just as importantly, you might want to look at your novel and brand it. What does that mean? It means that you set goals for your story—goals that have to do with understanding how it fits in the genre and what kind of qualities you want to achieve. When I began the Runelords series, one goal that I set was simple. I said, “I want this to start out like a traditional medieval fantasy, but by the time that a reader finishes the series, I want them to realize that there is nothing ‘traditional’ about this.” So I set out to work on biological world creation, magic systems, and so on in ways that I hadn’t seen before.

In a similar way, when I wrote my novel On My Way to Paradise I set a list of goals. At about spot number twelve I wrote, “I want to write the best battle scenes ever put into a science fiction novel.” Now, I had a lot of other goals, ones that were more important. But I was gratified when I got a gushing review from one young man who seemed not to notice all of the other cool literary things that I did: he just talked about the mind-blowing fights which he described as “the best battle scenes ever shown in science fiction.”

So ask yourself the questions: “What kind of writer am I? What do I want to achieve that is similar to some of the bestsellers of all time? How am I going to carve my own unique niche in the world? As I write this coming book, how will it help reach that goal, or does it take me off in the wrong direction? What kinds of goals do I want to reach with this novel?”

As I set my writing goals, I find that it’s best if I actually write them down, turn them into concrete, specific goals.

Give it a try!

 


David Farland

David Farland

Guest Blogger, David Farland, Coordinating Judge of the Writers of the Future Contest.

David Farland is an award-winning, international bestselling author with over 50 novels in print. He has won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for “Best Novel in the English Language” for his science fiction novel On My Way to Paradise, the Whitney Award for “Best Novel of the Year” for his historical novel In the Company of Angels, and many more awards for his work. He is best known for his New York Times bestselling fantasy series The Runelords.

man writing

More than Fame or Fortune

In the last couple of posts, I’ve encouraged writers to keep on going, and I’ve heard back from many of you who have been feeling discouraged. The markets are in turmoil still, but I’m seeing some signs that the world isn’t going to end anytime soon. The major publishers are stable. That means that they’re making money in spite of the turmoil.

What I believe that I’m seeing right now is this: the paper book markets are still dominating, and I think that is going to continue, despite the inroads that e-books are having. Why? It’s quite simple. Some 70% of the shoppers are still buying books in paper formats. Thus, the best advertisement for a book is the same that it was a hundred years ago: placement in the bookstores. Even many of the readers who are purchasing books in e-format are going to the stores, seeing what’s hot, and then discreetly ordering the title as e-books.

So the goal of making it big with paper publishers still seems to be a worthy one, though if you want to explore the self-publishing market, it is increasingly attractive.

So what motivates you to write? Is it dream of critical acclaim? Do you want to win awards? Or would you prefer to get paid in stacks of money? The last couple of emails suggested that you follow those dreams. But not all rewards for writing are so . . . easily categorized.

My goal in writing this year has been simple: “to write for the love of it, every day.” Whether I win awards or make a fortune isn’t my main focus. Enjoying my art is.

The truth is, you may not make a fortune. Some of us don’t. I had a friend, Ken Rand, who was a writing addict. He had a saying, “Many people will say that you can’t write, let no one say that you don’t.” Ken wrote a number of good stories and got published in the small press. He passed away from liver cancer. Before he died he asked me to agent a novel for him, one called Dare! I love that book. Several other New York Times bestselling authors loved it, too. We all gave it great cover quotes, but not one single agent or editor picked it up.

Personally, I think it’s not just a good novel, it’s a great novel. It reminded me of The Thornbirds or Gone With the Wind. But Ken never got the million-dollar advance that he deserved. He never made it to the top of the bestseller list—at least in his lifetime.

So what motivated him? The joy of writing. You need to find your own little fount of happiness. As one writer said to me yesterday, “There’s got to be something else to keep us going besides the dream of big success. For me, right now, it is the fact that my son came to me in tears two days ago. ‘Mom, your book made me cry! That’s never happened to me before!’ It’s the fact that he went around the house, saying in amazement, ‘Mom, you did it right!’ For now, that’s enough for me. I know my own kid’s opinion doesn’t count for anything in the publishing world, but what I’m saying is that I know I gave one person a satisfying read, a powerful emotional experience. That’s what I’m after, whether publishing big comes or not.”

Writers change the world one heart, one mind, at a time.

That should be enough to keep us going.

 


David Farland

David Farland

Guest Blogger, David Farland, Coordinating Judge of the Writers of the Future Contest.

David Farland is an award-winning, international bestselling author with over 50 novels in print. He has won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for “Best Novel in the English Language” for his science fiction novel On My Way to Paradise, the Whitney Award for “Best Novel of the Year” for his historical novel In the Company of Angels, and many more awards for his work. He is best known for his New York Times bestselling fantasy series The Runelords.