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Madness and Measure


The author's advice blog covering his writings of science fiction and speculative fiction
Is he mad? Can he write?

As an author of speculative fiction and science fiction writings, I have also dedicated myself to helping writers and readers write better and read more effectively. This is Lorenzo Samuel's Advice Blog, which I'm sharing with you.


This month's advice blog is addressed to writers mainly; hold on a minute. Shouldn't readers know how stories are written? Should a reader know of the sweat, toil, disillusionment and exultation of the writer who is attempting to communicate her or his story in some publication? Should the reader see what techniques the writer is using? My guess is that knowing what the writer went through when composing the story would enhance a reader's enjoyment of the story.

“Why?” you might say. As a writer myself, that second paragraph expresses my feelings on the matter. Now, let's delve into the meat for the answer to why.


This week, I finished a reread of Leon Summelian's classic book "Techniques of Fiction Writing: Measure and Madness." By "madness," he did not mean insanity, or anything clinical. A better interpretation of what he meant is irrationality. He felt that the initial creative idea for a story is irrational. That is, it lies in the realm of non-communicated ideas.

The writer's job is to present a story idea to readers in a rational, understandable manner. This is the "measure" one finds in the title of Summelian’s book. The writer must take this idea, afloat in the world of thought among a trillion trillion ideas, bring it out of such a chaos, out of the disorder of all these ideas tumbling about, then put order into it so it can enter reader minds in an understandable and entertaining way. This takes technique!


To date, the madness aspect of an author is not teachable; however, the measure aspect is. A writer can learn how to characterize and plot, how to write scenes with impact, how to present crisis and climax and resolution, that is, how to effectively present a story to a readership.


Toil, sweat and disillusionment lie in the writer's measure. A well-known screen-story writer was asked how he wrote successful screenplays, one after the other. He thought about the question‒no snap answer here‒and finally said that he put his forehead against a blank piece of paper until the forehead bled. This was not a flippant answer. Not trite or cute. It was real, a metaphor that expressed the mental and emotional turmoil this writer went through to write a story that would communicate to viewers.


People are idea factories. Many feel they can write a story. After all, they’ve read many stories. The idea is exciting and new. It's fantastic. It's important. It ought to be told. That's the madness part. Now comes the work. They write the story. It's rejected by agent or editor. The potential writer shoves the manuscript in a drawer. Will work on it later. Never does complete it. A failed writer. Many of such inhabit this world.


What they have failed at is not the idea, the madness. It was great. The failure came in the measure, the presentation of the idea so readers could read it effectively and be entertained to boot. It comes down to persistence and learning.


My advice here is, yes, put it in a drawer. Then get dedicated, get professional by learning the measure, the technique of presenting a brilliant story idea to as many readers as possible.

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