Questions I am frequently asked about… Writing and Science Fiction

DBWebSiteI’ve been working with Cheryl and Beverly to thoroughly revise my web site. If you haven’t browsed in a while, have a look! It’s now fleshed out and filled with even more fabulousness! 

As part of this, we’ve thrown together a FAQ of sorts — a compilation of questions that I’m asked most often by interviewers. We’ll post them here by category, starting with… 


— Being an author wasn’t your first career choice; you earned a Ph.D. in astrophysics.  How did your multi-track career evolve? 

I came from a family of writers and always figured that storytelling would be my artistic side-line… most scientists have one. I knew science would be harder that storytelling and I respected it more, drawn to the Enlightenment’s greatest project. After all, every culture has had storytellers, but only one ever invested heavily in training a myriad brave investigators to find out heartofthecometwhat’s actually true, despite our preconceptions.

And indeed, I managed to contribute a few new bits of knowledge…. while maintaining passion for my art. (And I incorporate my science into my art, as in Heart of the Comet.)

Ah, but sometimes life takes a turn. Your pastime can take over and become the central profession. I was a pretty good scientist and I still keep my hand in the game. But civilization seems more eager for my art, for tales that shed a different kind of light on the transformations we’re all going through. And who am I to argue with civilization? 

— What is special about writing? What drew you from seeking scientific facts to literary truths?

LIteratuareLiterature was the first truly verifiable, repeatable and effective form of magic. Picture how it must have impressed ancient people to look at marks – on papyrus or clay – and know they conveyed the words of scribes and kings long dead. Knowledge, wisdom and art could finally accumulate. Death was robbed some of its sting. 

Writing still is magical. To create strings of black squiggles that millions of others skillfully de-code with just their eyes – into emotions and thoughts, or the struggles of believable characters – or spectacle beyond Hollywood’s wildest dreams. 

Still, despite all of that, science and the honesty that it engenders have been our true accomplishments. I believe in a literature that explores this revolution, that presents alternatives and hard choices and that might help us to be wise about the onrushing process of change. One that helps to remind science and progress that it needs a heart. I reject the dichotomy, the notion that these things oppose each other. 

When a chance came along to combine the two? Who wouldn’t grab the opportunity? 

–Was Science Fiction always your chosen genre? 

Though SF offers me the freedom I need to explore a world undergoing drama and change, I often tell writing students that their first work of fiction should be a murder mystery. 

SundiverOh, it can be an sci fi mystery, like my first novel, Sundiver. Or you might give it romance or set it in the wild west, or ancient Rome. What matters is that it should follow the plot patterns and revelatory structure of a mystery yarn. 

Why? Because only mysteries demand total storytelling discipline. No distractions or arty styling or array of gimmicks can mask or make up for bad plotting. This all becomes apparent when the reader finds out who-dunnit in a mystery. In the end, the reader knows whether or not you cheated.  And once you’ve had that lesson, you will never neglect it again. 

–Do you develop the world of a novel fully in your mind before beginning to write? 

I like to be surprised. Fresh implications and plot twists erupt as a story unfolds. Characters develop backgrounds, adding depth and feeling. Writing feels like exploring. 

Oh, I sometimes plot an outline in advance.  That works well.  Still, not too much detail! I like to be surprised. 

–Do you have any advice for up and coming writers? 

WritingQuote1Write. Love writing. Love stories. Love the sound of language, the vividness of description and ironies of the heart. The marvelous web of misunderstanding that is conversation. The astonishing, non-linear gyrations of cause and effect and surprise. 

Ray Bradbury said that – deep in the heart of the writer’s relationship with story and reader, there has to be love! Love the words. Love the tension that propels your plot and characters like a steam boiler. Love a civilization that gives you plenty to read and the food and shelter and safety to do it in comfort. Love to poke hard at that civilization’s flaws. Love the fact that you have enough conceit to think others might like to read your drivel! 

Only then, amid that love… be competitive! Aim to do it better than anybody else.  Have patience to refine your craft… but never stop burning. Burn like a flame. An inferno. 

Art is like any other exercise in skill: a combination of talent, hard work and learning from criticism. And luck. Any three of those things can make up for a deficit in the fourth one. But those three had better be really strong. 

CITOKATEThe core point? CITOKATE: Criticism Is The Only Known Antidote To Error! Seek and relish criticism, because that is how to get even better. If you put your work out there and look upon criticism as your friend — (not easy, but worthwhile) — you will improve. And having that attitude will gain you real advantages, leveraging your talent, however great or small it may be. 

Good luck. There are lots of ideas out there waiting to be mined. It’s not an endangered resource. 

writeadvicevideoThat’s only a very small summary of a long list. There’s lots more. After typing countless answers to requests for advice from would-be writers, I finally put it all together in a handy place. It’s available at


David Brin

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