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Ad Astra Speculative Fiction Writing Workshops:
Resources for Writers

Here are various and sundry resources from material that McKitterick shares in workshop sessions, during talks, and lots more. Some are web pages (converting more as I go along!), others are .doc or .pdf files, and some link to other sites. Much more to come over time - stay tuned! Let me know if you'd like to see something I've shared in one of our sessions, and I'll make sure to add it here ( cmckit.SF@gmail.com ). These are for educational use only; please don't share things that are attributed to others unless you use proper citation.

Most sections also offer some links to relevant tags from the Ad Astra blog or director McKitterick's Tumblr writing-tips blog - tons of great reblogged content, a bunch of commentary on those, plus original posts. Lots more at the bottom of the page.

Quick List

First up, here's how you need to format your manuscripts so editors will take you seriously (and so we don't get bogged down with minutiae):

Manuscript Preparation (pdf), by Vonda McIntyre.
Proper Manuscript Formatting, by William Shunn.

Now all the other good stuff:

Advice, Rules, and Tips
Plot and Narrative Structure
Point of View
Character
Workshopping and Critiquing
Openings and Endings
Dialogue
Ideas
Writing Better Sentences
Setting, Scene, and Senses
Show Vs. Tell and Exposition
Writing Process and Professionalization
About Science Fiction
More Writing and Spec-Fic References
Ad Astra writing workshops

Even more resources (including market lists and related tools) linked from our Web Resources page.

Advice, Rules, and Tips

7 Tips for Writers, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

60 Rules for Short SF (and Fantasy), by Terry Bisson.

"Gunnisms" - James Gunn's rules for writing.

Heinlein's rules for becoming a professional writer (and some discussion). A deconstruction of said rules by Charlie Jane Anders of io9. And Patricia C. Wrede's excellent discussion of Rule #3.

How to Write, by David Ogilvy.

"Master the Rules (then break as needed)" - from my Patreon (free to read, thanks to generous patrons). Part of an ongoing, multi-part "Writing Workshop" series.

Neil Gaiman's Advice to Writers.

Pixar's 22 Rules for Phenomenal Storytelling.

Vonnegut's Rules for Writers.

William Gibson on "The Art of Fiction," an in-depth interview from the Paris Review.

Writer's Markets and more on the Web Resources page 

  McKitterick's Life Advice, Life Lessons, Quotes, Theory of Mastery, Where to Start, Writing Rules, and Writing Tips tags on Tumblr.

Plot and Narrative Structure

Algis Budrys' Seven-Point Plot (doc) - from Writing to the Point.

"Four Undramatic Plot Structures" (jpg) - by Tom Gauld.

Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey - only one version of the mythical hero story structure, but an interesting analysis tool.

Kishōtenketsu (or Kishotenketsu) - an alternative, conflict-free plot structure common in China, Japan, and Korea. Two great articles on the subject: "The significance of plot without conflict," and "Kishōtenketsu for Beginners: An Introduction to Four Act Story Structure."

"Plot & story structure, Part 1: Classic architecture" - from my Patreon (free to read, thanks to generous patrons), several-part series goes into greater depth on the subject. Part of an ongoing, multi-part "Writing Workshop Handbook" series.

"Plot & story structure, Part 0: WTF is plot, and who needs it?"- the second (yet zeroth) entry in my multi-part "Patreon Writing Workshop Handbook" series.

Plots and Story Structure - overview of lots of types, structures, and shapes here.

Vonnegut Explains Drama - in his inimitable way

  McKitterick's Narrative Structure, Plot, Raise the Stakes, Story Structure, and Suspense tags on Tumblr.

Point of View

"Point of View," by Rob Sawyer

  McKitterick's Filtering (aka using character POV as awkward exposition), Perspective, POV, and Point of View, and Voice tags on Tumblr.

Character

"Creating Characters" (doc), by Kij Johnson.

"25 Reasons I Hate Your Main Character," by Chuck Wendig.

"25 Things A Great Character Needs," also by Chuck Wendig.

"The Nine Archetypal Heroines," by Tom Gauld.

Show, Don't Tell (doc) - creating characters, by Chris McKitterick.

"We're losing all our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome," by Tasha Robinson. Rules for writing good female characters.

"Writing Women Characters," by Chris McKitterick. Women have long been neglected or mistreated in speculative fiction... and, to be fair, all our cultural artifacts. Here are a some tips on how you can be part of the solution instead of the problem.

  McKitterick's Antagonists, Character, Character Arcs, Characters, Character Death, Character Development, Cultural Appropriation, Diversity, Female Characters, Heroes, Heroines, Mary Sue, Names, Point of View, POV, Perspective, Voice Protagonists, Problematic Characters, Redemption Arcs, Representation, Tokenism, Unlikable Characters, Villains, Voice, and Women Characters tags on Tumblr.

Workshopping and Critiquing

Critiques and discussions: How to get the most out of the Workshop, by Chris McKitterick (.doc version, if you prefer). Here's another in-depth critiquing page I created for my KU writing students, which goes into greater detail - perfect if you've never done workshopping before.

Critiques of Ideas and Where to Start (doc), by James Gunn and Chris McKitterick.

How to Give and Get Good Critique (doc), by Randy Henderson.

How to Be a Good Critiquer and Still Remain Friends, by James Gunn.

The Writing Workshop Glossary - by Amy Klein.

Ad Astra's SF Writer Resources page, a good old-fashioned web-link archive of spec-fic writing workshops and more.

  McKitterick's Critiques, Writing Workshop, and Writing Workshops tags on Tumblr.

Openings and Endings

"Crafting Science Fiction Openings" (pdf), by James Gunn.

Examples of Great Openings (doc) - especially for hooking and immersing the reader.

"The MICE Quotient," based on the concept by Orson Scott Card.

"Openings and Hooks" - by Young Gunn (Workshop alum) Kathy Kitts and others.

  McKitterick's Endings, Openings, and Where to Start tags on Tumblr.

Dialogue

Dialogue (doc), by Kij Johnson.

  McKitterick's Dialect, Dialogue, and Idioms tags on Tumblr.

Ideas

Don't Write What You Know: Authors Explain Why to Discard the Old Adage.

"How Do People Get New Ideas?" by Isaac Asimov.

Me and Alfie, Part 3: Ideas and The Demolished Man (doc) - from Frederik Pohl's wonderful "The Way the Future Blogs" site.

  McKitterick's Creativity, Ideas, Imagination, Inspiration, Metaphor, Metaphors, Overt Expressions of Enthusiasm, and Theme tags on Tumblr, plus also check out the Science, Setting, and Space lists below.

Writing Better Sentences

The Science Fiction Sentence - overview, examples, Delaney, i09.

Self-Editing for Writers - series of articles by author and editor Bridget McKenna - useful stuff!

The Serial Comma and Why You Should Always Use It

"'Turned' and 'Began': 2 Stammer Verbs to Avoid in Your Fiction," by Jessi Rita Hoffman.

  McKitterick's English, Grammar, Idioms, Language, Linguistics, Metric Prose, Micro Writing, Punctuation, Sentences, Vocabulary, Word Choice, and Zeugma tags on Tumblr.

Setting, Scene, and Senses

"Scene - the Smallest Dramatic Unit" (doc) by James Gunn.

Senses - a pretty complete list, by Kij Johnson and Chris McKitterick.

"Sequels," on the sequel-scene, by Jim Butcher.

Van Vogt on Writing the Scene (doc).

"Writing the Perfect Scene," by Randy Ingermanson.

  McKitterick's Conflict, Fight Scenes, Martial Arts, Raise the Stakes, Tension, Scenes, Senses, Sequel Scenes, Setting, Suspense, World Building, and Worldbuilding tags on Tumblr.

Show Vs. Tell and Exposition

Don't Write What You Know.

Exposition (doc), from a Workshop talk by Barbara Webb.

Showing vs. Telling (doc), by James Gunn, short and to the point.

Story-development talk (doc) - from Alpha Writer's Workshop (high-level notes), by Chris McKitterick.

Thought Verbs, by Chuck Palahniuk: A brilliant analysis of "show, don't tell" with lots of great examples of both.

  McKitterick's Exposition, Filtering (aka using character POV as awkward exposition), Show Don't Tell, and Show Vs Tell tags on Tumblr.

Writing Process and Professionalization

"Copyright and Writing Contracts: An Introduction" - from my Patreon (free to read, thanks to generous patrons). Part of an ongoing, multi-part "Writing Workshop Handbook" series.

Find The Thing You're Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life: The Onion's brilliant exposition about how not to become a successful [insert your passion here].

"Getting started writing" - another entry in my ongoing "Writing Workshop Handbook" (free) Patreon series.

The Heinlein Maneuver - Theodore Sturgeon wrote to Robert Heinlein, bemoaning his writer's block. Heinlein responded with this fabulous letter, in which he offered his colleague tons of great ideas. If you ever get stuck, find some inspiration here!

How to be a writer editors want to work with, by Camille Gooderham Campbell.

"'Once Upon a Time...' a story-structure-prompt writing exercise" - another entry in my ongoing "Writing Workshop Handbook" (free) Patreon series.

"Shitty First Drafts" (pdf), by Anne Lamott.

"Rethinking the Shitty First Draft," by George Dila.

Think About Your Story exercise (doc) - 14 questions to ask that will help you focus your story. By the Clarion Foundation.

Thoughts on Book Tours (doc), by John Scalzi.

"Work-school-writing life balance" - another entry in my ongoing "Writing Workshop Handbook" (free) Patreon series.

SF Workshop chats with Dr. Stanley Schmidt, editor of Analog SF Magazine - transcribed from our 2002 SF Workshop, our 2003 SF Workshop, and our 2004 SF Workshop.

Writing time - who has it? and Writing Experiment: Day One Report, wherein yours truly seeks a way to actually get writing done while working too damn much. You can, too: There's no magic to getting more words on the page; it just takes time and discipline. If you have almost no time, and writing is important to you, you need to make time! Just 30 minutes/day, every day, will yield a story in short order, or a novel in a year. By Chris McKitterick.

Write a cover letter that sells your book - by Victoria Strauss.

More on cover letters.

  McKitterick's Inspiration, Outlining, Professionalization, and Writing Process tags on Tumblr:
Agents, Creative Process, Creatives, Creativity, Critiques, Drafting, Editing, First Drafts, Formatting, Getting Started, Just Write, Marketing, Mastery, Motivation, Openings, Persistence, Pitches, Practice, Publishing, Queries, Query Letters,, Revision, Rough Drafts, Talent, Theory of Mastery, Where to Start, Writers, Writing Career, Writing Careers, Writing Exercises, Writing Prompts, Writing Tools, Writing Workshop, Writing Workshops, You Can Do It, You've Got This.

About Science Fiction

Defining "Science Fiction," by Chris McKitterick.

The History of Science Fiction Infographic, by Ward Shelly 

  McKitterick's Genre / Genres tags on Tumblr:
Alternate History | Alternate Reality | Alternate Universe | Angels | Biopunk | Comedy | Cosmological Horror | Cyberpunk | Faerie | Fantasy | Far Future | Fiction | Future History | Heist Stories | Horror | Humor | Magic | Magical Realism | Mythology | Novels | Poetry | Puns | Romance | Satire | Science Fantasy | Science Fiction | Solarpunk | Space Opera | Speculative Fiction | Surrealism | Tragedy | YA (young adult)

More Writing and Spec-Fic References

Story lengths - important when publishers only accept one type! Also relevant for awards. By Chris McKitterick.

Even more writer resources on our Web Resources page.

And now a massive, curated set of articles and other useful and fun stuff from McKitterick's Tumblr Writing tips blog:

Below you'll find tons of links to our director's curated collection of writing-related posts (original and reblogs), full of useful articles, commentaries, infographics, and so forth, especially for spec-fic writers. I add new posts almost every day, so check back often for additions. Some of these are gifsets people put together just for fun but which offer useful insights, examples, and advice; while others are massive collections of hardcore writer-reference materials. Most are just filed under the general tag, but I almost always add specific tags, too. Also, I don't tag science-related posts as writing tips.

To go straight to a specific topic's collection of posts, follow one of these links:

AI | Animal Intelligence | Artificial Intelligence | Chatbots | Computers | Consciousness | Robots | Sentience | Technological Singularity | The Singularity | The Brain | The Mind

Aliens | Alien Worlds | Exoplanets | SETI | UAPs ("unidentified aerial phenomenon") | UFOs (old-school term for "unidentified flying objects")

Character and some specifics:
Antagonists | Characters | Character Arcs | Character Death | Character Development | Female Characters | Heroes | Heroines | Mary Sue | Names | Protagonists | Problematic Characters | Redemption Arcs | Representation | Unlikable Characters | Villains | Women Characters

Cybernetics | Cyborgs | Posthuman | Posthumanism | Robots | Transhuman | Transhumaism | Uncanny Valley

Diversity | Cultural Appropriation | Representation | Tokenism

Conflict | Fight Scenes | Martial Arts | Raise the Stakes | Suspense | Tension

Disasters and some specifics:
Apocalypse | Climate Change | Cold War | Cozy Catastrophe | Cyberpunk Dystopias | Decline of Civilization | Dystopia | Dystopias | How to Save the World | Pandemics | Post Apocalyptic | Post Apocalypse | Zombie Apocalypse

Exposition | Filtering (aka using character POV as awkward exposition) | Filter Words | Show Don't Tell

Genre / Genres and some specifics:
Alternate History | Alternate Reality | Alternate Universe | Angels | Biopunk | Comedy | Cosmological Horror | Cyberpunk | Faerie | Fantasy | Far Future | Fiction | Future History | Heist Stories | Horror | Humor | Magic | Magical Realism | Mythology | Novels | Poetry | Puns | Romance | Satire | Science Fantasy | Science Fiction | Solarpunk | Space Opera | Speculative Fiction | Surrealism | Tragedy | YA (young adult)

Ideas | Creativity | Imagination | Inspiration | Metaphor | Metaphors | Overt Expressions of Enthusiasm | Theme

Language and some specifics:
Dialect | Dialogue | English | Grammar | Idioms | Linguistics | Metric Prose | Micro Writing | Punctuation | Sentences | Vocabulary | Word Choice | Zeugma

Life Advice | Life Lessons | Theme

Plot / Story Structure and some specifics:
Endings | Idiot Plot | Kishotenketsu | Narrative | Narrative Structure | Openings | Raise the Stakes | Scenes | Story Structure | Storytelling | Suspense | Where to Start

Professionalization and some specifics:
Agents | Formatting | Marketing | Pitches | Publishing | Queries | Query Letters | Writing Career

Point of View | POV | Perspective | Voice

Quotes

Reader Focus

Reference Materials | Infographics | Writing Resources

Representation | Cultural appropriation | Tokenism

Revision | Critiques | Editing | Practice

Science and some specifics:
Archaeology | Astronomy | Biology | Biotech | Biotechnology | Chemistry | Cosmology | DNA | Ecology | Economics | Evolution | Futurism | Geology | Hubble (space telescope) | Paleontology | Speculative Biology | Webb Space Telescope

Sense of Wonder | Sensawunda | Willing Suspension of Disbelief

Setting and some specifics:
Abandoned Places | Alien Worlds | Architecture | Cityscapes | Clouds | Deserts | Earth from Above | Earth from Space | Exoplanets | Landscapes | Magical Places | Ocean | Ruins | Senses | Storms | Utopia | Utopias | World Building | Worldbuilding

Space Travel and some specifics:
Alcubierre Drive | Cassini Spacecraft (to Saturn) | Curiosity Mars Rover | Faster than Light | Galaxies | Interstellar Travel | Juno Spacecraft (to Jupiter) | Jupiter | Mars | NASA | Rockets | Saturn | Space Exploration | Space stations | Spaceships | Starships | The Sun | Venus | Warp Drive

Titles

Voice | Confidence

Writing Process and some specifics:
Creative Process | Creativity | Critiques | Drafting | Editing | Endings | First Drafts | Getting Started | Just Write | Mastery | Motivation | Openings | Outlining | Persistence | Practice | Professionalization | Publishing | Revision | Rough Drafts | Talent | Theory of Mastery | Where to Start | Writing Careers | Writing Exercises | Writing Prompts | Writing Tools | You Can Do It | You've Got This

Writers | Creatives

Writing Workshop | Writing Workshops

Don't miss the variety of super-useful material for writers you can find linked from our Web Resources page. For example, here's the recently updated short-fiction market list, though many more SFWA-recognized markets continually appear. Let me know if I'm missing something!

Particularly note Submission Grinder, a fantastically useful (and free) resource for writers looking for markets: "The Grinder is a submission tracker and market database for writers of fiction (non-fiction and poetry coming soon!). Use our extensive and powerful search engine to find a home for your work. With new features being added periodically we hope to provide a permanent and stable home for your submission tracking."

Here's another useful source of information on markets, including response times.


Writers need to stay tuned to what's happening in their field; SF writers should be familiar with "A Basic Science Fiction Library," the ever-growing, go-to list of important and influential science fiction novels that began in 1988 as James Gunn's list of 100 books every SF library needs, and which Chris McKitterick has continued to expand over the decades since.

Stay tuned - tons more coming as I continue to write up my workshop-talks notes in readable format!

Connect with Ad Astra director McKitterick on:

Facebook | Instagram | Patreon | Tumblr | Xitter | YouTube | Christopher-McKitterick.com

"Science into Fiction" Spec-Fic Writing Workshops:
  Series 1: "The Higgs Boson in This Particular Universe"
  Series 2: "Creativity and the Brain"
  Series 3: "Writing in (and about) the Age of Artificial Intelligence"
  Fall 2024 Series 4: "Six great stories and what makes them work: The science of SF writing"

Chris McKitterick's Spec-Fic Writing Workshop & Repeat Offenders Workshop

Kij Johnson & Barbara Webb's SF&F Novel Writing Workshops and Masterclasses

Speculative-fiction writing resources

Scholarships

The Ad Astra Institute is a registered not-for-profit 501(c)3 educational, arts, and research organization. If you wish to support our activities by making a charitable donation to help others attend the workshops who might otherwise not be able to, contact McKitterick (cmckit.sf@gmail.com). We accept Zelle (use adastra.sf.institute@gmail.com to make a direct donation), PayPal (which takes an additional fee), and checks. We also partner with Farbeyond Books - a fantastic spec-fic bookstore - which donates at least 50% of all sales to Ad Astra, so if you have books you'd like to donate, let us know. Your donation may even be tax-deductible!

Thank you so much to our donors and supporters! You make all this possible.

Connect with Ad Astra

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I believe strongly in the free sharing of information, so you'll find a lot of content - including course syllabi and many materials from my classes - on this and related sites and social networks as educational outreach. Feel free to use this content for independent study, or to adapt it for your own educational and nonprofit purposes; just please credit us and link back to this website. I'd also love to hear from you if you use our materials!

This site is associated with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA), AboutSF, and other organizations, and its contents are copyright 1992-present Christopher McKitterick except where noted, and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License: Feel free to use and adapt for non-profit purposes, with attribution. For publication or profit purposes, please contact McKitterick or other creators as noted.

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Updated 2/7/2024