Show me the risk taking writers

Colds do two things to me. They make me bad tempered in a grouchy kind of way. And they make me want to take shelter from all things in a book. Today I hid out in the audiobook of Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (Read very well but not by Bradbury unfortunately. Note to authors: if you can read at all, try and record your own audiobooks. I love hearing the authors voice) Here is a quote from the introduction:

“Don’t tell me what I’m doing, I don’t want to know.”

Bradbury is in turn quoting italian film-maker Frederico Fellini, who refused to watch the daily rushes of his movies. He, like Bradbury, was drawn on by the act of discovering the story as he created it. Call it the muse, or the subconscious, or the imagination. Call it what you will, it’s the thing that makes the creative act possible. Without it even the most technically perfect story is just a dull, lifeless mechanism. Bradbury captures the same concept in a quote I’ve borrowed many times, ‘First you jump off the cliff, then you build the wings.’ (possibly my favourite quote on writing) and in his short essay How to Keep and Feed a Muse (certainly my favourite essay on writing) The Martian Chronicles is the epitomy of this principle in fiction, short stories that hover on the boundary between fiction and poetry, always threatening to swim away like forgotten dreams. I wish more writers today had the nerve to take the creative risks Bradbury was taking in the 50’s and 60’s, and the skill to do it without crashing into the dirt.  So many writers seem set on not just building wings, but complete impact survival systems before they even venture to the cliff edge (while others are hurling themselves into the void without even a sense that the ground exists).

Or perhaps I’m just being to pedestrian in my reading. Who are the writers taking the risks and pulling them off at the moment?

In other news…

Mark Charan Newton asks why science fiction is dying? Maybe the answer is that contemporary science fiction has become quite dull and self referential and even passionate readers like me are losing interest in watching the genre chase its own tail? (You see…grouchy)

John Scalzi reveals his short fiction pay rates (after smacking down a noob publisher for paying one fifth of a cent per word)


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

8 thoughts on “Show me the risk taking writers

  1. OTOH, you could ask where are the risk-taking editors? Writers can take all the creative risks they want, but if no editor is willing to play along, no one’s going to see it. And editors, for obvious reasons, don’t like to alienate their readerships.


  2. Not taking enough risk is just as likely to alienate a readership. Think about the risks the great editors of spec.fic have taken to amke it what it is. Then think about the risks editors are taking today. How do they compare?


  3. Great editors? You mean like John W Campbell, who got all his authors to rewrite their stories to fit some fixed template for sf he had in his head? Or Michael Moorcock – well, that’s the New Wave, the whole thing was about risk-taking.


  4. Just because an editor is prescriptive doesn’t mean they aren’t innovative, as long as the rules they are enforcing are themselves innovative. Of course there are different levels of risk taking and innovation. The risks an editor takes to put out new, distinctive work are different from the risks a writer takes in giving their imagination free reign. Its the latter that I’m more interested in. Too much of the fiction I encounter now is too consciously constructed. Too keen on being correct, over being passionate. Interesting that Cat Valente is being discussed on Vector, one of a handful of writers I would say fulfils what I’m talking about here.


  5. Hmm, writers taking risks?

    In science fiction or fantasy?

    I have to admit, I can’t honestly think of a single name from the current decade. It seems like everyone is too busy trying to get published in The New Yorker or some such.

    S. F. Murphy
    On the Outer Marches


  6. It raises the question in my mind by what constitues a risk. Do you mean experimenting? In my children’s sci fi MA dissertation novel there are experiments in form, (breaking from 3rdperson POV to discovered diary entries), in character development, in bursts of magic realism, in unexpected plot turns and 2 billion years of back story. Several agents said, its great but too ambitious for us.
    So i could ask, is it the agents who arent taking risks, but of course they’d say, we have to take home a salary mate.
    Of cousre i always was a BIG Bradbury fan :)



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