Home » Terry Bisson: On Writing, Reading, and Realism

Terry Bisson: On Writing, Reading, and Realism

Terry Bisson Reading

The room was jammed full about five minutes after this picture was taken

On Wednesday, March 26th, Terry Bisson visited Western Kentucky University for the Creative Writing Reading Series. By 7 p.m. Cherry Hall 125 was packed full of students, professors, readers, writers, and friends of Terry Bisson to hear him read some of his award-winning science fiction.

I have to admit, it was probably the best Reading Series event I’d been to, which admittedly isn’t a lot because I’ve only been here two years. Nonetheless, the reading was excellent. Although I am partial to science fiction and fantasy, Bisson’s stories were witty, powerful, and realistic. There was something about the frankness of each tale that made me feel like I was inside of it, watching from atop the school building or inside the Whole Foods market (and if you were there, you know what I’m talking about).Terry Bisson Reading 2


He also visited the Fantasy Writing and Speculative Fiction courses to speak with the students about writing. Here are a list of things we all learned from Terry Bisson on how to be a science fiction/fantasy writer in Kentucky:

1. Leave Kentucky.

2. Find a nice community of writers to befriend (piss and moan about not being taken seriously, they’ll accept you immediately).

3. Go to writing conventions to interract with your new-found community and readers.

And as for his advice on writing itself…

4. A story should have a particular sound that makes it stand out and succeed.

5. Let the story tell you what to do and what it wants to be. You may or may not become a highly decorated science fiction author this way.

6. Write constantly and routinely. Wake up at five in the morning, like Terry Bisson. Batteries not included, folks. Sorry.

7. Learn how to write the conventions first before you break the rules. Conventional writing is the best way to express unconventional ideas. But if you insist on experimenting, at least know how to write the conventions.

8. Make your dialogue work hard, particularly if you’re writing short stories.

9. Timeline is important. You need to know when to compress things, when to stretch it out, when to go back, and when to go forward.

10. If you’re writing high fantasy, be sure to make it very realistic or it might not work at all.

If you couldn’t make it to the reading, you really missed out on some great stories. It was a privilege to have him speak at our classes as well. Thanks to Terry Bisson for coming back to western Kentucky this week! For more on his stories and background, visit his website.

Also, check out this short video taken during Bisson’s talk with Dr. Bell’s Fantasy Writing course!


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