Born to Write: Frank Herbert
Few science fiction writers have had the kind of success Frank Herbert enjoyed. His epic novel Dune (and its five sequels) was a real game-changer, which arguably did for sci-fi what Tolkien had done for fantasy: creating a rich, exotic universe filled with a millennia-spanning multi-generation story. Plus, it was one of the first science fiction works concerned with ecological change.
Like Tolkien, success did not come easy to Herbert: Dune took 6 years to research and then, despite being published in Analog in 8 parts, suffered rejection by 20 publishers before finding book form. Though he did not make much money from it at first, it soon won critical success, plus a Nebula, and tied for a Hugo. Along with the sequels, several media adaptations eventually followed: a film by David Lynch, a miniseries with its own sequel, and even a film about Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed attempt. Though none were commercially successful, the fact that such a work could even draw that kind of interest testifies to the power of the tale.
Born October 8, 1920, Herbert was a runaway, worked in newspapers, as a Navy photographer in World War II and started writing sci-fi in college thereafter. He was often asked about writing, and fortunately, there is still a good deal of material about his work on the net. Here are some of the best resources, starting off with a quote from Frank that cuts to the basics:
“The single most important piece of advice I ever got was to concentrate on story. What is “story”? It’s the quality that keeps the reader following the narrative. A good story makes interesting things happen to a character with whom the reader can identify. And it keeps them happening, so that the character progresses and grows in stature.
A writer’s job is to do whatever is necessary to make the reader want to read the next line. That’s what you’re supposed to be thinking about when you’re writing a story. Don’t think about money, don’t think about success; concentrate on the story—don’t waste your energy on anything else. That all takes care of itself, if you’ve done your job as a writer. If you haven’t done that, nothing helps.”
- His page at Amazon.
- A few reflections he made on his success.
- A series of essays about his writing style (unfortunately, the associated videos have disappeared into the aether).
- More advice on the importance of story.
- GoodReads and Wikiquotes both have huge collections of memorable quotes of his about, well, everything.
- The transcript of an interview with him and his wife made in 1969.
- A series of blog posts of writing lessons to be learned from his work.
- An excellent blog post by Herbert himself, introducing his work and thoughts about writing science fiction.
- How he came to write Dune.
- Then there’s Dune Sucks, a rare example of less than admiring criticism and snark.
- Finally, a thoughtful appreciation of Dune and its cultural impact.