The Write Stuff: Doing the Sort

As I explained here, I’m working the exercises from The Write Stuff by Barry B. Longyear. The next exercise follows immediately upon the prior exercise, Collecting Your Vibes. Now that you’ve gathered your collection of Most Important Works, you need to sort them. If you have a physical collection, sort them into piles. If you have a virtual collection like I do (most of mine are in Kindle format these days), break your list into categories. (One advantage of a virtual collection is that a work can go in more than one category if you think that makes sense.) Use whatever categories make sense to you. If no categorization scheme comes to mind, you can always fall back on the Dewey Decimal system.

As noted above, I had a virtual list, so I sorted it into categories in a spreadsheet. Here are the categories I chose (with some overlap):

  • Superhero
  • Heroic Fantasy
  • Comic Book
  • Space Opera
  • Soft SF
  • Hard SF
  • Social SF
  • Cosmic Fantasy
  • Writing
  • Space
  • Software Engineering
  • Business
  • Literature
  • Post Apocalypse
  • Absurdist
  • Modern Drama
  • Romance
  • Thriller
  • Horror
  • Comedy
  • Mystery

Note that these are fuzzy, arbitrary categories; and I marked each item the way it made sense to me. The results made sense to me even if they might seem contradictory to you.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Here are the results:

  • Superman: Last Son of Krypton / Superman: Miracle Monday (Novel Series): Superhero,Soft SF,Cosmic Fantasy
  • The Hobbit / The Lord of the Rings (Novel Series): Heroic Fantasy
  • The Face in the Frost (Novel Series): Heroic Fantasy,Horror, Comedy
  • City of Nomads (Comic Book): Comic Book,Soft SF,Post Apocalypse
  • Enemy Mine (Novella): Space Opera
  • Gift of a Useless Man (Short Story): Space Opera
  • Flowers for Algernon (Novella): Soft SF,Social SF
  • Circus World (Fix Up Novel): Space Opera,Soft SF, Comedy
  • The House of If (Short Story): Soft SF
  • The Portrait of Baron Negay (Short Story): Space Opera
  • Lucifer’s Hammer (Novel): Post Apocalypse,Modern Drama,Thriller
  • Oath of Fealty (Novel): Hard SF,Social SF,Modern Drama
  • Legacy of Heorot (Novel): Hard SF
  • The Killing Joke (Graphic Novel): Superhero,Comic Book
  • The Sandman (Graphic Novel Series): Comic Book,Cosmic Fantasy,Horror
  • Kryptonite: Nevermore (Graphic Novel): Superhero,Comic Book,Cosmic Fantasy
  • On Writing (Nonfiction): Writing
  • Professional Software Development (Nonfiction): Software Engineering
  • The Mythical Man Month (Nonfiction): Software Engineering
  • The Dilbert Principle (Nonfiction): Business, Comedy
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Novel): Hard SF
  • Starship Troopers (Novel): Space Opera,Hard SF
  • The Puppet Masters (Novel): Soft SF
  • Double Star (Novel): Soft SF
  • Moonrise (Novel): Hard SF
  • A Talent for War (Novel): Space Opera,Hard SF
  • Catch-22 (Novel): Literature, Comedy
  • Dusk and Shiver (Fix Up Novel): Horror
  • A Martian Odyssey (Short Story): Soft SF
  • By the Waters of Babylon (Short Story): Post Apocalypse
  • The Last Man (Short Story): Social SF
  • Microcosmic God (Short Story): Soft SF
  • -And He Built a Crooked House (Short Story): Soft SF,Cosmic Fantasy
  • Requiem (Short Story): Hard SF
  • Higher Education (Novel): Hard SF
  • Brain Wave (Novel): Soft SF
  • Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (Graphic Novel): Superhero,Comic Book
  • Who Took the Super Out of Superman? (Graphic Novel): Superhero,Comic Book
  • Apollo: The Race to the Moon (History): Space
  • Thrice Upon a Time (Novel): Hard SF
  • Fallen Angels (Novel): Hard SF
  • Fighting Madness (Novella): Hard SF
  • The Magic Goes Away (Novel): Heroic Fantasy
  • The Chronicles of Amber (Novel Series): Heroic Fantasy
  • Roadmarks (Novel): Cosmic Fantasy
  • The Holmes/Dracula File / An Old Friend of the Family (Novel Series): Horror,Mystery
  • Harry Potter (Novel Series): Heroic Fantasy
  • Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Novel Series): Space Opera,Soft SF,Absurdist,Comedy
  • The Hacker Files (Comic Book Series): Comic Book,Hard SF
  • The Andromeda Strain (Novel): Hard SF
  • Groundhog Day (Movie): Cosmic Fantasy,Absurdist,Comedy
  • Hudson Hawk (Movie): Absurdist,Comedy
  • Moon (Movie): Hard SF
  • Twelve Angry Men (Movie): Modern Drama
  • A Walk in the Clouds (Movie): Romance
  • Contact (Movie): Hard SF,Modern Drama
  • Die Hard / Die Hard 2 (Movie Series): Thriller
  • Doc Hollywood (Movie): Romance,Comedy
  • Excalibur (Movie): Heroic Fantasy
  • Monk (TV Series): Mystery
  • House / House 2 (Movie Series): Thriller,Horror,Comedy
  • Howard the Duck (Movie): Superhero,Absurdist,Comedy
  • The Incredible Hulk (Movie): Superhero,Soft SF
  • From the Earth to the Moon (TV Miniseries): Space
  • Hero (Movie): Romance,Comedy
  • The Lathe of Heaven (Movie): Soft SF,Social SF
  • The Librarian (Movie): Heroic Fantasy
  • October Sky (Movie): Space
  • Silent Running (Movie): Hard SF
  • Something the Lord Made (Movie): Modern Drama
  • Kolchak: The Night Stalker (TV Series): Horror
  • Short Circuit (Movie): Romance,Comedy
  • The Andromeda Strain (Movie): Hard SF
  • Max Headroom (TV Series): Soft SF,Social SF
  • The Princess Bride (Movie): Heroic Fantasy,Comedy
  • The Man of La Mancha (Stage Play): Heroic Fantasy,Comedy
  • The Black Room (Radio Play): Social SF,Modern Drama,Horror

And here is a table of totals for each category:

Category Count
Superhero 7
Heroic Fantasy 9
Comic Book 7
Space Opera 7
Soft SF 15
Hard SF 17
Social SF 6
Cosmic Fantasy 6
Writing 1
Space 3
Software Engineering 2
Business 1
Literature 1
Post Apocalypse 3
Absurdist 4
Modern Drama 6
Romance 4
Thriller 3
Horror 7
Comedy 14
Mystery 2

The purpose of sorting is to determine what really draws you, because that is where you’ll write closest to your real self. In my case, the top two categories by a large degree are science fiction, both hard and soft; but somewhat to my surprise, the next largest category is Comedy with 14 entries. When I look a little more closely, 9 of those are in films and plays, and only 5 in books; but even 5 is a lot compared to the other categories.

This is a little surprising to me. Why? First because I think of myself as a Serious Science Fiction Guy; and second because I have a bit of a defective humor gene. Some stuff that almost everyone I know finds funny – Saturday Night Live, Monty Python, The Office – leaves me absolutely, utterly cold. Even though there’s stuff I find funny, I just don’t think of myself as a funny person. I certainly don’t think of myself as a funny writer.

And yet… My most successful publication in recent years has been Ulterior Motive Lounge, the world’s first (and only) UML comic strip. It uses badly drawn stick figure art and lots of bad movie jokes to teach software design. And I’ve had a lot of readers praise it for the humor, and then tell me how the jokes helped them to learn. So I wrote something that at least a few people found funny.

And yet… My first pro-rate sale (though not to a pro qualified market) was “The Night We Flushed the Old Town” in Therefore I Am: Digital Science Fiction Anthology 2. It’s an unabashed tall tale about sewage disposal in a Lunar colony; and you better darn bet I hope you’ll laugh at many parts in it.

And yet… Evil Martin seems pretty popular on the Writers of the Future forum; and really all he does there is encourage evil habits, make obscure references, and tell bad jokes.

And yet… If there had been just a little more room in the lists for these assignments, I would’ve added Robert Asprin’s MythAdventures books, as well as Phil Foglio’s adaptations. And speaking of Foglio, I would’ve added Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire, Buck Godot: Psmith, and Buck Godot: The Gallimaufry. I would’ve added Ambush Bug. I would’ve added The IT Crowd. I would’ve added Start the Revolution Without Me and Casino Royale (the real one with David Niven, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, and Orson Welles). I would’ve added The Trouble with Tribbles and M*A*S*H and WKRP and Night Court. I would’ve added Dilbert and early Garfield. These aren’t favorites in the same way as Superman: Last Son of Krypton, The Lord of the Rings, The Face in the Frost, or “Enemy Mine”; but they are favorites that I’ve read or watched over and over, laughing away hours and hours. (And yes, some of them are pretty obscure. I’m twisted that way.)

Maybe there’s something there that I need to consider. Maybe humorous science fiction will turn out to be my niche (at least according to The Write Stuff).

Which would kinda suck. Dying is easy, comedy is hard.

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