Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Oklahoma Tradition

I've long said that instead of talking about science fiction and fantasy, we should instead be talking about science fictions and fantasies. Various mini-traditions are apparent, whether regional, such as John W. Campbell's New York coterie of writers and the Mormon writers of Utah, or by connecting lines of friendship and mentorship, such as the insufficiently celebrated mentor/protege line of Henry Kuttner, Leigh Brackett, and Ray Bradbury. While different styles and perspectives gravitated around writers, editors, and regions, I had downplayed another pole around which writers cluster.

Fortunately, Bryce Beattie of StoryHack Magazine investigated one such group of writers:
And so the fiction writing theories I like best have their roots in this pulp era, which should be obvious to anyone who knows the online me (shameless self promotion.) There is one particular set of teachings that arose from that time I find most useful. For lack of a better phrase, I call it the Oklahoma Tradition. 
The first such teacher I became aware of was Dwight V. Swain. I was (and am) a fan of Randy Ingermanson’s writing instruction. In an article called “Writing the Perfect Scene” he mentioned Swain’s “Techniques of the Selling Writer,” which has since become my favorite book on the craft of fiction. 
Dwight V. Swain was a pulp author, and he wrote dozens of published stories. Eventually, he was able to leverage that writing success and became a professor at the University of Oklahoma. 
Somehow, I came across Jim Butcher’s articles on writing. I liked him as an author, so I hoped he would have something valuable to say. The concepts he described were extremely familiar. A tiny bit of Googling, and low and behold, he went to the University of Oklahoma. 
At some point I decided I needed to know more where all these ideas came from, so I decided to do some digging.
Working back from articles by Butcher and other writers, Beattie discovered a teaching lineage stretching back to the 1940s and earlier, one whose alumni include Tony Hillerman and Louis L’Amour.

For more information on this formative group of Oklahoma professors and a taste of what they taught, check out the StoryHack blog.


  1. That Kuttner, Brackett, Bradbury lineage is right up my alley. I think I'll do a series of posts on those relationships this fall. Thanks for the idea.