Okay, so I know no one here has ever seen my writing so faith in my expertise is absolutely nil, but I’ve taught creative writing at the undergraduate level, I’ve assisted with many SF classes, and I have an MA in creative writing (for what all THAT is worth). But I’ve heard a lot of writer’s lectures and I’ve taken more than a few short story, novel, and screenplay classes, and these are some points that I thought were important that Omra hadn’t covered (there really wasn’t much left to say, actually–you did a great job, Omra!)
As a writer, here are a few books that have influenced me:
Syd Field’s Screenwriting
Damon Knight’s Creating Short Fiction
Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird
Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey<—This has influenced me the most
Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces<—ditto
What I would add to this discussion is that it is important to not forget plot and that all plots have a single core thread: a hero who has a problem (conflict). Your hero must either solve the problem (conflict), or be solved BY the problem (and perhaps die, as in tragedy).
Oh yes, and if you love your characters, you will beat them senseless. Don’t baby them and let them vault over obstacles. Have them fall. Again. And again. And again.
Learning about the different character archetypes is also important, which is why I recommend the Vogler and Campbell texts. Reading them helps authors to realize the different types of characters that are available to the author, but also anchor your writing–this is especially important for SF and fantasy writers–in the oldest of storytelling modes: myth.
A little juju for the writer: feed your subconscious. Give it all sorts of movies, novels, paintings and music on which to feast. If you are writing, you should also be reading something to refresh your subconscious. Connect with your subconscious. Name it. What does it look like? Call it into being and force it to work for you.
(Caveat: “starving” your subconscious–not ingesting any art–also seems to work for some people. Try that if feeding it doesn’t work.)
The most important advice which I can give and which I often ignore myself: forget about it being art, and don’t worry about your first draft being “good!” Get a post-it, and write in sharpie on it in biiiig letters: JUST WRITE THE DAMN STORY, [YOUR NAME HERE]!
Anyway, hope that helps. I’m also looking forward to any advice.