Science Fiction Notes

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As a writer and editor, Susan is all too familiar with both sides of the publishing world. Since 2009, Susan Brooks has served on the board of directors for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, a nonprofit educational organization supporting both published and aspiring writers of commercial fiction. She holds a masters degree in publishing from George Washington University and is Editor in Chief at Literary Wanderlust, a small traditional press located in Denver,  Colorado.

Susan is an editor with many years of experience and occasionally takes on freelance projects. Recent editorial projects include The Homeplace by Kevin Wolf, and The Rampart Guards: Chronicle One in the Adventures of Jason Lex, by Wendy Terrien.

She tweets once in a while and you can follow her as @oosuzieq on Twitter.

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As we continue our exploration of genre specific topics, our focus this week is science fiction.

SF usually deals with topics and ideas set the future, such as science, technology, space travel, time travel, extraterrestrials, and the like. The ability of the writer to create a world which allows the reader to suspend their disbelief is paramount, but like all fiction, writers must infuse writing craft elements or readers will put down the book.

Take special consideration of point of view, description and scene setting, tone and mood, character and motive, plot and structure, and dialogue when plotting out your novel. The SF novel should be about something that happens to someone somewhere, otherwise what is the point?

What makes for good science fiction? This is a tough question to answer, but I will throw some ideas out there for consideration.

A good SF writer creates a world that seems authentic. This may require research into technology and science. Don’t be scared. If you look for it, you can find cliff notes on all kinds of topics. But do your homework. The technology in the created world should seem plausible and realistic. I am not saying that writers shouldn’t or can’t invent some technology for their story, but if they do, it is best to take the time to figure out the details of the technology so that it seems real. The technology may need some explanation so the reader can understand it, but this should happen without coming across as a humongous information dump. No information dumps, please. Info dumps are boring.

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“The use of magic in SF should be limited…”

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The use of magic in SF should be limited, if it is used at all. Magic is for fantasy. Technology and science are for SF. This is my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

The SF fictional world should also be complex and multi-layered. It should have a history and culture all its own. The world might or might not include non-human entities, but if non-human entities exist in the world they should be well-crafted. Each character should have a backstory even if the writer does not use that information in the novel. The backstory will help the writer to create characters with more depth. These characters can be human-like, or completely alien, but each character needs their own motivation and reason for being on the page. If the world is future earth, the writer should communicate the differences between the now earth and the future earth. But again, no information dumps. Info dumps are boring.

The plot should by dynamic and intriguing. Conflict must happen. Something must move the characters forward through the story which pushes the characters to grow and change.

SF, like other genres, has plot tropes. When in doubt, do some research and learn the tropes. Unlike romance for example, SF tropes can become cliché and overused. Readers want innovation. If you are not sure which plot tropes are cliché, take a wander around Google and look for SF plot tropes. You will find long lists of tropes. Clichés are not necessarily bad, mind you. Tropes are there for a reason. Just find a trope you like and twist it into something new and unexpected.

Find a theme. Speculative fiction lends itself well to exploring themes, and SF especially so. Theme in SF is usually hidden beneath the story elements and structure, but is important for pulling off a great novel. Think artificial intelligence, or the end of the universe, religious ideas, gender issues, or the effect that technology has on us as a whole, or whatever is important to you as a writer. The possibilities are endless. Infuse the theme in the story.

SF is a complex genre, and there are sub genres of SF. Regardless of what genre you are writing, take the time to learn all the elements writing craft. Writing craft is the thing that makes readers turn pages, and buy more books. And that’s not boring at all.

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