10 Writing "Rules" We Wish More Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Would Break

M. Robert Gibson

Member 41015
Supporter
Joined
Feb 10, 2018
Messages
1,705
Another 'interesting' (well, on topic) article from five years ago


1) No third-person omniscient.
2) No prologues
3) Avoid infodumps
4) Fantasy novels have to be series instead of standalones
5) No portal fantasy
6) No FTL
7) Women can’t write “hard” science fiction.
8) Magic has to be just a minor part of a fantasy world
9) No present tense
10) No “unsympathetic” characters
 

The Big Peat

Darth Buddha
Joined
Apr 9, 2016
Messages
3,336
Amen to all of that save 9 and 10. While I have made steps forwards in my attitude towards the present tense, and no longer believe authors who use it should be serving time at her majesty's pleasure along with people who don't let others off the train first and people who retweet others just to complain about them, there's still no good reason for it to be used. None.

As for 10... while I think it makes a good point about stretching too far to make a character sympathetic, I think almost all popular characters have a kernel of sympathy to them at least.
 

sule

"What I do is me: for that I came."
Joined
Feb 14, 2020
Messages
366
I think some of these rules (2, 4, 5, 6, 8) are on the list mainly because of the appetites (or perceived appetites ) of the market among publishers and I would cheer them being broken as often as an author likes. 3 is something that I believe a good sff writer should actually be able to do--in fact, I would say that doing infodumps well is one of the heralds of a skilled practitioner of the genre. The others (1, 9, 10) I feel are on the list because they require great skill to pull off well--they could certainly be done by a skilled author, but as an inexperienced author I would stay away from breaking them until I've mastered more the art of storytelling. And 7 is just stupid, insulting, and obviously wrong.
 

The Big Peat

Darth Buddha
Joined
Apr 9, 2016
Messages
3,336
3 is something that I believe a good sff writer should actually be able to do--in fact, I would say that doing infodumps well is one of the heralds of a skilled practitioner of the genre.

I am increasingly of the opinion that trying to write SFF without infodumps is like trying to write everything with one's off-hand - possible, but cumbersome, and with few discernible benefits other than having done it in a harder fashion - and the genre should be more about doing them well than trying to eradicate them.

Are 6 and 7 really "rules"?

To some, yes. But maybe not to a majority.
 

Bick

Luddite Curmudgeon
Supporter
Joined
Jul 26, 2012
Messages
3,913
Location
Auckland, NZ
A quick look at this suggests to me an article written for the sake of it to fill up some room on a website. None of these are 'rules' or ever have been - I'd go so far as to say that any aspiring writer would do well to ignore the whole concept of rules. Charlie Jane Anders' article merely made me think, "well, yeah, obviously" to every 'rule' she said you can break.
 

.matthew.

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 12, 2020
Messages
1,135
A quick look at this suggests to me an article written for the sake of it to fill up some room on a website. None of these are 'rules' or ever have been - I'd go so far as to say that any aspiring writer would do well to ignore the whole concept of rules. Charlie Jane Anders' article merely made me think, "well, yeah, obviously" to every 'rule' she said you can break.

Oddly enough, her articles on io9 are pretty much the reason I haven't tried reading her actual novels despite them getting a decent amount of praise :)

As for the rules, I do wish there was more present tense. I agree it's not really done well and there aren't any really good examples of it, but for shorter stories especially I enjoy the pacing it provides. Maybe the reason it's not done well is that it isn't done enough - I'm sure we could all take ten minutes and find a hundred examples of terrible past tense books...
 

Dark empathy

New Member
Joined
Sep 17, 2020
Messages
2
Hmmm, I'm a little unsure of some of these, for example, the only times I've really hated infodumps in a story, are with really old vintage SF such as Hugo Gurnsbachh, where basically the entire story is nothing but look how awesome this new idea or machine or scientific process is.


I don't even mind facts and figures, as long as they're interesting and relevant, heck in Becky Chambers' latest novella, the infodumping, or at least the descriptions of the various alien worlds her ship's crew visit, were some of my favourite parts of the book.

Then of course, there's infodumps used to increase characterisation, as in harry potter.

The bit about women and sf also seems nuts to me as well (I just finished reading Women of wonder, classic sf stories by women from the 1940's to the 1980's), so even needing to actually say this is now a belief which anyone with half a brain cell would hold seems slightly odd to me, or at least if this is a mainstream belief, I've never run into it much in any of the sf fans I've actually met.

The tenses point is interesting though.

There seems to be a fad at the moment for present tense stuff, even third person present tense. While I agree that it can make things more immediate, my problem, is that it also seems to make a lot of characters feel far more shallow and egotystical, since in present tense it's far harder to suggest say that a character is feeling more than one thing at once at any given time, or harbouring a belief that they're always in the right.
Btw, I rather disliked the sandman slim books which Anders mentioned partly for that reason.

the only times I've tried present tense stuff myself, is when writing really short, under 1k word pieces that are intended as impressionistic views of very immediate circumstances.

Actually, I sort of like portal fantasy, or at least, I like the idea of someone being lost and powerless in a world they know nothing about and having to cope with circumstances entirely outside their experience or control, obviously, someone who just turns into a total succeedinator and is awesome at everything, is a different matter.

I wonder if the hatred for the idea is partly due to the prevalence of the latter?


I'd not say the "sympathetic" character thing is one easily answered with a rule either, since while I do hate the "oh look! this character's an edgy hero! look how bad ass and uncaring they are!" trope, at the same time, I'm not really a fan of the above mentioned succeedinators either. And a character who is so very moral that they don't care about themselves or their own suffering, definitely seems to be going that way.

Again it seems the only logical rule here is probably:

"generalisations are always wrong!" :D.
 

Astro Pen

Write now.
Supporter
Joined
Jan 24, 2020
Messages
1,501
Location
Wales UK
What often stifles sci-fi is the lack of normal lust and sexuality. I think this is why many of its critics think it is 'kids stuff' with one dimensional characters.
When I wrote Changebringer I was determined to have a main character who was fully rounded and fell in love (properly, with all the highs and agonies*) and that various interwoven sexual relationships would run through and influence the plot, as they do in life.

*Not the full John Updike/ Henry Miller of course, though I might try that experimentally. In fact I can feel it starting to form as I write this, - look out word processor!
 

Similar threads


Top