In the sci-fi / fantasy genre, there are many spoken and unspoken rules of what makes a great book. I have picked my favourite 9 rules from the article: 10 Writing “Rules” We Wish More Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Would Break. I love that every example where they have broken the rule has produced a fantastic book. So, be brave writers!
1. No third-person omniscient. Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is a classic example of how to get this right.
2. No prologues. My own book as a prologue and I only added it in later. Both my husband and my editor agreed it was a great addition, but it still makes me a little nervous as I know it can put many readers off. George R.R. Martin starts all the Song of Ice and Fire books with a prologue. They set the scene for later book conflicts via a throw away character.
3. Avoid info-dumps. It can be hard to avoid a little info dump in this genre without going to elaborate lengths to explain the world in a round-about way. But if a few concise sentences can do the job better, why not? See A collection of 20 well-done info infodumps.
4. Fantasy novels have to be a series. While many of them are a series, some absolute classics have been completely stand-alone. Here is a great list of examples. Never Wait for a Sequel Again: 17 Standalone Fantasy Novels.
5. No portal fantasy. The big questions seems to be – has this been done to death? A bit of an old one now, but Raymond E. Feist’s, Daughter of the Empire: An Epic Saga of the World on the Other Side of the Riftwar is a great example. There have been tons more before and after. See also: Walk through this portal with me into another world. So, do you think there is still a place for portal sci-fi and fantasy?
6. No FTL. There are the purists out there who want their sci-fi as realistic as possible. Every fact has to be verified as plausible to the latest know physics theories, and there are those that totally throw the book away… Each to their own 😉
7. Women can’t write ‘hard’ science fiction. I guess it all comes down to what your definition of ‘hard’ sci-fi is (what is hard science fiction?). Unfortunately I have to agree, there are a lot of great male writers in the sci-fi genre, and they have dominated for quite a while. In the fantasy category there are oodles of great women writers, and even someone like Ursula K. Le Guin, who I think is an awesome writer, is probably leaning more towards fantasy. See the Best Hard Science Fiction.
8. Magic has to be a minor part of fantasy fiction. What? Who decided this? I think George R. R. Martin has probably caused this one to come about because he has effectively written The War of the Roses (PS don’t read this if you don’t want to know how the series ends – he has followed it closely so far!) in a fantasy setting with only a light smattering of magic to mix things up, and this has become so hugely popular. “Long live the magic writers” – I say.
9. No present tense. This rule seems to apply more to the traditional or high fantasy genre, whereas a lot of the more modern sub-genre such as urban fantasy or YA fantasy have embraced the present tense. Science fiction similarly, the more traditional sci-fi avoids present tense, while some of the YA sci-fi, and cross-genre takes, do. So is it time for the first epic fantasy in present tense? Or will it just turn out to be a mess? I would love to hear if you have read any good examples of more traditional science fiction or fantasy that has been written in present tense.
In conclusion, rules of writing are always open to be broken, and I would even argue that some of these should be taken with a pinch of salt. And while breaking rule can lead you to a literary mess, it can also produce something uniquely new and fresh.
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