So you're writing or about to write a science fiction novel. Like any good writer, we know you've already done the research to support your fictional world and spent hours ensuring that your characters, dialogue, plot, and themes can hold both water and intrigue. You should be able to send your manuscript off to the publishers now, right? Wrong!
In this article, we discuss how just because something “works” in your sci-fi piece either scientifically or aesthetically, this does not necessarily mean that you need that something to connect readers with the story. In many cases, your writing will appear stronger without all the superfluous information, so make sure you’re constantly trimming away the fat.
People read fiction to escape, and they specifically look to science fiction to escape the technological limitations of the current world. If you only provide readers with a rehash of their own lives, then you aren’t writing good science fiction. While scientific inaccuracies or plotline clichés immediately debilitate the quality of your writing, story elements that read as either too familiar or too ridiculous often prove just as detrimental in the long run. Such aspects trip up readers by making them pause, and too many pauses can turn them off from your book.
When we say “too familiar,” we refer to instances where authors, rather than crafting a hypothetical world based on the expanded possibilities of science, try to feed us the same old story under a different title. In terms of naming places, alien races, and objects in your fictional universe, we advise against writing a science fiction novel set on Earth, for example, and then trying to convince us that this is actually the planet Globos42. Similarly, a corrupted leader in a black cape with a wheezing breathing device is, after all, still Darth Vadar, even if he works on the Death ‘Planet’ we decide to call him Steve. Readers will immediately see through the cover-up and begin wondering where else you have tried to recycle someone else’s work.
On the flip side, some science fiction writers have the opposite problem of creating a story that readers cannot understand, believe in, or relate to at all. Of the two problems, this is perhaps the more harmful. As science fiction readers ourselves, we would much rather escape to a poorly crafted world than one through which we cannot even navigate. Using familiar science fiction tropes can help connect your readers to your story by providing them with an initial reference point. However, if you’re seriously looking to illustrate the alien and the foreign, first convince us that it is, in fact, alien, before showing us where we stand in relation to these novelties and why we should care. Several ways you can help introduce readers to your fictional world include artfully woven (rather than awkwardly explicit) inclusion of historical background, setting and geography description, show-not-tell technology explanation, characterization with environmental/other character interactions, or just good old dialogue, both internal and external. Once you achieve a balance between the familiar and the otherworldly, you will find yourself with more satisfied, enticed, and less confused readers.
When it comes to writing, less confusion is always a good thing.