Things You Need To Do In Your Science Fiction Or Fantasy Story


Following up Things Your Fantasy Or Science Fiction Story Needs, when you're writing science fiction or fantasy, there are a few things you need to do with your settings and characters to make a good, solid work.

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Be clear on what you're talking about

In one story I read, a major hullabaloo was made over the fact that the protagonist was a witch - this made her Really Super Important somehow. But because the story never explained or shown what a witch even was or did, I had no real way to understand just why everyone was making such a fuss over the character, let alone what was at stake for her and those around her as a consequence of her witchiness. From where I sat, she was basically special because the Story Said So, which made it very frustrating to read.

Many times, it seems that the authors of assorted Internet fiction have read or watched perhaps one or two stories containing a particular magical creature and simply assume that that's the way they universally or traditionally work, and so they figure that dropping the name of the creature will be enough for people to know what they're talking about without further explanation. But it just ain't so.

Out of all of the stories I can think of that involve witches, there isn't a one of them where they work the exact same way as in another work. What they can do, how they do it, and how powerful they potentially are differ significantly. In some works they may be ordinary humans who learned a skill; in other works they may have been blessed with a gift or have an inborn ability that others don't. In some stories witches can easily turn someone into a frog with a snap of their fingers; in others, magically lighting something as simple as a campfire may take a great deal of effort. Sometimes witches need special tools or ingredients to work their magic; sometimes they don't.

If there's one thing you can count on in fiction you read, it's that the fantastic creatures will differ from a universal or traditional standard somehow. There's nothing wrong with this, because quite frankly, a lot of traditional creatures don't make for very good drama, and following universal standards to the last detail easily results in a story that feels old and stale simply because there are only so many types of stories you can do if you follow all of those standards.

Whatever fantastic or supernatural element you are using, be it ghosts, aliens, vampires, fae, centaurs, mermaids, sirens, or even magic itself, you have to show people what they they are or mean in your story, or else you run the risk of leaving people clueless or with the wrong idea entirely. Simply dropping a name and expecting them to be clear on what you're talking about just doesn't work when there are so many differences between the way these things work in different works of fiction and even in traditional folklore. So whatever you do, make sure that you give people enough information that they can understand how the fantastic elements work in your world.



Remember what is going to be novel and what is going to be mundane to your characters

Whatever people are accustomed to and experience on a daily or near-daily basis is what they will perceive as normal and ordinary. If your character has grown up in a world where magic is a daily fact of life, it's not going to seem like anything especially wondrous and special. A spell to light a candle isn't going to be any more exciting or interesting to xir than a butane lighter is to you, nor is using a magical communication mirror going to seem any more remarkable than you would find using Skype with a webcam, and going to a magical school wouldn't be seen as any more exciting or interesting to xir than going to a regular middle or high school would seem to you.

On the other hand, if someone grew up in an environment where finding new information meant digging it up in a library, running around for hours trying to find the right person to ask, doing the research yourself, or summoning a spirit in a ritual that could potentially take awhile or even go horribly wrong if done improperly, that person might find an Internet search engine with which xe can easily and instantly find new information to be something utterly amazing and novel. A scholarly mage who long had nothing to write notes with but paper and ink might find a modern word processor to be a marvel, even a miracle.

If your character had spent a long time in an environment where running into alien races was a relatively regular occurrence, meeting an alien wouldn't seem any more remarkable to xir than running into someone from another country on the Internet seems to you. And while a city of sparkling golden spires may invoke awe and gawking for the first few visits, after awhile the novelty will wear off and by the fiftieth visit you probably won't be gawking much, if at all. Meanwhile, natives of the city wouldn't be doing any gawking at all - to them, it's just as mundane and unremarkable as your local neighborhood is to you. While your eye might be drawn by the strange alien fashions around you, to the aliens they're just as ordinary as jeans and t-shirts are to you.

However, if your character is supposed to be an alien from a highly advanced civilization lost on Earth, that alien might find xirself almost helpless. Sure, maybe the computer systems in its spaceship can plot a course between planets, but that doesn't mean the alien would know how to use a laptop or smartphone any more than the average early 21st century American would know how to operate an ENIAC or Commodore PET. Maybe the alien has some kind of advanced kitchen appliances that can assemble a meal in a matter of minutes, but that doesn't mean xe'll have the first idea how to use a toaster any more than the average college student would know how to get the temperature right and cook in a Medieval oven. And in general, many, if not most of the things that you take for granted might seem pretty strange and interesting

Similarly, if your character is an ordinary human transported to an alien or magical world and doesn't react to the shiny new things by gawking and staring in awe at least a little bit, that's pretty unrealistic, too. Such characters are pretty obviously written by writers who themselves have become numb to the wonders of the fantastic worlds their characters are supposed to have just entered, and are failing to take into account that their characters should still feel a lot more awe and wonder.


Use your extraordinary elements to create extraordinary adventures.

Whether you're writing a story about a mermaid coming to land and attending a human high school, a human entering the realm of the fae and falling in love with one, an alien trying to blend in on Earth, or someone just trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic future, ask yourself: what kind of adventures and shenanigans can happen directly because and only because of the fantastic elements in your story? How might characters with access to fantastic phlebotinums try to solve their problems, as opposed to characters who only have access or ordinary and mundane ones? How might fantastic characters solve their problems when only mundane elements are around?

If your mermaid in highschool doesn't do anything or be involved in anything that couldn't happen to any highschool student in the exact same way, people who picked up your story looking for an honest-to-goodness mermaid adventure are going to be very disappointed when they realize that your story is essentially interchangeable with any number of other highschool dramas except perhaps for the fact that your character really likes going to the beach alone. If your protagonist does nothing that a human protagonist couldn't do and gets into no adventures or trouble that could only happen because your protagonist is a mermaid, then why are you writing about a mermaid in the first place?

Likewise, if nothing in your story would really change if you made your vampire love interest human all along, then there's no point to having a vampire love interest. If your crew of space explorers don't do or experience anything that couldn't happen or happen that way if they weren't exploring space and fantastic alien worlds, then they might as well be ordinary humans living on Earth. While your basic plot premise and characters should be able to hold up even if there are no fantastic elements involved (EG, "three friends must stop an evil would-be tyrant despite incompetent and corrupt politicians" or "a group of unlikely companions with criminal histories must band together to stop a threat" are solid enough premises for any type of story), your fantastic elements must be more than mere set pieces and costumes or else there is no point to having them.

(A caveat - the plot where two lovers are forbidden or discouraged from being together because of enmity between their kinds or because the masquerade must be upheld is very frequently used, so used on its own is rather likely to create a story that feels stale and old.)



So, in summary...


Also check out:

Tips to Create Better & More Believable Fantasy & Science Fiction Species
Fantasy & Science Fiction Creature Development Questions
Tips & Ideas To Create More Believable Sword 'n Sorcery Worlds
Tips To Write & Create Better & More Believable Futures
On Plot Structure & Plotting
Phlebotinum-Development Questions
Spaceships, Airships, & Other Fantastic Crafts: Things To Think Out & Consider



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