Thursday, February 6, 2014

Need to Read SFF to Write It

Science fiction has its own history, its own legacy of what's been done, what's been superseded, what's so much part of the furniture it's practically part of the fabric now, what's become no more than a joke . . . and so on. It's just plain foolish, as well as comically arrogant, to ignore all this, to fail to do the most basic research.

It's probably safe to say most who follow this blog write science fiction/fantasy. If not... Why aren't you?!

On topic, this is probably an issue that slush readers/editors will encounter most: submissions that use ideas and tropes which have been done to death. And although we sometimes say "tropes" like it's a bad thing, they really aren't--except when the writer fails to bring something new to the story.


In order to move forward, you have to reach into the past and learn from those authors, both their successes and their follies. Absorb it and come up with something better or different than what they wrote. By not reading the classics (Herbert, Asimov, LeGuin – just to name a few authors), you’re doing yourself a disservice, having to build up from ground zero when you could have easily used some well-known tropes. And no, it doesn’t make you a “cookie-cutter” to use old tropes; the key is to be aware that you’re using them, thus giving you an edge on how to subvert them and make them your own.

So get reading! You'll make a lot of editors happy if you do.


9 comments:

  1. I rarely read, or write, sci-fi. I think the advice to read widely in the genre you write holds good for all writing though.

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  2. I agree with Patsy, read what you like, what is interesting to you, but I also think you have to read things past what you usually do. I think it behooves you to read everything, from romance novels to convenience store trade journals. Read mystery, because your science fiction detective will feel more correct. Read everything, because reading is necessary.

    For years I was involved in the poetry slam community, and if you asked what slam poets read, if it was anything, it was other slam poets. (slight generalization, but not by much) and the thing is it was proven by the work they produced. It all sounded the same. All sounded tinny reproductions. If all you read is the genre you like, you will sound like all those other things in your work and nothing else. It is important to know the tropes, but it is also important to know more writing styles and genres than just one.

    So go on, read that book you wouldn't be caught dead reading because its a Circus Romance, but damned if it might open something in you. Yes SFF writers. read Heinlein and Sturgeon, but also read Joseph Mitchel (who's prose is the best 20th century american prose I know) read Stephen Jay Gould, Read Dawn Powell, Read Stephen Vincent Benet's science fiction poetry from the 30s, Read Maeve Brennan. Read Lord Buckley, read David Goodis, Read Wilkie Collins, EB White and Dave Barry. Read

    Dammit, read everything.

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    1. Haha, yes, very true! I personally make an effort to read a short story a day, maybe two if they're short-short. Lately, it's been Poe poems--and although I don't plan on writing like him, getting a feel for rhythm and beat, as well as leaning new word usages has its benefits.

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    2. David, I didn't know you were involved in the poetry slam/spoken word community. That's very cool. I'm actually a pretty big fan of performance poetry, but I do see your point about so much of it sounding alike. I have an eclectic group of favorites that I return to over and over again. I'd love to hear some of your work. :)

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  3. I can't tell you how many stories I've written and then talked about to friends only to have them say, "Oh that sounds just like Asimov's (Insert Title Here)." Save yourself the frustration, particularly if you're an SFF writer. Read early, read often. And I totally agree with David: read everything.

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  4. Good post, Siobhan. I need to read more short stories. I read novels then wonder why my short stories don't want to end.

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    1. I'm the opposite, Milo, which is probably why I can't focus on one story long enough to help it evolve into a novel. :)

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  5. Thanks for the reminder, Siobhan! I read a ton of classic SciFi and Fantasy writers in my 20s,but I haven't returned to them in recent years as often as I should. Like you, I read at least two or three short stories every single day, as well as several poems. I adore both. I'll make it a point to pull out some LeGuin this week--I haven't read nearly enough of her work.

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    1. I admit, I don't read much LeGuin--Left Hand of Darkness put me off of her stuff. I should return to it and her other works to see why she became popular. Though what works for one author doesn't necessarily translate to another.

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