Last week sci-fi blog and Gawker affiliate io9 put up a blog post about the 10 writing rules that they wished science fiction and fantasy authors would break more often.
Here are the abbreviated versions of the ‘rules’:
- No third-person omniscient
- No prologues
- Avoid infodumps
- Fantasy novels have to be a series rather than a standalone
- No portal fantasy
- No FTL (faster than light travel)
- Women can’t write ‘hard’ science fiction
- Magic has to be just a minor part of a fantasy world
- No present tense
- No ‘unsympathetic’ characters
Women in hard sci-fi
Some of these I’m not even going to spend time on, though I think the one that pops out the most for me is number 7, that women can’t write hard sci-fi. The industry standard on this has made it hard to say that it’s patently false. I think there has historically been a gender bias in all of speculative fiction but especially in this particular field, as well as in the fields of the hard sciences themselves. I’m not a huge hard sci-fi fan in the first place though, I tend to side with the more myth-y magick-y end of things (which tends to be much more open), so I’m not even going to try to feign my creds in this area. Other writers and bloggers could do so much more adequately. The question I guess I would pose is this, does the bias exist on the part of publishers, readers or the publishers’ impressions of what (or rather, whom) hard sci-fi readers will read? I’d love to explore this issue in more detail in the future and hopefully will have a chance to… if you’d like to help me flesh out a post on this, I’d be grateful.
The rest of the list
As for the rest of the list, io9 offers their own rebuttals for each which I’ll let you read from their site. What I do think is that for the most part these are all very recent rules and at least some of them are the result of a deluge of a certain type of book. Think of the endless number of high fantasy books that have come out as a direct inspiration from Tolkien’s works. I’m an unabashed fan of this genre and could happily read the formulaic plot lines until the end of time (while also eating an endless amount of pizza). In some ways, these sorts of books are like comfort food for me, so I can understand where some publishers might be hesitant to buy up more of them… out of fear that readers are exhausted by the concept.
On the other hand, what I don’t think is being addressed, is the fact that these things are cyclical or even work on a pendulum theory, swinging back and forth from first person to third person. Right now the first person story telling style has become popular, which has lead to a deluge of that type of narration. The reaction of some writers then will naturally be to swing back to third person in an attempt for freshness.
In fact, I think most of the list operates in this way, high magic versus low magic, characters who are total assholes (looking at you GRRM) to characters who are nothing but sympathetic.
The only ones that ring true to me are to avoid infodumps and the present tense, though naturally there are examples of both that have worked, those are just a couple of personal rules for myself.
As a reader or writer, what do you think? Do you agree with any points in this list?