I love science fiction, and have ever since I saw The Day the Earth Stood Still when I was… very little. I started writing by the time I was 10, and over the years was shaped a lot by what I read and watched. More recently, as I work towards actually publishing my work, I have tried to refine that into something tangible and useful. I have distilled it down to a set of guidelines I semi-jokingly call “Dean’s Rules of Science Fiction”, mostly with regard to the 3024 AD universe I am working in. I refer back to them often, and it helps all the stories stay in line in a believable way.
Before you read them, though, a disclaimer: these are my rules- they may not be yours. There are some very specific things I like and do not like in sci-fi, and you may feel the opposite. That’s fine and good- I’m not dogmatic about it. They’re just the rules I use in my writing, and what I like. They are not laws that should be imposed on sci-fi authors or something. So feel free to disagree as much as you want.
Rule the first: It has to be possible. Obviously, it’s fiction, but when I read or watch something, I like to think to myself “yeah, I can see that happening.” I try to give attention to detail- I like the idea of people in spaceflight having to deal with zero gravity, and how do spaceships slow down? I try to address those types of things. Not every single thing is going to be possible or probable, but hopefully I can impart an interesting, entertaining and believable version of the future.
Rule the second: No magic. This goes hand-in-hand with the first rule, but I don’t want magic, the force, whatever in my story. I love Star Wars, and tons of fantasy books, but for the most part I would rather see practical solutions to problems rather than a supernatural cop-out (Again, if you have that in your story, awesome- it’s not a cop-out to write it!)
Rule the third: Avoid hyperbole. Ok, this is where I don’t like a lot of stuff that is out there- the all-or-nothing-world-ending hyperbole. It drives me nuts. It’s OK in small doses, but more and more scifi goes in this direction. It always seems like such a cheap way of building suspense and conflict. Same goes for evil emperors and mad scientists- no one wants to destroy the world, sorry. I check out as soon as that becomes the plot.
Rule the fourth: Avoid cliche. To a certain point, this is unavoidable- there are some hallmarks of sci-fi and fantasy that are omnipresent, but I try to avoid the ‘chosen one’ scenario, ancient prophecies, that sort of thing. Of course, there are the smaller ones- most common are character cliches, prostitutes/smugglers/thieves/etc with a heart of gold, hero driven by grief and/or love… the list goes on. It makes the characters more real and personal if they aren’t from a cookie cutter.
Rule the fifth: Don’t follow the rules. The above list is a guide that helps, but if something falls into one of those categories and it fits the story, it’s not worth forcing a change for the sake of a self-imposed rule.