Dean’s Rules of Science Fiction

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.

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