I stumbled across this post on io9, via SF Signal, and I can’t decide if it’s typical of their cluelessness or whether the site deliberately caters to clueless people. To be fair, they have carefully quoted the word “rules” because the ten points they make are a combination of wrongness, bad advice and the opposite of common sense.
io9’s 10 writing “Rules” they wish more science fiction and fantasy authors would break…
1) No third-person omniscient
As far as I’m aware, readers prefer third-person limited PoV, so publishers prefer it, so writers use it more. Omniscient is no longer as popular in genre fiction as it once was, though you will see it used in thrillers or literary fiction, with varying degrees of success. Given genre’s current trend for immersion, omniscient voice would be counter-indicated.
2) No prologues
I’ve been saying this for years. Wannabe writers write prologues because their favourite books – no matter how old – feature prologues. And even then, those books probably didn’t need them.
3) Avoid infodumps
According to Kim Stanley Robinson, info-dumping is just another narrative technique – and one he uses interestingly in 2312 with its Dos Passos-like “Quantum Walks”. Anything which interrupts the flow of the narrative should generally be avoided, and that includes exposition. There are ways of getting important information across to the reader – some of them are more elegant than others. In Adrift on the Sea of Rains, I used a glossary – and used that glossary to tell the story of the Apollo programme. In The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself, the glossary serves triple duty – telling the story of the Apollo and Ares programmes, but also offering clues to the real story of the novella and hiding the coda.
4) Fantasy novels have to be series instead of standalones
At present, publishers in the UK like trilogies. You probably stand a better chance of getting a contract if you’ve written a trilogy rather than a stand-alone novel. There’s no reason why fantasy novels (of the epic mediaevalish secondary world variety) shouldn’t be stand-alones, and many have been – such as, er, um… well, I’m sure there must be one somewhere.
5) No portal fantasy
Isn’t portal fantasy a bit out of fashion these days? Most epic fantasies are secondary world fantasies.
6) No FTL
So that would be like Alastair Reynolds’ entire oeuvre, then? Books set outside the Solar System but without FTL have been around for a long time. An especially good one is William Barton’s Dark Sky Legion from 1992. It’s a damn sight more interesting an approach than pretending spaceships are ocean liners and interstellar space is just a very large ocean…
7) Women can’t write “hard” science fiction
Argh. This isn’t a rule, even if in quotes. This is just rank ignorance. And to the people in the comment thread of the io9 post asking for the names of women hard sf writers… Well, there’s this thing called the internet, it has search engines you can use, so go and bloody look for yourself. Admitting you’re ignorant is only the first step. Now you have to do something about it. Don’t go demanding people give you a list of authors’ names. Go and look for yourself. It’s not difficult.
8) Magic has to be just a minor part of a fantasy world
Random assertion is random.
9) No present tense
That’s me screwed then – the Apollo Quartet and Wunderwaffe are all written in the present tense. I like it, I like its immediacy. And I’ve read some excellent books written in the present tense – such as Katie Ward’s Girl Reading.
10) No “unsympathetic” characters
The problem with unsympathetic characters is that they’re, well, unsympathetic. And if you do find yourself sympathising with them, then you probably need help. Writing unsympathetic characters – especially in epic fantasy – means you end up with rapey grimdark shit, and that’s something the genre really needs to grow out of. It’s not big and it’s not clever.
So there you have it. Within a subset of genre fiction, all novels apparently do not break these “rules” – though obviously of course lots of other genre novels do. But to point that out would have rendered io9’s entire article meaningless.