Tuesday, May 3, 2011

You need to read SFF in order to write it

I see this happen all the time on forums where people share their work. Newbie writer gets a cool SFF idea and writes it out, then posts it. Turns out their idea has not only been done before, but they offer no new angle, and pretty much reinvent the wheel, so to speak. The wheels have already been invented by past generation of SFF writers; they established the tropes that many readers have come to know and love (or hate), thus paving the way for newer writers to focus on other aspects of SFF storytelling.  

Why not take advantage of that? Why unwittingly write something that sounds like it came from a 1970’s SFF magazine?

Tropes of classic SF
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.

A good place to start for potential SF writers is watching the original Star Trek, as it has a butt-load of SF tropes embedded in the scripts. Sorry fantasy writers, not sure where you may start – perhaps Tolkien or mythological stories, mostly based on Greek or Western European culture. I’m sure one my fantasy-savvy co-bloggers could fill the readers in. 

Some tropes can be very sexy

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