I’m looking at you sci-fi authors!
Did you know that I just recently dove into the genre? And I consider myself a massive nerd, too. I think part of the reason was because I didn’t have the same type of pull to it that I did with fantasy. And it wasn’t quite as easy to get my hands on. I grew up around Harry Potter, not Star Wars. I’m not even sure I knew what the definition of science-fiction was until I went to college.
Want to know why?
I felt alienated. I felt stupid. All those fancy words and crazy contraptions. The alien species and intergalactic mumbo-jumbo that saturated every page so heavily you needed a reference guide just to get through the first chapter. No way. I’ll stick with HP – at least I understood that mumbo-jumbo.
I think in part I had a misconception of the genre. There’s some hardcore sci-fi out there, but there’s also a lot of books, movies, and TV shows that are easy to follow. Still, there’s a misconception for a reason – there are a lot of writers who feel like they have to immerse you so far into the world that you end up feeling like the alien.
Now, I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be science-fiction that caters to people who know the genre inside and out (and can probably build their own TARDIS from scratch). On the contrary, those books, movies, and TV shows NEED to exist, if only to keep the super-nerds occupied so they don’t take over the world.
But for the rest of us? We don’t actually want that.
If you’re planning to write a science-fiction novel, make sure you don’t alienate your audience. If you want a hardcore sci-fi book, that’s fine! Go write it. But be aware that you WILL lose readers because of it. If that’s fine with you, then venture into the unknown! Make sure you’re strapped down, and hold on tight!
For the rest of you, hold on just one more second.
If you want to write a good science-fiction book that anyone will enjoy, make sure you keep it relatable. Make it something that anyone would want to pick up, regardless of their usual taste in genre. Let me give you an example:
There I was happy as a clam, perfectly content to pick up fantasy after fantasy. I didn’t care that there was more out there. I didn’t know there was more.
Then I went to college. I got into a writing class. (The course of my life was altered forever.) I met people. One of those people was a guy named Mike. Mike was cool. Mike was brilliant. Mike was a great storyteller. Mike wrote science-fiction.
Uh oh. Could I do this? Could I understand what Mike was writing about? Would I be able to edit his fiction? I didn’t know anything about warp-drives (is that a real thing? I may have made that up) or black holes or how people can live amongst the stars and not have a panic attack whenever they look out the window and see nothing but an empty sky around them for literally billions of miles.
And you know what? I did have trouble with the story. It was a dense read – a good one, a great one even – but hard. I gave him some advice – not that he needed it. He knew what he was doing. But even if the advice couldn’t be applied to his story, it can still be applied to other ones. Here’s what I said:
Don’t alienate your audience. Don’t write so above them that they feel too stupid to continue reading your book. You have a chance here – a wonderful, unique chance to convert a fantasy reader into a science-fiction reader. Don’t lose that opportunity.
(But there’s a bigger lesson here. I’ve known some writer-snobs in my lifetime, and I don’t like the reputation they make for the rest of us. Some authors feel as if they have to be intellectual all the time. They have to be critical, sarcastic, and cynical. Guess what? You don’t! For certain people, there’s a time and a place for that. But most of the time? Let it go. Don’t shoot down potential readers on Twitter. Don’t be caught saying nasty things about your audience. They’re the ones paying you, after all. Even if your first instinct is to defend your work against those that you deem inferior, don’t let the ugly monster rear its head. Don’t alienate your audience.)
And it’s true, isn’t it? I know it was in my case. I took a chance watching Doctor Who even though I knew nothing about it other than it had a huge and very loyal fan base. I knew it was science-fiction, but I thought I’d give it a shot. I was feeling adventurous.
Well, if you’ve read this post, you’ll know that I fell in love. And guess what I did right after that? I watched Firefly. Then I watched Serenity. I now literally beg people for suggestions for my next sci-fi fill (any recommendations??). And you know what is going to happen eventually? I’m going to delve deeper into the genre and start getting into the heavier, scarier stuff.
How cool is that?
See what can happen when you have a good story and some relatable characters? Your book doesn’t need all that crazy talk to sit on the sci-fi shelf at B&N. Take the opportunity you’re being given. Write something that’ll make a nerdy girl who always has her nose in a book wonder why the heck it has taken her so long to realize how cool science-fiction really is.
This is part one in a two-post series. The next one will be about not underestimating your audience. Stay tuned!