Once Upon a Time in Science Fiction

October 23, 2015 § 3 Comments

Cheeky, contemplative, elusive, disgruntled, raw, ironic — I’m convinced it doesn’t matter so much what your first sentence states as long as it manages to peak your reader’s interest. Readers, after all, need to find a reason to continue with your work. Not everyone’s as forgiving as your mom when it comes to faulty punctuation or wonky grammar, and a lack of entertaining content means a lack of entertained audience which means no audience after a bit.

I’ve always been a fan of the “good writing is good writing” school of thought, but science fiction writing might break a few of my learned conventions. Flat characters would earn you a thorough chastising in a literary fiction circle and relying on the impossible would generate you scorn in a realist work.

So where does this leave us when it comes to the first sentence? Should science fiction be allowed to deviate from the reader-is-always-right school of though for a work’s beginning? No! Of course not! But when we delve into deeper story characteristics, this school of thought can be problematic. Science fiction stories with shallow, macho heroes work not because of the heroes themselves, but because of the motivating ideas and actions behind the stories. Science fiction stories with improbable technology work not because of the technology’s lack of reality, but because of the world surrounding the new development. In short, sci-fi functions under a different set of conventions, expectations, and literary techniques than your average short story, but this doesn’t mean it should be exempt from all traditional literary critiques. Or does it?

-Laura Davia


§ 3 Responses to Once Upon a Time in Science Fiction

  • jocelyntroth says:

    Though I consider myself more a “general reader” of fiction than actual analytical critic, I have to agree with the sentiment that round characters and exciting introductions make stories, at the most basic level, more interesting to read. Nothing annoys me more than when an author takes multiple paragraphs to establish something beyond boring details of the setting or other mundane characteristics of a story, and I think that such situations have been prevalent throughout some of our assigned reading (though not the majority, thank goodness!). It’s important to strike a balance between well-respected literary conventions and writing for a more general audience.


  • I love a thoughtfully-developed character and realistic scenario as much as the next person, but I also agree that science fiction writing seems to operate under a separate set of conventions, and these different conventions allow sci-fi authors to challenge the norms of writing. In science fiction, it’s all about the novel, ingenious idea or the old idea with a new twist. Because the scientific theories and actual sequence of events play such an integral role in drawing readers into the story, I’m more sympathetic to the inclusion of flat characters, though endless description of setting can be quite tiring. I know when I read the first sentence of a sci-fi story, there must be a bit of mysteriousness, a sense of purpose or ambition in the actions of the characters, or maybe even a feeling of impending doom thrown in to really get me hooked. And if the author can successfully do this and keep me reading throughout the entire story, I consider it just as worthy of literary merit as any piece of realistic fiction. Science fiction writing is definitely an art of its own.
    -Bushra Rahman


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