Tag Archives: Writing Rules

Break These Genre Rules


Fishing in the vastness of the internet ocean, I discovered an article from io9, a website dedicated to bottling and selling orgasms in the form of science fiction and fantasy throughout the entire nerddom.

The article, entitled “10 Writing “Rules” We Wish More Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Would Break”, centers on the unescapable genre-glue which most writers abuse/sniff. Although that is not the most terrible of addictions (it may belong to the abuse of adverbs, or glittery vampires), and without many of the “rules” the story would no longer be classified as science fiction or fantasy.

I’ve selected a few of my favorites, but writers/readers of the genres should check out the entire article.


2) No prologues

This is one I’ve been hearing for years — some agents and editors say they stop reading immediately if they see that a book has a prologue. But prologues have their uses, especially if you want to set a mood or establish some crucial backstory before you start introducing your main characters.

Like most of the other things on this list, prologues can be done well, or they can be done horrendously. Luckily, we don’t have to reach far to think of an example of prologues done well — George R.R. Martin starts every one of theSong of Ice and Fire books with one, and it’s clear why these prologues are there. They help set up the conflicts of each book, via the experiences of a throw-away character. (Literally, in fact.)


7) Women can’t write “hard” science fiction.
This is one “rule” that most people are at least sensible enough never to say out loud — but it often seems as though “hard SF” refers to novels and stories written by mostly white dudes. And women often seem to be shunted more into soft science fiction or fantasy.

And then you get these discussions where people debate whether a particular woman author really counts as “hard science fiction.” To some extent, this comes from preconceptions about the types of people who read hard SF, and that indirectly influences expectations about who’s going to be writing in that genre. But especially once you broaden your sciences to include biology or computer science, you start finding lots and lots of hard SF written by woman authors.


8) Magic has to be just a minor part of a fantasy world
This is one I’ve heard a lot lately — probably because of the success of George R.R. Martin’s novels, in which magic starts out as a quiet rumor at the fringes of Westeros, something most people don’t really believe in. It’s only once you get to the later books that magic really starts to become something that most of the characters are aware of. And this is an absolutely brilliant approach to fantasy writing, and a breath of fresh air — but it’s not the way all fantasy novels should be written from here on out.

There shouldn’t be a law saying that magic should be kept to the margins of a fantasy world, any more than you’d say a space opera shouldn’t have too many spaceships. Magic should be limited, sure — but it can have limits and still be central to the characters’ worlds.