9 Writing Rules Science Fiction & Fantasy Authors Should Break #amwriting #scifi

In the sci-fi / fantasy genre, there are many spoken and unspoken rules of what makes a great book. I have picked my favourite 9 rules from the article:  10 Writing “Rules” We Wish More Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Would Break. I love that every example where they have broken the rule has produced a fantastic book. So, be brave writers!

1. No third-person omniscient. Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is a classic example of how to get this right.

2. No prologues. My own book as a prologue and I only added it in later. Both my husband and my editor agreed it was a great addition, but it still makes me a little nervous as I know it can put many readers off. George R.R. Martin starts all the Song of Ice and Fire books with a prologue. They set the scene for later book conflicts via a throw away character.

3. Avoid info-dumps. It can be hard to avoid a little info dump in this genre without going to elaborate lengths to explain the world in a round-about way. But if a few concise sentences can do the job better, why not? See A collection of 20 well-done info infodumps.

4. Fantasy novels have to be a series. While many of them are a series, some absolute classics have been completely stand-alone. Here is a great list of examples. Never Wait for a Sequel Again: 17 Standalone Fantasy Novels.

5. No portal fantasy. The big questions seems to be – has this been done to death? A bit of an old one now, but Raymond E. Feist’s, Daughter of the Empire: An Epic Saga of the World on the Other Side of the Riftwar is a great example. There have been tons more before and after. See also: Walk through this portal with me into another world. So, do you think there is  still a place for portal sci-fi and fantasy?

6. No FTL. There are the purists out there who want their sci-fi as realistic as possible. Every fact has to be verified as plausible to the latest know physics theories, and there are those that totally throw the book away… Each to their own 😉

7. Women can’t write ‘hard’ science fiction. I guess it all comes down to what your definition of ‘hard’ sci-fi is (what is hard science fiction?). Unfortunately  I have to agree, there are a lot of great male writers in the sci-fi genre, and they have dominated for quite a while. In the fantasy category there are oodles of great women writers, and even someone like Ursula K. Le Guin, who I think is an  awesome writer, is probably leaning more towards fantasy. See the Best Hard Science Fiction.

8. Magic has to be a minor part of fantasy fiction. What? Who decided this? I think George R. R. Martin has probably caused this one to come about because he has effectively written The War of the Roses (PS don’t read this if you don’t want to know how the series ends – he has followed it closely so far!) in a fantasy setting with only a light smattering of magic to mix things up, and this has become so hugely popular. “Long live the magic writers” – I say.

9. No present tense. This rule seems to apply more to the traditional or high fantasy genre, whereas a lot of the more modern sub-genre such as urban fantasy or YA fantasy have embraced the present tense. Science fiction similarly, the more traditional sci-fi avoids present tense, while some of the YA sci-fi, and cross-genre takes, do. So is it time for the first epic fantasy in present tense? Or will it just turn out to be a mess? I would love to hear if you have read any good examples of more traditional science fiction or fantasy that has been written in present tense.

In conclusion, rules of writing are always open to be broken, and I would even argue that some of these should be taken with a pinch of salt. And while breaking rule can lead you to a literary mess, it can also produce something uniquely new and fresh.


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59 thoughts on “9 Writing Rules Science Fiction & Fantasy Authors Should Break #amwriting #scifi

  1. Whenever I see those kinds of lists, my first thought is to try to figure out how many I could break, preferably in the same story. 🙂

    (Which is probably related to the fact that the story I’m working on now starts “It was a dark and stormy night” — I read a blog post once saying you should never start a story that way.)

    In the “infodump” article, I appreciated the part about Heinlein, one of my early influences — but my favorite thing about Starship Troopers is that while he’s providing (quite elegantly) so much information, he’s also withholding one fact, which is that the protagonist isn’t white. This is revealed more than halfway through the book — and what a great way to show that in this future society it really doesn’t matter.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. The great thing about that realization (my father used to say: “There is only one rule in writing. Write well.”) is not that it’s easy, but that is clarifies the question. You can stop worrying about all those other “rules” and concentrate on the one that matters.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Absolutely, and it’s a long, tough apprenticeship! Because while the individual sentences might be great, getting them all to flow together in paragraphs and chapters that become a good story is another matter.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I break all these rules all the time, but there is one that I approve of, and that is not to write in the present tense. I find present-tense writing to feel so artificial and phony (ditto for books told from the second person POV). I wouldn’t read anything in any genre that use those two methods.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So jarring when people say they don’t read Prologues. I agree with Jack, it’s there for a reason. Of course, that didn’t use to be the case. Prologues tended to be excuses for info-dumps, which didn’t do much, since more info-dumps followed in the main text anyway. But I think by this point, it’s been so beaten into writer’s heads, that no publisher would put out a book with a purposeless prologue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, we do approach prologues with caution now 😉 So if one is there it is reasonable to assume the writer considered its inclusion with care (at least I hope they did!) I had a prologue in my book, and although I felt it ticked all the boxes, I still found that for everyone who loved it there was someone who was confused or plain didn’t like it…it had to go.
      Great points Alexander 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I really think prologues are essential to set the scene. It’s fun trying to piece together a fantasy world in film–the blanks are filled within a few hours anyway–but in literature, when readers are investing a lot of time in the narrative, a simple slab of “This is the stage on which this play is set” saves everyone a lot of time and effort!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting read! I’m a fantasy writer who rarely reads it because the plethora of genre conventions make it very same-y. One hero set against mammoth odds: bildungsroman format: linear narrative: etc. Yet it can be hard to break these conventions because they’re kind of what make fantasy what it is. Tense, for example. I attempted to write in the present tense but it just did not work–especially when it came to information dumps, which you really do need to do occasionally to explain the world and its ‘laws’ (if there are any). Anyway, thanks for making me think again about the unspoken rules and whether we must obey them!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Rule 2 and Rule 3 are my favorite rules to break (and the toughest ones to accept while editing). Rule 2 talks about the prologue, which I think is important when you’re introducing new readers to your story and characters. If prologues are wrong, every movie created needs to get rid of the opening scenes that introduce us to the main characters violent past or their small town. Rule 3 is uber important. I need to dump info on my readers, especially when I’m writing a sci-fi about alien parasites. Your definition of a “parasite” is different from my definition of a “parasite”, and so on. Great post Georgina!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great points! Unfortunately with SciFi and Fantasy it’s not always easy to avoid these rules…I think it’s more of an approach with caution and think it through and you are all good 🙂 Glad you enjoyed.


  6. Great post. I’m an aspiring writer with a novel sitting around waiting for an editor. I swear I’ve updated it ever other month for the past two years. I’ll have to do another revision after looking at these tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you! So many people insist upon rules for novels. I don’t think it should matter so much. If it is written well, then the reader won’t care. They’ll be too busy getting sucked into the web of the story. Then again I am biased. I wrote a prologue for one of my books ❤ Have a very merry Christmas! – Maggie Lynn

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I completely agree with the series one. Every time I pick up a non-series book, it feels like the author poured more heart and soul into the characters because they only exist for a few hundred pages.

    Liked by 1 person

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