Pursuant to yesterday’s post (is this the proper usage of pursuant? If not, it so should be! I’ll have to ask SB when he’s around):
Get out your wet noodles and what have you. I’m ready for my lashes.
I started writing a middle grade novel. I’ve read plenty of MG and besides, this is more tween-y and I am a YA-oholic. So no problems there, right?
But then I AM READING a science fiction novel. I do not love SF. That’s not why I picked up the book. I am reading it because it is kind of YA SF, has been recommended to me a gazillion times and is touted as one of the best in the whole SF genre. I am surprised that I don’t love it so much.
I talk to my writing partner about my expectations and how they’ve been dashed. It’s the words, mostly. They just aren’t beautiful. The prose doesn’t sing to me. On top of that, though the main plot is very good, I feel like I can tell when the writer came up with some of the new twists. To me, they feel like they were spackled into place.
I propose to my partner that I might like SF better if the story was written first, then the SF elements worked into it. As a joke, I take the first chapter of my sweet MG relationship story and move it two centuries ahead.
Amazingly, it makes the story come alive. I research SF a little, just for fun, and find:
A. I’ve already read 20 of the top 100 SF stories of all time but
B. It’s not SF unless the science part is crucial to the story.
I give up the idea of writing a SF MG. Until I take a shower and Boing! the What If bomb goes off in my head and I see how the science really could affect the plot.
My questions to you Oh Wise One:
1. Am I crazy? Pathetic? Misguided to think I can pull this off?
What a great question, Anonymous! (Seriously, though, don’t be a stranger.)
And then Patrick (being Patrick) said:
I am assuming “Oh Wise One” is me.
Worrying about the ‘definition’ of SF is a waste of time. There’s a bunch of ninnies who make *those* rules.
YA SF the rules are different than the ninnies who make silly SF rules.
Call it Futuristic Fantasy rather than SF if you are worried about that SF label.
Yes, you are crazy, but that has nothing to do with your writing or your ability to pull your story off.
Patrick is probably much better equipped to discuss what exactly science fiction is than I am. I was always a little hazy with the details. Like, officially, something like Star Wars isn’t “science fiction” because it has nothing to do with science? It’s space opera or space fantasy or whatever? I’m not in SFWA, so I don’t know all the rules of what’s SF and what spec fiction and what’s fantasy and what all.
And of course, Justine is in Texas right now, and probably not checking email/reading blogs, and she’s the actual science fiction expert around here — PhD, lots of lovely science fiction history books with her name on them, etc.
And then I started getting curious, so I decided to look up these “top 100 science fiction stories.” I found two lists near the top of the Google results: A statistical survey of sci-fi literary awards, noted critics and popular polls (of which I’ve read 23), and David Pringle’s (of which I’ve read 7). They are decidedly different. (I think I like the first one better, though I may be biased by my own results.)
So now, being the curious sort, I’m wondering what YA our Anonymous buddy is talking about that is supposedly one of the best SFs of all time. I’m thinking it’s likely we’re talking about Ender’s Game. My favorite Ender book, Speaker for the Dead, does in fact appear on that first list. We can’t be talking about Wrinkle in Time, here, right? That’s a YA classic which is also, arguably, SF.
(SB just walked in and goes: “Ender’s Game, right?” Too funny. Please note, we are basing our guesses here on the description “famous YA SF novel,” and not on any value judgment about the prose.)
Alternately, we could be looking at a LeGuin, though I think she tends to write her fantasy for kids and her SF for adults. Or, we could be looking at the type of classic SF that people tend to read as teens in school: Bradbury/Asimov/Orwell/Huxley (or even Shelley/Wells!) . All of which I read in English class in high school. Or, you know, Heinlein/Herbert/Vonnegut/Dick/Clarke are also teen favorites. (Hee hee. Dick/Clarke.)
Well, all this is besides the point, anyway. I just like playing guessing games. Anonymous is under no pressure to tell us which book he or she is talking about. (Let’s just say it’s a she, to make my typing easier.) She is also under no pressure to like a book, even if it’s been recommended to her a gazillion times and is very popular. (Justine will agree with me on this one.) There is a much-beloved bestselling novel out there that I can’t wrap my around at all. Yay for opinions!
Patrick’s suggestion is a good one, regarding not thinking of it as SF if there’s no science involved. Futuristic is a perfectly cromulent genre all on its own (cf. Nalini Singh’s bestselling series). And the poster does say she’s very well read in MG/YA. I wouldn’t worry about the SF too much. After all, I consider myself a fan, and by one count, I’ve only read 7 of the top 100 SF novels. The poster has read 20. And, of course, the poster is doing the important thing — looking into it, reading it, exploring, etc.
And, I may get lashed for making this argument, but classics, though all well and good, aren’t necessarily going to help too much if you don’t know what’s being written on the topic NOW.
If you want to read more YA futuristics/SF, here’s a list of recent titles to get you started:
-I Was A Teenage Popsicle and Beyond Cool*, by Bev Katz Rosenbaum
-Uglies, Pretties, Specials, and Extras* by Scott Westerfeld
-Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (yes, I know you can argue that it’s not futuristic, but it’s at least ahead of “now.”)
-Feed by M.T. Anderson
-Rash by Pete Hautman
I’m sure that the comments section will bring more suggestions as well. (Sara?)
And, if you want to read a classic YA SF, I’ve always been a huge fan of Heinlein’s Starman Jones. It’s really old school, kind of Horatio-Alger-in-space.
The part of Anonymous’s post that makes little alarms go off for me the most though, is the idea of:
“I might like SF better if the story was written first, then the SF elements worked into it.”
All those books that I listed up there would not exist without the SF element. It’s integral to the storyline. And this doesn’t just go for SF, or futuristic — it goes for everything. Story elements must exist for a reason, otherwise they are, as the poster said, “just spackled on.” The science fiction element of any story is Chekov’s gun on the wall. It must come into play at some point in the story.
The thing about science fiction is that, really, it can be any genre it wants to be — thriller, cozy mystery, romance — but the science fiction element needs to be there for a reason. For example, take one of my favorite science fiction movies: Alien.
Alien is a haunted house story. It’s a classic haunted house story, with all the genre elements: a group of people are trapped in a structure with an evil “magical” entity that kills them one by one.
Now, the problem with all haunted house stories is that, in a perfect world, people would just leave the house. Open the door and walk away. (As I yell at the screen in every horror movie.) So every haunted house story needs to have a REASON that people are staying in that house: in The House on Haunted Hill (and remakes), the residents are being offered a huge amount of money to stick it out. In Poltergeist, their daughter is missing and they have to save her (why they stay in there afterwards is beyond me). In Alien, the filmmakers have hit on the perfect reason to trap people inside the “haunted house”: It’s a spaceship, and they can’t leave, or they’ll die in space. BRILLIANT.
But you see how Alien would not have worked in any other setting. Put it elsewhere –here, now–and you’d have The House on Haunted Hill. Or maybe 13 Ghosts, but no one wants to remember that crapola (right, Jana?)
So I’m having a tough time seeing a book that can be SF (or futuristic) without the SF (or futuristic) being an integral part of the storyline.
But then, near the bottom, Anonymous gives us her twist:
Until I take a shower and Boing! the What If bomb goes off in my head and I see how the science really could affect the plot.
Yeah, I love that. Showers are the best. And yeah, sometimes story pieces fall together at odd times, and they can fall together in any order — plot then character; character, then premise; setting, then character, then hook — whatever. That’s fine. If you’re still trying to piece the story together, then, in my opinion, you aren’t really “working the SF in afterward.” But if it helps you to think of it that way, then don’t let me stand in your way. (I’m sure that my way of putting story ideas together is anathema to lots of people.) Viva la difference, and all that jazz.
So no, to answer your question, Anonymous, I don’t think you are crazy or pathetic, or misguided.
And there is a point when I’m working on every story where I decide I’m crazy to think I can pull it off. Then I know that I’m on the right track, because the project that scares you is also the one that makes you grow. I say: GO FOR IT!
The only other piece of advice I have for you is that, if you are entering a genre as a professional in the genre, it behooves you to become familiar with it. Once you are published in this genre, you will meet a lot of other writers. Your fans will have read lots of books in the genre and will want to talk to you about them. They will want you to give them recommendations for what to read while they are waiting for your next book to come out, etc. It’s just a good thing. Even if you are writing “the X book for people who don’t like X books,” it’s a good thing to be part of the community.
Good luck and Godspeed!
PS: Sailor Boy says that he’s only read 20 of these books. I thought for sure his count would be higher than mine. He also says he hasn’t read Dune. I may have to call off the wedding.
PPS: Crisis averted. He’s seen the Lynch movie. The one with Sting.