Of course, I’m still in the learning phase and I would – by no means – say I’m an expert, but I’ve noticed a trend in even newer authors. I’ve been at this, specifically fantasy/sci-fi writing, for about a decade, the last three of which have been professionally, so here’s what I’ve noticed when it comes to aspects often overlooked by budding sci-fi/fantasy authors.
5. The Importance of a Map
I feel like this shouldn’t be on here, but I’ve noticed this a lot in new author fantasy and sci-fi books. The lack of a good map. I mean, I can still remember photocopying the front inset maps of my favorite fantasy/sci-fi authors as a kid so I would have them handy while reading and not have to flip back and forth. There’s something special about a new world’s maps — even if the fantasy happens in a contemporary setting. People like bringing the unbelievable into the believable and short of drawing pictures of the characters for them, the closest thing is to bring them into the story with a map. That’s pretty straight forward when it comes to understanding what an author means with a map. It’s pretty hard to mix up mountains from lakes in comparison to blonde hair and that perfect shade of blue eyes.
I feel like I should also emphasize that I used the phrase “a good map” here.
A lot of new authors just draw the maps themselves (great idea for writing) and then just stick it into their book willy nilly. If that author happens to also be a great artist, this works in their favor. Nine times out of ten, that’s not the case. I don’t want to see the writer’s rendering of the map, chances are I’ll get confused. What I want to see is the map that I’d get if I were getting off an airplane/ship/space shuttle into that world and landing where they have those wooden stands full of maps. Real maps.
I want them to be as real as fictionally possible.
What a lot of indies/self-pubbers miss is that there are actual people (artisans) out there who do this for a living. I’m lucky to have one on staff at Little Green Eyed Press, but there’s a whole guild of them! All you have to do is start asking and you, too, can have a Tolkien-esque map.
4. Building Worlds with Anchors
When it comes to world-building there are tons of worksheets out there. Tons. Oodles. Billions!
Okay, maybe not billions exist, but pretty close.
Everyone tells you to come up with all the details and to write them down, even if you don’t include them. I, personally, am a huge proponent of this method.
But, what a lot of those worksheets don’t tell you is to remember to anchor your created worlds somehow. Even the pure sci-fi that has zero humans in sight still anchors their worlds somehow.
What’s an anchor? you might be asking.
It’s a bridge to connect the reader’s imagination with the familiar and unfamiliar of your world. We anchor stories to Earth — some more so than others. While you only truly need a slight anchor to be able to run wild, that anchor still exists. It acts as that little trigger in the reader’s mind that says, “you know this, now see it!” and opens their minds to what you create from that anchor.
How do you anchor something? The short of it is find ways to relate your created world to earth. Don’t replace every item/object/animal/word with a foreign/made-up word. Pick and choose. If it is central to your story, be creative. If it’s a background only, maybe you should let it act as a reality gripper–an anchor. Do you really need to rename the horse to the snarfgle? Unless your story is about snarfgles… probably not. It could, instead, serve as a way to help the reader visualize everything instead of wondering, “So, how do I pronounce this thingy-ma-jig?” every few new words.
I’m getting off topic, as I tend to do. But the fact remains. I can smell a baby sci-fi/fantasy author a mile away by if they anchor their created world or not. I can tell in the first page usually. And, if they don’t at least make some attempt, I quickly pass.
3. Taking Risks with Races
I think a lot of newer sci-fi/fantasy authors like to be told what’s okay and not okay… and what’s expected and not expected when it comes to races and species in their fiction. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen the “is this race okay?” or “can I use this species?” questions come up in writers’ groups.
I think we sci-fi/fantasy authors are so worried about what we can’t do that we forget what we should do. Part of what makes our genres awesome is that we get to play with races and species and make something new out of something old and/or unbelievable. That’s what helps define fantasy and sci-fi.
So, take the chance.
Play with mermaids. Fight with dragons. Dance with aliens.
Stop worrying about what others think you should do, or think you can’t do and just do it — to the best of your writing abilities. Who knows, you might just be the next Verne or Tolkien.
2. Remembering Names Should Have Meaning
I think that this one really goes for all writing, but the sci-fi/fantasy genres especially. Every name, every location name, every object should convey some sort of meaning, be it a sensory one or emotional one.
I’ve seen people ask for random names without thinking about the effect they need to have on readers. I’ve seen people ask for help naming locations without thinking about that place’s history and how it affects the world based around it.
To make a sci-fi or fantasy book really work, you have to remember these little details because they are part of what makes the magic of your writing work.
Harry Potter wouldn’t have been the same story without Dumbledore, Azkaban, and Lovegood.
1. The Costs of Everything
My #1 complaint about new sci-fi and fantasy writers is that the forget to mention what magic/alien guns/new age tech all cost. And, I don’t mean monetarily.
People forget that you have to take physics into account when world-building an entire novel (or series).
You can’t just have people shooting firebolts from the hands without some effect coming from it — be it to themselves (yep), their targets (duh), and the world around them (absolutely). Same goes for technology. Phasing guns have an effect on the user, target, and the world around him. Same goes for anything else that alters the world around your characters.
Everything has a cause and an effect. Everything has a cost and every good sci-fi/fantasy novel explains it.