Hello, beautiful people on the internet! Welcome back to Worldly Wise, where together we’re going to take the reins of your speculative fiction story and see it to the finishing line. Last time, we debunked some myths circling the “super genre” that stop writers from diving into the world of speculative fiction and tried a psychologically proven exercise to improve creativity. Now, if you’re ready to unleash the beauty of speculative fiction in all its glory and get rid of the seven deadly sins that often destroy a well-crafted story, look no further!
Sometimes, no matter how many attempts you make at refining a story, it still just doesn’t feel right. And that can be pretty off-putting, not to mention demotivating. Especially when you just cannot point out what went wrong. Let’s see if ending these seven deadly sins helps resurrect your lost confidence in your story idea.
If you’re reading this to know what to avoid getting wrong before beginning, I have a writing prompt at the end for you to practice your newly gained skills. Let’s jump right in!
The Seven Deadly Sins of Speculative Fiction
Sin 1: Over-explaining
A reader isn’t looking for every detail of that dress or how that coffee smells. Trust me: they aren’t looking to read your character’s daily routine either or the exact science behind how your characters teleported. Readers want just enough to invoke powerful imagery in their minds; their brains will take care of the rest. One of the most definite signs you’re over-explaining an element in your story is repetition.
If you think you need to write four sentences to describe joy, you’re not following the rule called “show not tell.” Instead, you’re over-explaining. You also don’t need a dialogue tag after every bit of dialogue if you’ve established clearly who is speaking and worst of all is when you add an adverb after that dialogue tag! Also, skip the long, flowy descriptions for every additional element added to the scene.
Sin 2: Inconsistencies
As a writer, one of the biggest tasks you’re entrusted with is to make sure the flow of logic established in your plot, and story in general, runs smoothly until the end. Readers might forgive you for not giving your character a certain quirk, but they will shed a lot of tears if they’re halfway through the story and start noticing inconsistencies. Imagine the frustration!
And like I wrote last time, Pantsers can’t just wing it with speculative fiction. In speculative fiction, the entire idea is to make sure your speculative elements fall within the line of logic as readers practice willing suspension of disbelief.
To avoid inconsistencies, try keeping brief notes of your plot and characters. Read the story yourself and check for plot holes. And once you’re confident enough, get someone trustworthy to read your story.
Sin 3: Only Plot Focused
A story needs a great plot, but it also needs terrific characters. In fact, the formula to a heart-warming novel is:
Great Plot + Terrific Characters = Great Novel
A plot, especially in speculative fiction, can be thrilling, toe-curling, attention-grabbing, but don’t forget to develop your characters along the way. More often than not, we are so engrossed by all the speculative elements we forget the latter. However, we relate to people, not situations.
Characters develop through what is happening during the plot. But the characters first need a personality, to begin with. If you think you can kickstart the story with a cool plot, a never-before-seen world, and later focus on the characters, please think again.
Readers want to see the entire journey of the characters. From page one.
Sin 4: Incomprehensible Characters
That brings me to characters that are too hard to understand. I don’t mean they can’t have a complex backstory, complex thought processes, or even toxic traits. That is all realistic. In fact, human beings are rarely simple.
What I mean is a character that isn’t unique or three-dimensional. Our motivations and actions work in a cause-effect relationship. If you have characters that are understandable (that is, even their complexities are logical), they will grab the readers’ attention and the story will tell itself.
Avoid characters that have clichéd personalities or no personalities at all, unrealistic dialogue, characters that are stuck in passive roles (meaning the plot is driving them, not the other way around), or characters that have no weaknesses.
An incomprehensible character is difficult to understand not because of their complexities but because they aren’t lifelike.
Sin 5: Clichés
No matter whether the clichés are scenes, a trope, a quirk, avoid them! Something so overused that it lacks originality and makes your readers whine will not benefit you.
That is not to say that you should stop incorporating something like an alien race or a wizarding world, or even love triangles. But try to make it original. After all, there is so much literature available to us, each word on the page will not be unique. But at least try to make it original.
Just because something is sensational or trending doesn’t mean we gallop after it blindfolded.
Similarly, don’t go borrowing tales. Now that might seem counterintuitive since I have talked about the art of retelling once on this platform. But if you read that, you would understand how retelling can be aced by spicing it up with originality, stakes, and other details.
Sin 6: Conlangs
Simply put, an artificially created language. Do not use or create one unless you understand linguistics. Just because you are creating a language does not mean you can throw in a bunch of alphabets and call it a day. Not to mention, syntax and morphology play a huge part and will complicate things!
J.R.R Tolkien did it because he was a philologist. Either get help from the professionals if your story really requires a conlang or stick to the languages you know. All our languages are beautiful, and you don’t need a conlang to prove you’re writing speculative fiction.
Sin 7: Info-dumping
Remember the golden rule: avoid world-building until readers care about the world.
In fact, let’s amp it up a little: avoid giving too much information about any speculative element until readers care.
No one cares about the far-off galaxy, a tiny planet where it rains gold, and cities occupied by the love children of aliens and AI. And no one wants to read 5 pages worth of details either.
Info-dumping is horrendous overkill. Imagine digging into your favorite dish and the first bite has all the salt gathered there. That’s what info-dumping is like. Sprinkle your details around. Show them at the relevant moments.
Information about the world or characters should further the plot, not put the readers to sleep.
There you have it: The seven deadly sins that destroy the beauty of speculative fiction and seven virtues that can save it.
Now, let’s test if you’ve gained the skills, shall we?
In case you don’t have a story ready to test it on, here is a prompt to get you started:
It is known the world will end when the white smoke rises. Now, as the haze grows thicker, there’s panic and chaos. But your character believes it is only climate change and we can reverse it.
I can’t wait to read your stories. And the next time we meet, I have a few of my favorite books I would like to share with you for understanding character development in the world of speculative fiction. Until then!
Tell us in the comments: Which of these 7 deadly sins do you struggle with the most?
Disha Walia is a lifelong storyteller and an enthusiastic writer and editor in love with the idea of exploring the creative world of words. While making her space in the world of non-fiction and fiction alike, Disha loves to spend even her free time daydreaming about what next to write. Connect with her on www.quillinary.com. You can also follow her on Instagram (@quillinary) and Twitter (@quillinary).