I’ve been reading science fiction and fantasy stories for about as long as I’ve known how to read at all. There are so many things I love about these genres, but today I wanted to talk about some of the things that I wish SFF writers would do differently.
1. The Chosen One Must be Young and Uneducated
Why is the chosen one nearly always a teenager or young adult who hasn’t completed – or often even started – their training yet? Why are they the only one who can defeat the wizard, dragon, corrupt government, or werewolf army?
I dream of the day when the chosen one is actually a group of specialized, highly-trained witches who must use their complementary powers at the same exact time to defeat the dragon. Alternatively, maybe the chosen one could be a 70-year-old scientist who has spent the last 40 years studying the virus that has wiped out the last three attempts at permanent human colonies on Europa and who only now is ready to test his vaccine for it on human subjects.
At this point, I’d prefer to watch conflict build up slowly over years than see any more characters jump into the fray before they fully understand what’s going on or have had any training in what they’re about to accomplish.
2. Everyone Gets a Love Triangle
No, I am not against romantic storylines in general. There is definitely a time and place for them, and many stories would be far poorer without them.
With that being said, I’d be happy to never read about another love triangle again. This kind of stuff yanks me out of the plot every time it happens because of how confusing and strange I find it to be.
Please let characters be polyamorous, asexual, or totally uninterested in falling in love until the last zombie has been destroyed and humanity has once again begun to enjoy luxuries like healthy food, deodorant, regular baths, and not running in terror for their lives every day.
I would be thrilled to read about any of these scenarios. What I’d like to avoid, though, is anyone wringing their hands about which love interest to pick when there are far more urgent matter at hand.
For example, how terrible must all of the characters smell after running away from zombies for weeks and eating nothing but stale candy bars and potato chips out of vending machines?( I’m mostly joking here, but I think about practical matters like bad breath and body odour when a character in this sort of story suddenly starts mooning over someone who also probably hasn’t seen a toothbrush or loofah since sometime last month).
There are so many interesting things to say about outsmarting zombies, navigating a spaceship, or figuring out how to placate a fairy after you’ve unintentionally angered her and all of her relatives. These sources of conflict are a thousand times more compelling to me than wondering which love interest the main character will pick when he or she is still trying to figure out how to survive the night or which end of the sword you should be poking the bad guys with.
3. Aliens Are Always Smarter Than Us
There are only a few non-human species on Earth that can be described as intelligent: elephants, dolphins, and certain species of apes come to mind here.
We have no idea what life is really like on other planets or if it exists, but sometimes I wonder what humanity would do if we discovered something that wasn’t a little green man who could learn to speak English.
How would we treat an alien species if it was about as intelligent and willing to communicate with us as is the average cat? What if they were intelligent but it was in a way that wasn’t particularly compatible with human intelligence? Would we still be interested in a species if we couldn’t figure out their language or they couldn’t figure out ours?
These are the kinds of questions I think about every time I watch science fiction movies about humans making contact with new species from other planets.
4. Humans Are the Good Guys
Speaking of aliens, why are humans always the good guys when our species get into conflicts with each other?
Humanity honestly doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to treating new cultures and societies fairly. While I hope that would change if we ever met intelligent and communicative beings from another planet, I think there’s a fairly decent chance that at least some humans would try to take advantage of them for personal or political gain.
No, I’m not saying that eery single human needs to be fighting for the dark side. Wouldn’t it be interesting to read a book or watch a movie about someone who noticed this happening and who tried to warn the aliens before one of our governments passed a law saying it was okay to mistreat visitors from other planets, though? The conflict between your duty to your species and your duty to protect innocent visitors who are going to be horribly abused for potentially many generations to come if you don’t speak out and fight for them right now would keep me glued to my seat.
It would also help the scifi genre return to the kinds of social messages that used to be much more common in it. Science fiction isn’t just about coming up with flashy ideas for new technology or imagining what life could be like in a few hundred years. It can also be about getting people to think critically about the decisions they make in their real life that can help or hurt the most vulnerable members of our society.
5. Nobody Spills the Beans
I shake my head every time a vast conspiracy is revealed that has existed for decades and required thousands or even millions of people to play along with it.
It’s hard enough to get five people to agree on what kind of pizza to order or to keep excited relatives from sharing the news when you tell them that you’re pregnant, have finally finished writing your book, or recently got a promotion!
Secrets only work if they’re kept by a small number of highly motivated people. Even then, it is very easy for one of them to spring a leak with someone they deeply trust.
Unless the character exist in a universe where the Powers That Be purposefully limit the intelligence of most people while they’re still in the womb, these things should either somewhat common knowledge or only known by a handful of characters in the entire universe.
I would love it if more books understood all of these rules. If you have any recommendations for stories that do, let me know on Twitter!