Writing: Genres Part 1

(I’m sort of preemptively calling this the first of a series, though Lord knows when I’ll actually write any more discussions of this. Also, family visits are CRAZY.)

So, a dear friend of mine discovered this discussion on one of her favorite websites about the differences between fantasy, hard sci fi, and soft sci fi, all of it apparently a gigantic mess. (I can’t remember if it was fandom secrets or BRPS.) And let’s be honest, there is a LOT of chatter about the differences between the two. Seeing as how I have taken two different courses talking about the differences between these two genres and the professor was the closest thing to an expert I think exists (plus, you know, dabbling in at least two of them), I thought I would set the record straight for those who care to read/listen to me ramble. I’ll also talk a little bit about where YA fiction and my writing fall into all this.

Strangely, I’m going to talk about the one I’m least passionate about first. I’m going to be honest, most hard sci fi stories go completely over my head. I am not math, science, or technologically minded. Oh, I can understand it to a limited extent, but I sort of refuse to unless a class or book I like requires me to. That said, hard sci fi glorifies in the hard science. It will spend pages explaining how the science of the world works, whether or not it is based on real science (and it usually is) or if it is fake science (which is rare, but does exist). Everything else, from plot, characters, and setting are second to the science involved.

There aren’t really any limits on the science of choice. Astronomy, physics, engineering… Anything is up to grabs if that is what the writer is obsessed with. Some try to work the science into being the center of their plot, others just care about nothing else than the science and so the rest is rather shoddy. I’m not going to lie, I have my quirks. I love genetic squares to figure out what the kids are going to look like (in combination with two d10s). Of course, squares is an understatement. Mine get kinda crazy real fast. But I know better than to clue my readers into the level of crazy I go into when designing more worlds. Yes, logic is involved, but I don’t need to show my readers the inside of my brain. (Mostly because I’m sure many of my readers are smarter than me, and I would like to live in the realm of make-believe where I am a goddess who is always right.)

It will come to no surprise then that I prefer what is referred to as soft sci fi. While it still relies on the sciences rather than fantastical elements, it is not above fudging the details, or just omitting them entirely. The focus remains on the characters, the plot, and the setting, with the science being featured but not taking over the entire thing. My favorite cartoons, the DC animated universe, could be considered soft sci fi. My own story, Saving Emily, is considered soft sci fi. For all the unsubtle clue-batting it does, Cinder by Marissa Meyer is actually a rather intriguing world because of its soft sci fi status. It is a lot easier for those of us who want to appeal to a broad spectrum of readers to write than the technical-bound hard sci fi, and it is also friendlier to science-challenged readers (myself included). I can bond to the character, to the world, or the plot, maybe because of the science, maybe not.

The easy way to spot the soft sci fi from the hard is to look at the science involved. Are you drowning in every single detail about it? Does the book tell you who the inventor is, despite it being irrelevant to the plot? Could you take most of the science information out of the book and lose nothing? Ladies and gents, if the answer to any of these questions is yes, you are dealing with a hard science book. When it comes to writing, I don’t have the knowledge base or the patience to learn enough to write a hard science fiction book. I would go batty, and I would also struggle with finding a writing style. Admittedly, I can be bad about doing info dumps, but I’m trying to get better about those. It really seems like to me that hard science is nothing else but excessive info dumps. Of course, this is merely my opinion. Some people out there love them, and as a result can’t stand the soft science fiction. It is definite case of, “To each their own.”

Fantasy is just as bad, if not worse, than the science fictions. Any time you stretch reality farther than it can bend, you have fantasy. You have urban fantasy, where these unrealistic elements occur in our everyday world, you have high fantasy, which take place in historical settings of various levels of real or not. And then there is everything in between. Fantasy is one of the most difficult genres to put your thumb on as far as defining it, mostly because it does take so many different shapes. My rule is, if it can’t happen in reality/isn’t based in real world science, it’s fantasy. This is just my ruling, and can be completely different from someone else’s. (This is why the two share a section, just to cover all the bases. It’s annoying.) It is also one of the most popular genres at this point, though editors keep swearing it’s going to end any year now.

Obviously, I hope they are wrong. Almost everything I write is fantasy, and it’s really where my brain lives. Admittedly, I approach it in a logical fashion, wanting to always make sure there is a series of checks and balances, especially with magic systems. But every time I get told I’m not allowed to use fantasy, I want to cry. To me, there is so much potential in fantasy that I feel like I could write a thousand books, tell the stories of hundreds of characters, and I would still not be at the end of that potential. And despite what one of my professor says, I really do spend most of my time reading it. I guess I want to keep my nose in the market to make sure I’m not completely off the mark with what I’m writing.

Where does my other love, YA, fall in all of this? Well, you don’t find much hard sci fi in YA. Most YA readers don’t want it, since it reminds them too much of school work. But soft sci fi is well received, especially by those who enjoy math and science classes. It can serve as the beginning for future hard sci fi readers, or it could remain a genre for life, just depending on the kid. Believe it or not, The Hunger Games would be considered soft sci fi, really showing that the genre is getting a strong foot hold in the YA market. As for fantasy… In my opinion, it kinda rules the section as the king to the drama genre’s queen. If you look at the shelves, I honestly think for every realistic (or unrealistic realistic, more on this later) book, you will find one fantasy. While urban fantasy has become the trend these past few years, I’m hoping what with all the Hobbit movies we’ll swing back to high fantasy in time for my Erestith books to get their premiere.

So, all my rambling done, what are some of your favorite books for either of these genres? (Suggest a good one, and maybe I’ll do a review of it!)

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About Rebecca M. Horner

A spinner of yarns (of the story sort, though I do crochet...and sew, and learning to make armor...) View all posts by Rebecca M. Horner

2 responses to “Writing: Genres Part 1

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