For Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writers: Take Us on a Nice Trip. Balance out Plot Advancement with your Speculative World’s Background


A big part of writing a good speculative fiction story is striking the right balances. Having a cool idea for a fantasy scenario or a piece of futuristic technology is a good start, but its not enough. In my time as a First Reader, I’ve rejected more than my share of stories that started strong, but failed to capitalize on the momentum of an intriguing core concept. To be honest, I’ve been guilty of this more than once in my own writing.

One problem I encounter frequently while reading for Cosmic Roots, particularly among fantasy stories, is too much attention being paid to world-building at the expense of advancing the story. I’ve seen pieces by authors that offered incredible, researched, and well thought out worlds, but whose characters were basically static. Bad tropes of heroes absent dialogue or any purpose or motivation other than being the hero.

Any speculative fiction story will have elements unfamiliar to new readers that need to be explained. The further removed from actual reality these are, the more time and effort will be required by the writer to get the intricacies of these fantasy realms and future technologies across. A little exposition is to be expected, but keeping the plot and character arcs moving is just as important.

As a counterpoint to my last example, I’d just like to say that I’ve come across the opposite problem fairly often as well. Some stories are chock full of interesting new technology, cultures, and linguistic idiosyncrasies, all expressed by three dimensional characters, but which introduce them all so rapidly in the middle of some ongoing action scene that I can barely follow it all. In these cases, I tend to come out with a bit of a headache. All action all the time is almost as tedious as none at all. A good writer paces things out, lets characters interact with each other and their environments, and shifts gears in the plot accordingly.

The easiest way to do this is to have your characters actually experience a wide variety of things. Have your protagonist go through their adventure with one or two complex secondary characters who can impart wisdom and help out as things move along. After all, a protagonist who knows it all, or alternatively, figures it all out themselves, is usually pretty boring and difficult to develop with any sort of impact.

To me, good speculative fiction is about creating believable characters in interesting worlds, unique and sometimes wildly different from our own, but whose goals and motivations are relatable or at least understandable to the reader. The character drives the plot, the fantastic world is the scenery surrounding that vehicle, and the character’s goal is the destination. If the way to that destination is full of aliens, wizards, robots, and dragons, then so much the better as far as I’m concerned. The writer’s goal should be to bring us along on a beautiful trip, take the scenic route, but don’t stop pull the car over to start lecturing us on the history of every town or fork in the road we pass along the way. After all, we want to be satisfied when we reach our destination, and maybe just a little sad that the trip’s over.





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