View Full Version : What makes a great sci-fi/fantasy story?

10-23-2004, 01:15 AM
And I'm not talking about the universal stuff like themes, characters, plot, dialogue, etc.

Let's talk about genre specifics. What makes a sci-fi or fantasy story great?

Kida Adelyn
10-23-2004, 03:03 AM
what makes a good fantasy story?

One thing I like in a fantasy is an origional world with an origional history. I don't mean the culture cant be based on a current culture, but it bugs me when a fantasy story has the same history as england or somthing, but magic is the norm.

Also I like it when a person uses there own creatures, not just taking things direct from mythology, or worse, from halloween stereotypes (werewolves, vampires)

10-23-2004, 06:08 AM
Along the lines of what Kida said regarding fantasy, for science fiction a believable universe is paramount. Internal logic has to be in place. And once you've set up your rules -- for example how hyperspace works in your universe -- don't break 'em!

10-23-2004, 08:00 AM
Good characters, good story, smooth writing and tropes!

10-23-2004, 08:42 AM
One topic I've got a thing about is consistent naming. Whether you choose to have real names or invented ones, they need to make sense as existing in the same culture. It really bugs me when writers have, say, two brothers called Thanodril and Fred (OK, I made that one up, but you know the kind of thing. Or they just mix and match names from random cultures, if they're using this-world names.

10-23-2004, 08:57 AM
What makes a sci-fi or fantasy story great?

Good science or good magic, respectively. I think that's one of the things I enjoy most about Harry Potter -- I love the spell names and magic words she uses.

Wingardium leviosa indeed!

aka eraser
10-23-2004, 10:15 PM
I need a strong story with riveting characters set in a world different from my own mundane reality yet with enough familiar parameters that I can relate to it.

Oh yeah. And tropes. Tons of tropes. Can't have too darn-many tropes. Bring 'em on.

Yes! I had to look it up! So what? I never claimed to be a master wordsmith!


Edited to corral, then staple in place, a wayward "from."

10-23-2004, 11:32 PM
Maybe this is too universal, but for me, it's a problem/obstacle/conflict you don't find in the "real" world and which requires some skewed thinking and unusual action to solve. That's what grips me, and makes me want to keep reading. Just below this are the spunky characters who think skewed thoughts and somehow perform the solving against all odds. Needless to say, if I could write what I preach I'd be a happy man.


-----------------------My Web Page - naked women, bestial sex, and whopping big lies. (http://hometown.aol.co.uk/DPaterson57)

10-24-2004, 12:25 PM
What the heck are tropes?

10-24-2004, 01:26 PM
From Mirriam-Webster Online:
One entry found for trope.
Pronunciation: 'trOp
Function: noun
Etymology: Latin tropus, from Greek tropos turn, way, manner, style, trope, from trepein to turn
1 : a word or expression used in a figurative sense : FIGURE OF SPEECH
2 : a phrase or verse added as an embellishment or interpolation to the sung parts of the Mass in the Middle Ages

10-24-2004, 07:01 PM
A genre trope is a story element that characterizes the genre.

Magic swords for fantasy.

Rocket ships for science fiction.

Hard-boiled P.I.'s for mysteries.

And so on.

10-24-2004, 10:17 PM
Or lots of banter and sex in romance...

I think I like tropes.

Kida Adelyn
10-26-2004, 03:24 AM

Kempo Kid
10-26-2004, 09:14 AM
The science must be intrinsic to a science fiction story, i.e., not just window dressing, and the fantasy element (e.g., magic) must be an integral part of the fantasy story.

Also, details. "God is in the details" -- Mies van der Rohe

This is especially important with sf/f stories because we're in worlds that we're not familliar with. In a mainstream story, if you say the hero was hurrying through a shopping mall, most readers don't need many more details than that. But if he's hurrying through a crowded space station or a magical wood, the reader needs more details to build a believable mental picture.


Chaoc Kazdul
10-27-2004, 12:37 AM
I can tell you what doesn't:

I hate it when the writer goes out of their way to try and blindside you with originality. It's not that creativity is intrinsically a bad thing, but moderation is key.

For example, the proposed world seems pretty normal, then out of nowhere they throw something weird at you, like "and there's three suns!"


"It's cool!"

"Ok. How's that work?"

"Oh I'm not sure, It's kind of like normal"

Well then, what's wrong with ONE sun?

Other than that I'm going to have to jump on the proverbial bandwagon.

- Internal consistency, with betrayals of reality addressed rather than glossed over

- Causality

- Originality but adherence to genre conventions, whether it be by utilizing them or breaking them.

- Characters that are more than dangling cardboard cutouts; the setting may amazing, but if the characters bumble around like toddlers in a fun-house I'm going to have a short attention span.

11-01-2004, 08:29 AM
This is going slightly off-topic, but you've made me think about it. A lot of both SF & F have worlds with two or more suns. Now, I'm not a scientist, but I'd have thought that the conflicting gravitational pulls would have created an orbit too erratic to have sustained life. The only way I could see it working would be if the planet had managed to develop an orbit around the twin star's centre of gravity, but that doesn't seem likely.

Could the scientists here enlighten me whether I'm right to doubt this, or whether I'm talking complete ***/!!!?/*

11-02-2004, 01:19 AM
Yes, an orbit around a binary star, if stable, would likely result in conditions on the planet far too extreme to sustain life. However; many paired stars are quite far apart, certainly further than a life sustaining planet would orbit; and quite different, a dwarf and supergiant for example. A planet could conceivably orbit around one of the stars and pass between the two stars at a certain point in the planet's year.

Arthur C. Clarke turned our solar system into such a system in 2010 when he had Jupiter turned into a star. Mind you, there would be interesting orbital fluctuations and tidal forces at work when the stars were on the same side of the planet as opposed to when they were opposite. In the former, for example, the planet would be closer to the primary sun, and in the latter case, further away.

Set up the balance right and you could create a world that ranges from extreme desert conditions in summer to numbingly cold winters, providing mucho challenges for the inhabitants.

11-02-2004, 05:12 AM
Doesn't Tatooine have twin yellow suns?

The conditions on Tatooine are rough and extreme, but it's inhabitable.

Nobody even asked the questions when Star Wars IV came out.

Tell your story. Worry about the other stuff later.

Chaoc Kazdul
11-02-2004, 07:44 AM
It's unecessary and does nothing for me.

If it's done intentionally to provide reason for the harsh climate, fine, I guess. But you can't expect the average reader to understand why.

Just my opinion.

11-02-2004, 08:17 AM
Yes, I know you can get away with these things, especially in something like Star Wars. But I find it interesting in its own right. I don't usually write SF, but if I did I think I'd want to get things like this right.

I did think of one of the stars being a long way from the planet, but then there wouldn't be twin suns, it would be a sun and an extra-bright star.

11-02-2004, 08:25 AM
It also depends on how old your stars are, and how far the planet is from the star...

11-02-2004, 02:33 PM
This twin suns thing is an interesting subject though it's been a background prop since the Golden Age. I'd treat it (or them) in the same way as a variable star, subjecting planets to extreme conditions that change according to their orbital positions. Plotting the orbits might be fun -- do the planets take a long eliptical around both suns (thermal underwear an absolute must during frigid aphelion!) or do they dance a figure-8 between them (colonists are advised to wear Factor Three Million sunblock if strolling on the boiling surface...)? Then there's a binary star system, with a denser star dominating a less dense star (density over size... maybe the smaller sun is the anchor rather than the expected larger sun?) allowing for a skewed planetary orbit -- think teardrop with a rounded end -- that evens out extremes of temperature. So many fun variations possible. I'm reminded of Niven's RINGWORLD where the human characters figure out why they've never been able to locate an alien homeworld -- because the alien race is so long-lived that their sun is now a shrunken red dwarf, everyone was looking for the wrong type of star. Inserting a thought-out twist like this into the story scores points from this reader.

Pardon my intrusion. We now return you to your regular excuse for not writing...


-----------------------My Web Page - naked women, bestial sex, and whopping big lies. (http://hometown.aol.co.uk/DPaterson57)

11-02-2004, 04:49 PM
And then there is Niven's Integral Trees (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0345320654/102-4562332-0036142?v=glance) where there isn't even a planet.

I believe that in SF (and likely in Fantasy, too, but not being much of a fantasist, I only surmise this), if you can think it up, you can make a pretty good case for it being real. 'Course, some 'thunk up' things take a lot of research to make them work. Yet, you don't have to get it all right--you only have to make the reader believe that it's right. Niven's Ringworld (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/search-handle-form/102-4562332-0036142) series depends on a material (scrith, the stuff of which the ringworld is made) that when analyzed is damned near an impossibility, requiring forces stronger than those binding atoms together. But he sucked me in ... and several million other SF fans.

11-02-2004, 09:38 PM
I think like many things, you need to strike a balance. Details help to create that world for your readers and keep them in that "dream state." But if you're too obsessed witht the details and scientific plausibilities, you'd lose sight of your story, which is the most important thing.

Chaoc Kazdul
11-03-2004, 12:57 AM
My original intention was to show that you shouldn't go too wild with just making stuff up. Notice I said 3 suns, not 2.

If you can make it work, sure, go for it. If you're throwing 3 suns in for the hell of it, with no other purpose than to try and make your world seem interesting, I believe you are making a mistake.

Look at it this way: if you have to throw in bizarre objects and phenomenon to try and make your creation palatable, your story is obviously suffering elsewhere. You're trying to cover the taste of burned spaghetti sauce with random spices you pull out of the cabinet, when in reality you should be heating it at a lower temperature.

[Edit] I am referring to something that actually happened, by the way. The suns, not the spaghetti.

11-03-2004, 02:40 AM
If you can make it work, sure, go for it. If you're throwing 3 suns in for the hell of it, with no other purpose than to try and make your world seem interesting, I believe you are making a mistake.
I think you've summed it up pretty well there, Chaoc. I think the latter was the case with using two suns with the original Star Wars movie, though the story was strong enough that it really didn't matter if such a system was not obeying the laws of physics (except that we sci/fi fans tend to be more nit-picky about stuff like that than most).

I think the best example of a multi-star system that probably could not have a life-sustaining world orbiting it was Isaac Asimov's NIGHTFALL, with its planet orbiting SIX suns. Yet it is considered by many to be the greatest science fiction short story ever written.

11-04-2004, 10:54 PM
No one ever mentioned that the suns could orbit around the planet like the centroid of a triangle. There the physics would work if the suns were all the same densities and distances from each other. If there was a difference in densities there are ways to orient them to have the same gravitational pull on the planet. The inhabitants could use a solar reflector like in one of the non-Lucas Star Wars books (forget which one right now) to sustain life for mining.

Outside of that, the only reason why one would want to know how the orbit of a planet affects the story is if there is a need to journey to or from there, but then it is still minor.

Now if because of the three stars the gravity was different on the side of the planet facing that side, then it might be important.

All depends on the intent of the story. Might affect the daily routine of the story, but if there is no mingling of the history/celebrations into the story, then the affect of the suns could be hidden and not deeply explained.

11-05-2004, 12:56 AM
All depends on the intent of the story. Might affect the daily routine of the story, but if there is no mingling of the history/celebrations into the story, then the affect of the suns could be hidden and not deeply explained.
True enough. If you do use esoteric planet/sun systems, there should be a story-reason for doing so.

Working this kind of stuff out can prompt story ideas. In a story of mine about a new colony, I gave my planet two moons, but had no real reason at the outset other than the 'different' factor. However, I reached a point in the story where I wanted to display a compassionate side to my antagonist, but couldn't come up with a way to do it.

The answer was the moons. It occurred to me that when the moons lined up on the same side of the planet, the high tides would be much higher than at other times, so I had these tides damage the first settlement the colonists were building on a seacoast. (they were aware the tides would be high, so for plausibility I added a powerful early winter storm hitting the coast at 'double-tide' to push things from expected to unexpected conditions, hence the destruction.) The protag and antag go there to help after this disaster, and the antag gets to show his compassionate side.

I ended up with an exciting and tense chapter (I hope :grin ) that would not have come about had I not played around at the beginning with making the planet appear 'alien' for no reason other than to be different from Earth.