Genre Walls Will DESTROY YOUR STORY!

Wednesday , 15, March 2017 26 Comments

Dune. According to the pinheads, NOT Real Sci Fi.

Daddy Warpig is IN DA HOUSE! Time to cause another riot.

One of the strange side-effects of the last two years is that I’ve gotten to know a ton of editors and published writers, and get invited behind the scenes, as it were. And some of what I see is heartbreaking.

Is this okay to include in a Steampunk novel?
Can I do this, and still have it be SF?
Is it okay to put this in an Epic Fantasy novel?

NO. NO. NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO. NEVER do this. No matter what other people have told you.

Look, as writers you’re gonna meet a bunch of pinheads with stupidly precise laws governing what is or isn’t Fantasy or Science Fiction. “You may include vun—UNDT ONLY VUN—fictional technology OR IT IS NICHT DAS SCIENCE FICTION! VERSTEHEN SIE?!”

Screw those guys right in the ear. They are pedants and sperglords, and nothing they say is of any worth what-so-ever.

As a writer, write what you want. If it’s cool and interesting GO FOR IT. NEVER let sperglords and pinheads tell you what to include in your story.

You want to write the coolest, most compelling, most interesting stuff you can imagine. FEED YOUR IMAGINATION.

If you write Fantasy, stop reading modern Epic Fantasy immediately, if not sooner. It will only poison your mind and place walls around your imagination. Read some “Dying Earth”, some “Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser” (start with Book 2), some Lord Dunsany, some Sky Hernstrom, Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions, and SOME DAMN CONAN, by Crom! Break the chains of Modern Fantasy and learn how big your worlds can be.

If you’re writing Science Fiction, read the “Lensmen” books. Learn a sense of SCALE. Read “John Carter of Mars” or “Northwest Smith”. Learn a sense of wildness and adventure. Read some HP Lovecraft. Learn how weird and wonderful and terrifying SF can be. Learn how to make things fun and compelling.

Then go read the stuff from “the other side” of the supposed wall between Fantasy and Science Fiction, and realize Fantasy & Science Fiction is ONE genre, not two. NEVER be afraid to mix and match elements from whatever you please. (Larry Correia will help with this. Go read some “Hard Magic”. Heck, read Cirsova magazine and Jeffro’s Appendix N while you’re at it.)

GENRE WALLS DO NOT MAKE STORIES BETTER. You think Frank Herbert wrote Dune by sitting around and worrying what genre category it fit in?

“Golly, is a drug that lets you see the future AND super-gigantic FTL ships AND psychic drug addicts who pilot them AND a guild of martial arts superhero witch-nuns with access to ancestral memories running a 1000-year breeding program to make a God AND human computers AND melee shields that only let in slow blows AND books so small they have to be read under a microscope AND a box that induces pain AND gigantic damn worms that make the super-psychic drug and eat people who walk with rhythm AND alien planet pseudo-Muslims who ride the giant worms and wear keeny-neato desert water reclamation suits AND an incipient Galactic Jihad too much, or should I restrict it to VUN UNDT ONLY VUN fictional element so it can be REAL Sci-Fi?”

I AM HERE TO TELL YOU HE DID NOT.

At best, genre categories make books easier to sell. At worst? Well, at worst they become straitjackets for your imagination, where you write the same sort of stuff everyone else has been writing forever, because that’s the only thing you knew you could write about.

Limitations are for filthy scribblers who pen miserable works of woe and despair. You’re writing STUFF SO COOL IT WILL BLOW THE TOPS OFF PEOPLES’ HEADS.

Never be dull. Never be boring. Never be preachy. ALWAYS pick the most interesting elements you can include, whether it’s “realistic” or “genre appropriate” or not.

No walls. No limits. No masters.

Fantasy & Science Fiction is the genre of IMAGINATION. Give yours a workout. Let it off the chain. LET IT ROAR AND RUN WILD AND DEMOLISH ALL THE WALLS PEOPLE TRIED TO BUILD AROUND IT. Let your imagination go wherever it wants to and never rein it in.

That’s how you write fiction worth reading.


Jasyn Jones, better known as Daddy Warpig, is a host on the Geek Gab podcast, a regular on the Superversive SF livestreams, and blogs at Daddy Warpig’s House of Geekery. Check him out on Twitter.

26 Comments
  • Jesse Lucas says:

    Herbert did have to sell his book through Chilton (anyone that maintains their own car knows what I’m talking about) because publishers are concerned about how to sell books to people and don’t have the resources to individually market a million different kinds of stories, because it’s 1970 and paper’s not cheap, in their heads at least.

    It’s a different game now but we don’t know WHAT game. No way to tell what’s going to evolve from this system of self- and friend-promoting when publishing is free (+ the cost of a pretty cover if you really want one).

    I’m eager to find out.

    • Yep. only non car book Chilton ever published. Still kinda mad they let it go. I did find a first edition at a used bookstore while in college. No slipcover, $5. I miss that little bookstore. My local ones have very little in the way of GOOD stuff.

      • Jesse Lucas says:

        When I heard the first edition was Chilton I ran and found the battered used copy from our bookshelf and there it was on the copyright page. I don’t know anyone who thinks that’s as funny as I do.

  • Cameron says:

    Gotta be honest: in all of the times I read it, I have never thought about Dune as anything other than straight-up sci-fi.

  • Scott Cole says:

    Daddy Warpig bringing the ruckus.

  • Tanj! That was inspirational! I guess I should have y’all take a look at my minor efforts: the world of Machine Civilization.

  • I wouldn’t say “don’t accept limits”, I would say “don’t let anyone else set the limits.”

    That’s an important distinction. Self-imposed limits can make for amazing fiction.

    When Tim Powers wrote “Declare” he set a hard rule that he would not change anything that was known about the life of Kim Philby and the historical period. No fudging. No composite characters. No ignoring of inconvenient facts. He allowed himself to create events that were not recorded, but not to change any part of the historical record.

    Working within that limit created a masterpiece because it forced him to find a new significance for everything that happened.

    • Agree completely. If you place your story in an historical context, you’re bound by it. Even when I retrojected Sidney Reilly into a Steampunk milieu, I had to keep his personality and as many as those around him as close to historical as possible, else I was using my writing to create an entirely new world, defeating my premise.

    • deuce says:

      Every writer sets some sort of limits. No writer should let someone else set the limits UNLESS he’s writing to spec — in which case it’s only professional to color within the lines — or when writing in someone else’s universe.

      I can’t understand pasticheurs who wade into a property in order to “improve” it or “do their own thing”. It’s like someone who asks to stay at your house and then moves all the furniture and reshelves the books. Be “creative” on your own dime. Get your OWN damn universe, you hack!

      DECLARE is a classic. Powers blew my mind on that one. I don’t see how he made it work, but he did. He’s a fan of Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Lovecraft and Merritt, by the way. Good breeding will out.

  • B&N says:

    “Mr. Campbell, tear down this genre wall!”

  • Dune is civilization. That is all.

  • Tesh says:

    Tangentially, the stories I’m writing will work best with some illustrations. I’m an artist and writer, so my “creative niche” is somewhere between chapter ilustrations (a la the Harry Potter or Series of Unfortunate Events books) and something like Dinotopia. My work won’t really fit into a *medium* sort of niche as a result, but I’ll do what I think the stories need.

    Of course, whether or not that’s marketable, well, that’s another story. At least it’s more likely these days than ever before.

    • Bryce says:

      I’m pretty sure there’s a market for that. I mean, in Japan those “light novels” sell like crazy, and they’re basically novellas with 5-10 page size illustrations, right?

    • Alex says:

      The biggest thing that puts a cramp on heavily illustrated works is paying the artist. If you’re the artist and are going to self-publish, it’s good for you.

  • Mr Tines says:

    Damn, do these things mutate. It used to be that the rule of thumb for *hard* SF was the one-miracle test (usually, but not always, FTL to get the characters to where the interesting phenomenon that was the real star of the show was taking place), and even there “sufficiently advanced engineering” would get a bye (canonical example, the General Products hull in Neutron Star).

    Whether something is more broadly SF or not is a smell test, rather than anything else — as was said of obscenity, you know it when you see it. For that, the “No Space Westerns” promotional piece that used to appear in Galaxy is more of a guide (however much it was honoured there in the breach, rather than the observance).

  • Henry Vogel says:

    When I began writing my planetary romance series (there’s a hint, right there, that I don’t worry about what people claim will sell), I decided I wanted steam-driven airships and swords.

    Can I offer a realistic justification for those choices? Well, maybe… The civilization is a long-lost human colony that was lost almost all tech when the colony ship crashed. I can sort of claim that steam power and lighter than air ships are viable for an otherwise Renaissance-level civilization. The truth is, I came up with this rationalization after the first novel was completed.

    I’ve never bothered explaining any of that in the books because–and this is the real point–swords and airships are cool! Those who get that enjoy the novels.

  • Astrsorceror says:

    Hear! Hear!

  • DanH says:

    Having met with Mr. Herbert and talked with him at some length I can state for certain the he considered Dune a work of science fiction, full stop.
    However he wrote the story first and foremost as an exploration of messiah mythology and the effect of environment upon the development of cultures and their religions. The genre was the vehicle, not the driver.

  • Before DUNE there was a fair number of Sword & Spaceship stories where atomic rocketships flew to Mars and Venus, but crewed by men with swords and spears. The Linn novels of A.E.van Vogt, for example, or Interstellar Empire by John Brunner fit into this subgenre.

    One of the several brilliant things Frank Herbert did was invent a plausible bit of handwaving to explain how this discordant elements can co-exist. Some are technological and some are sociological. There are no computers because of a religious prohibition and a Butlerian Jihad (and the name is taken from the author of EREWHON, whose utopian forbid the use of pocketwatches, for fear they will evolve and come to life). There are no bullets nor bombs because the force fields stop them, but they do not stop knives, which move more slowly. Atomic weapons are under the control of certain noble families who, in return for a right to rule, expose themselves to intrigue and assassination, a danger to which the commoners and noncombatants are allegedly immune.

    ANd the ships are navigated by psychics, since only the ability to foretell the future allows a vessel traveling above lightspeed to see a hazard before striking it.

    • Andy says:

      Don’t the Lensman books have ship-to-ship melee combat? I could be mis-remembering but I seem to recall that the idea was that space is so vast that ships firing on each other with any real accuracy would be absurd, so instead they had to resurrect the old practice of grappling each other (with tractor beams instead of hooks), and then the attacking crew would board and guys would start hacking each other up, like VanBuskirk going all space viking with his axe.

      • Terry Sanders says:

        That, and the Bergenholm FTL drive eliminated inertia–even a flashlight would knock your opponent’s ship away, and your energy beam couldn’t damage it because it wouldn’t sit still long enough for the beam to penetrate. You had to tractor it just so your weapons could work.

  • Please give us your valuable comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *