by Raymond M. Coulombe
You can have a good Science Fiction story that puts the science and technology front and center. You can also have a good Fantasy story that’s all about the magic. While both these things have been done successfully, that’s not what drives most stories.
It’s usually about the people. No matter the setting, people have basic drives. They have physical needs, but other needs too. They need to fall in love, be respected, feel accomplishment, and Joy. They also suffer loss, pain, and disappointment. All the human drives and emotions that have motivated us as a species have their place in fiction. No matter the genre, remember to tell a story about people.
Then why bother with Science Fiction, Fantasy, or for that matter, Horror? Why not just write straight ordinary fiction that takes place in the “real” world? While the things that drive people are universal, putting them in fantastic worlds pushes them beyond the ordinary.
Picture the protagonist in a dystopian S/F world. How will human needs be met in such an environment? What are the challenges of raising a family on a generational ship to the stars? How will life-like robots change human relationships? Humans have always had to deal with the temptations of power. What if that power is magical ability? How does the dynamics of dating change when your significant other is a demon? Nothing like putting humans in extreme fantastical worlds to exaggerate problems. It’s not all about problems either. How will humans deal with amazing levels of success?
There is one powerful use of fantastic fiction that isn’t as popular as it once was: political satire. Most people today do not realize that Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, was ridiculing people of power and political institutions. There are times when the only way a writer can tell the truth is through fiction. These days, at least in the more civilized parts of the world, most political commentary is direct and open. Writers are less likely to get their heads chopped off for their work. Though, judging from the harsh criticism these guys are getting on both the right and left, we may see the return of satire masked as speculative fiction.
No matter what genre you write in, never lose track of the human element.