Avoid Those Tired Tropes

Some old adages merit our attention as writers, particularly those of us who write speculative fiction. In the most recent post, Scott Seldon discussed the breadth of science fiction sub-types. Within speculative fiction, a broad genre indeed, there are so many more sub-genres, branches, and tributaries to explore.

Why, then, do we see so many repetitions of the most currently popular niches?

Here’s one such adage: if you’ve seen it/read it/heard it before, it’s been done.

It could well be argued that there is little truly original under the sun, but as I go through my email notices of new queries on AQC, I find so many young writers jumping on certain bandwagons, I’m surprised those wagons don’t tip over. Or have they?

Many years ago a man named Stoker terrified readers with an epistolary novel about a creature of the night who needed the blood of the living to survive in his Gothic realm. The undercurrents of the creature were erotic, but he, Dracula, remained a figure of horror, stalking prey in the shadows of night.

Then came teen vampires, nasty bloodsuckers. And then new blood, as it were, gushed forth when a certain writer brought the eroticism out of the shadows, and the vampire’s seduction became a homo-erotic apotheosis.

New life, or un-death, was breathed into the vamp. He was dangerous, of course, but the danger became alluring.

Enter the Twilight saga. Full disclosure: I have not read any of the books, nor have I seen any of the movies, nor do I intend to. I want my vamps scary. And now, he’s been overdone. He needs some time in a coffin in a dank cellar.

My point? I see query after query for slightly modified versions of the same story. If that many writers are writing what they just (sigh) love, love, love, one can be pretty well assured that ship has sailed.

Be brave. Ask new questions. Invent new twists, new futures, new pasts. Create different worlds.

Build a new world. New creatures, new gods. Explore old ones in new ways. Spec Fic is wonderful for the latitude it allows, from science fiction to fantasy to Gothic horror and beyond. Go beyond.

Stay off that bandwagon. Do not follow the herd. Don’t chase trends. Boldly go where no man (or woman) has gone before.

I had a teacher once, maybe the best writing teacher a young kid could have had, who laid down a rule that any story or paper turned in using the word “thing” would receive an automatic F. Not that it’s a bad word. But it’s a crutch. She insisted we be specific, that there was always a better word than “thing,” and to use it without thinking of the more specific choice was pure laziness.

I would use that concept as a challenge. Don’t write about vampires, or werewolves, or soul-stealers, demons, or fallen angels. Not there isn’t a place for all of them. Not that there can’t be wonderful re-castings of those tropes. But isn’t speculative fiction about speculating?

What if…?

Never stop wondering. Question everything. In those questions are worlds of stories.

What do you think? Agree or disagree?


Introducing Sci Fi Author Scott Seldon (Robin Breyer)

Greetings Speculative Fiction fans. Our guest poster for this week is Science Fiction author Scott Seldon, aka: Robin Breyer. You can find Robin’s well crafted Sci Fi stories on Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and iTunes.

Robin also blogs at Seldon SF.


I don’t consider myself to be science fiction writer. I’m a writer and I enjoy more than just one genre. However, science fiction is my first love. From the moment I saw Star Wars, I was hooked. In the days before DVD’s, I devoured books when I wanted more. I eventually got around to fantasy, but I always return back to science fiction.

Science fiction is a varied genre, filled with many sub-genres, but one thing remains consistent is some level of science. It varies from strict proven science in the hard science fiction sub-genre, to applying unproven theories in soft science fiction, to almost ignoring them in space opera. But in each case, it is still, at least somewhat, based on science and that separates it from fantasy and horror. I won’t even begin to get into the whole area of genre cross-overs.

Really, the core of science fiction is soft science fiction and space opera. This is where you find the greats, like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, just to name a few. They all strayed from the pure hard science fiction and adapted theories and guesses and suppositions on what our future might look like.

But there is more to science fiction that just science and technology. It has a sense of looking forward to the future. Even steampunk, sort of a throwback to Jules Verne’s era but with modern foresight, looks to the future. It’s about where science and technology might take us. What we might be able to do, what dangers we might face. It is that sense of future that sets it apart from fantasy, horror, or any other genre. Not all the visions are positive, because every writer explores that idea in different ways. Some dream, some warn, some just want to tell a good story.

One of the traps, and I find that it is mainly the fans and writers of hard science fiction who promote it, is that you can’t have anything unreal in science fiction. In soft science fiction and space opera you can reach out quite a bit to fringe studies that aren’t considered pure science. The collective ESP powers are a prime example. Reading minds, foretelling the future, telekinesis, teleportation, these are all readily found in science fiction going back a very long way. And it isn’t just a case of the pulp writers doing it. Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert were as guilty of this as any other. Asimov’s R. Daneel Olivaw can adjust minds at a distance. The Dune saga revolves around mysticism. These things have a long history in science fiction. The original Star Trek series delved into this a lot in stories written by some of the most celebrated writers of the day.

There are also trends in the genre. Back a hundred years ago, the stories were set in the solar system with aliens on the other worlds and adventures between the planets. Just a couple of decades later, the stories exploded onto the galactic stage. I was reading not long ago that there is a current trend to pull back from looking far into the future and just look a short way forward and rather than flitting about the galaxy, to stay closer to home. Such trends have a way of creating a different tapestry of science fiction for each generation. I was greatly influence by Star Wars and my subsequent trips to the bookstore.

That does have an impact on writers. I’ve noticed how my own writing is very influenced by the stories I grew up with. I’ve further influenced it in odd ways with my love of movies. It creates a cinematic touch to my writing, but also pulls in 1930’s swashbuckling adventures, 1950’s epics, and 1990’s romantic comedies. I see the influence most from what I was interested in when I was younger. Star Wars colors everything and Doctor Who isn’t far behind, neither are Robots and Foundation.

What that does to the genre is to give it variety. You can find just about anything you want if you are willing to go back far enough. I found C.L. Moore’s Northwest Smith stories that way, most dating from the 1930’s. The beauty of science fiction is that the variety is so vast that there is a niche for every reader and writer out there. In some ways it is hard to imageine such a genre being based on the cold hard facts of science, but science is a living thing that grows and changes with our increased knowledge. I personally am a sucker for a grand space opera adventure.

No matter what you feel qualifies as science fiction, what is true in every corner of the genre is that is varied and rich. So whether you like to dig through the dusty archives to discover an old treasure, or like to check out the free books on Amazon for fresh new voices, you will always find something new and different. That’s kind of what science fiction is all about.


Robin Breyer writes science fiction under the pen name, Scott Seldon. He currently has two novels, a short story collection, and a novella out. Visit Robin’s blog at sakka48.blogspot.com/ or visit his Scott Seldon website at sites.google.com/site/scottrseldon/ to keep up on his latest thoughts and projects.

And thank you, Robin, for posting here with us.