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Thursday, December 23, 2010

5 Traits of Highly Successful Sci Fi Authors (Guest Post by Edward Stern)

Readers enjoy science fiction because of the varied worlds of which the genre consists. Sci-fi can mean almost anything. Imagination is endless, and the more imaginative an author is, oftentimes the more readers cherish their work.

However, there are definitely some common strands in the genre as a whole, and certainly some commonalities amongst its most successful authors. Highly successful science fiction authors like Ray Bradbury or Philip K. Dick all share traits in their works that make them so well received. When writing your own pieces, incorporate these 5 traits of highly successful sci-fi authors to make a particularly marketable piece, no matter where your ideas take you:
  1. Go Somewhere New
    The most successful sci-fi novels take readers somewhere they have not been before and will not see in the real world. Successful authors write about the future, alternate presents, galaxies far, far away, or sub-cultures existing in the present but well away from the public eye. Be imaginative, and be unique. Literature is the greatest form of escapism.
  2. Create In-depth, Intricate Worlds
    One of the reasons Dune appeals so much is that Frank Herbert crafted such a fascinating and complex society in the series. Readers not only want to be taken somewhere else, but they want to understand where they now are and to learn about these worlds and continue to imagine them further; whatever world or reality is created, it is 3-dimensional. Such depth allows for fans to become obsessive as well, and engage with these stories as more than just novels.
  3. Touch on Current Themes
    Though successful sci-fi writers do take readers to fantastic new landscapes, these worlds are based in real reality and the issues of the time. There is something recognizable about the new situations encountered, no matter how imaginative the creatures or the technology. The very best sci-fi explores current themes (and especially fears) through literary drama.
  4. Have Appeal Outside of the Hardcore Sci-fi Community
    The most successful sci-fi authors reach readers who do not generally read science fiction. How do they reach these readers? By crafting really good stories that cannot go ignored, and that play on the greater public's enjoyment of whimsy and imagination. Science fiction isn't always for everybody, but by creating tight plots, vast worlds, and compelling story arcs, the most successful authors have been able to reach readers -- and lots of them -- outside of the hardcore sci-fi community.
  5. Create a Series
    The most successful sci-fi authors did not just write one book about one subject and then move on. Instead, they created series so that readers could continue to follow and grow with the characters and events they fell in love with in the author's first novel. Creating a series allows for authors to further explore the dense, lively, complex worlds of their imaginations, and allows readers to keep coming back for more.

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  1. Michael O.3:51 PM

    Neither Philip K. Dick nor Ray Bradbury really created series, as you define it. Dick had the VALIS trilogy, but that was only loosely connected on theme and didn't share characters or plot among its parts. All of his most highly regarded books were one-shots. Bradbury didn't make a series either, although he loosely collected stories in works like the Martian Chronicles, and occasionally returned to characters like the witch family. Really, Bradbury was primarily a short story author, meaning he gave readers very little chance to return to the worlds he created - most were only there for a couple dozen pages. Your primary examples don't fit your #5.

  2. Michael: You know, I totally didn't catch that when I put this guest post up, and I should have, since I've studied PKD. Edward probably should have picked more prominent "series" writers like Clarke, Asimov, or newer writers like Scalzi, Baker, and others.

    Thanks for the comment and the correction!