Back to writing.
I just finished reading a long-owned but only-once-before-read-many-years-ago paperback titled New Destinies. This is actually a paperback magazine, and this one is Volume VII, Spring 1989 edition. (Like I wrote above—long owned.) Jim Baen is the editor.
The issue I just finished had science fiction short stories and science fact and an article about writing science fiction. But I want to dwell just a little on the last story in the book. It is titled "Kids," and is the third of three stories by F. Paul Wilson that together comprise the novel Dydeetown World.
I haven't read the book, just the last story.
If you want to be a science fiction writer and you haven't read a lot of sf (which you MUST DO if you're going to write decent sf) then I would recommend Dydeetown World.
There is one big frequent error committed by novice sf writers, especially young ones that have not yet learned to learn from the fiction they read.
Before I reveal that error, I want to expand on that last statement. Science fiction fans, and I most definitely including myself, read for entertainment. They read to experience new ideas and new settings.
Readers of romance fiction, western fiction, crime fiction, or any other genre that has a conflict, a plot with a protagonist and an antagonist read these stories to get lost in them. The real dedicated readers cannot help but identify with at least one character and put themselves in the place of that character. They imagine what they would do if they were in that situation.
What makes science fiction different is that the settings, the technology, and often the characters are something they've never seen before. Sometimes the protagonist and/or antagonist aren't even human. So the imagination of what and how would we, the readers, handle that situation is challenged just that much more.
This is the whole idea of reading for pleasure. But readers that haven't been at it for too long (years, usually), don't really pick up the tricks of the trade. There are certain techniques skillful writers of all genres use, but the reader reading for enjoyment doesn't really notice them. That is a good thing, unless the reader wants to become a writer. Then he (she) needs to notice those things so they can be used.
Some of those techniques feature things that are not done.
Back to that big and frequent mistake. A novice sf writer will have a great idea for a story. He (I'm going to use the male general pronoun for the sake of brevity. You all know I'm including women, right?) wants to get that idea written down, so somewhere near the beginning he will simply tell the reader about this, speaking as the author.
For example: Page 1, opening paragraph:
"The Scleen, an almost-humanoid alien species landed on Earth three years ago. Their technology easily defeated everything the forces of Earth could bring against them. They have been steadily killing or enslaving all of humanity. But one small group of humans has hidden in a secret laboratory beneath the mountains, and they have developed a death ray that will kill the Scleen, but will not damage humans. Now they are ready to take back their planet."
An editor or publisher or agent—any professional that sits in judgement on this work, will probably not read any further. The main reason is that this violates the number one rule of successful writing: Show, don't tell.
As I was writing that paragraph, which should actually be three paragraphs, it occurred to me that the plot setting is very similar to Robert Heinlein's The Day After Tomorrow. The primary difference is that in TDAT, The Pan Asian Union has successfully occupied the United States.
But in Heinlein's book we start immediately with action. We start in that secret laboratory and a man who has just arrived asks what is going on while the residents listen to a television broadcast announcing the destruction of Washington D.C. We learn the rest later, gradually, as Heinlein shows us through actions and dialog, the people in that secret installation and how they deal with the situation.
Show, don't tell.
Sometimes telling a little is necessary, especially if you're dealing with a setting that is total fictional. This will apply to fantasy fiction at least as much as sf.
In my novel Witchery, I used dialog between two characters to inform the reader of the religion of the Chem witches. There was no other way to do it, and a creation story is always of some interest. I kept it as short as possible; it is reasonably in the context of these two people learning about each other. And it was absolutely necessary because some of those core beliefs are referenced frequently in the last third of the book.
So, dear novice writer, if you must tell the reader something that is necessary to the story, and there is no legitimate way to show it, keep it short and put it in dialog, character to character.
More next time; I'll get back to Dydeetown World.