It’s less than a week from the release of the next Star Wars, and even though I still won’t see Episode VII for still few more weeks, I still can’t contain my excitement for the new trilogy. The Cantina scene on Mos Eisley was one of my first movie memories as a kid, and the franchise – from movies and TV shows to the comics and books – certainly played a big role in putting me on the path of a geeky science fiction writer. But in spite of my enthusiasm, I have to point out an obvious fact: George Lucas did not invent (or even re-invent) science fiction.
I say this out because a friend of mine once gleefully told me he had an idea for a science fiction story without laser guns or sword fights. And he’s not the first person to tell me they have an original science fiction story that’s not Star Wars, or Star Trek, or Battlestar Galactica or Babylon 5.
No genre exists in a vacuum. Science fiction dates back to the works of Jules Verne and Mary Shelley. Mysteries can be traced back to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allen Poe. The roots of fantasy can go all the way back to mythology and folklore. It is ignorant – and borderline arrogant – to assume TV and movies are accurate portrayals of genres in and of themselves.
Honestly, I think most writers know their genre pretty well. After all, something must have inspired you to become a writer in the first place. Whether it’s a healthy diet of space opera or cozy mysteries, beginning writers often have a solid knowledge base in their primary genres. It’s when they start to cross the border into a different genre – or subgenre – that issues arise. Fortunately, there are few ways to ensure a seamless transition from story to story.
First of all, if you want to write in a genre, you have to read that genre, plain and simple. Fortunately, there are many resources to point you in the right direction. Goodreads is an invaluable resource when it comes to genres. Probably the best way, however, is to just ask someone you trust. I recently started working on an urban fantasy. I asked a friend for some recommendations – not only did I get a better understanding of the genre with regards to audience and POV, but I also added a few new favorite authors to my list. Not a bad deal.
Secondly, don’t be quick to discard an idea if you find out it isn’t as original as you hoped. Originality can be highly overrated. Often times, it’s not so much an idea that matters as much as the personal touch a writer brings to a story. For months, I’ve been hard at work on a story involving the great-great grand daughter of Abraham Van Helsing – only to find SyFy Channel is also working a project involving such a character. But in truth, a female Van Helsing is nothing new – such characters have appeared in both Hammer films and Marvel comics. While I’m curious what the SyFy Channel comes up with, I’m continuing my own project because it gives me a chance to further work my particular vision, my individual voice on the subject.
Ultimately, writing isn’t about mastering a genre – it’s about mastering several different genres. Love him or hate him, George Lucas didn’t re-invent sci-fi – instead he combined several different genres a time, mixing together the pulp sci-fi of the Golden Age with Kurosawa’s samurai epic “The Hidden Fortress” and the works of Joseph Campbell into a wholly unique vision. Want to follow in his footsteps? Then find your voice across numerous worlds and infinite stories.