Tropes in Science Fiction

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I hope some of you attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Winter Conferece.  Normally held in NYC, this year it was a virtual event.  Something several speakers mentioned were tropes.  Not using your genre’s tropes is bad.  Using tropes without providing anything new?  Also bad. 

To fully understand this, it helps to know what tropes are. For those of you who may not know the term, a trope is a common story line or story element in a particular genre.  Spy/assassin movies?  Someone is going to be a double or triple agent.  Romance?  The couple end up together.  Science fiction?  

That noise you hear is a cricket.  I’m writing science fiction but I wasn’t 100% certain what the tropes are.  I decided to do a bit of research.

I found ten science fiction tropes:

  1. Light speed travel.  Let’s face it.  Space is big.  It takes a long time to get from point x to point z.  Light speed travel is an accepted given.  You don’t have to explain it.  You can just use it.
  2. Cryosleep.  Same things.
  3. Computers.  Whether it is a hand-held device or the computer that runs the ship when everyone is asleep, computers are a science fiction given.
  4. Robots.  Think of them as really useful, mobile computers.  
  5. Aliens.  Life on other planets, especially a wide variety of life, can create conflict and also diverse, interesting characters.
  6. Alien artifacts/technology.  It may be something aliens left on Earth, that people found drifting around, or even an entire ship.
  7. Dystopian cultures/governments.  Many science fiction stories are critical of the here and now and dystopian stories are a natural extension of this as are . . . 
  8. Post-apocalyptic events.  Things went to fiddle and may or may not be making a comeback.
  9. Mutants/mutations.  These may be natural (as a result evolution) or helped along by radiation, chemicals, etc.
  10. Body modifications. Here I’m talking about the surgical as in enhancements for human vision, computer uplinks, or artificial limbs.  

This means that at least one or two of these need to appear in my story.  (Hint: Look for 2, 3, 4 and 7.)  But I also have to make sure to bring in something new. A story that feels too similar to work that is already out there will bring a “no” no matter how much the editors like my writing. The solution? Reading, reading and more reading in my genre. Lucky for me I just read two Hilo graphic novels and have another waiting for me at the library.

–SueBE