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THE SIGIL TRILOGY: The universe is dying from within... "Great stuff... Really enjoyed it." — SFWA Grandmaster Michael Moorcock

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Common Objections

I realize that any kind of "but that's not how it's been done!" suggestion will provoke a number of objections, so I'll attempt to answer here the ones I've heard. In workshopping this article I found that these greatly helped solidify understanding of what I was trying to say, so even though it's unconventional, I wanted to share these.

1. This isn't The Secret to great writing. I agree, it isn't. There are a good many pieces to the puzzle, and this is just a small one. Yet good handling of interpersonal relationships is a puzzle piece that seems more lacking in SF than, say, good handling of plot, ideas, or worldbuilding. I would go so far as to say that handling relationships well is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for greatness. You piece won't be great just because you pay attention to relationships, but since great stories do everything well, lack of skillful attention to relationships is sort of a guarantee of non-greatness.

2. Great books do everything well; of course relationships will be better done. To the extent this is the same as (1); and yes, this is just one piece. Yet I would argue that if you make this statement about everything being great in a great book, then you've accepted my conclusion that relationships are indeed a component of that greatness. That's partly what I'm saying: relationships are present in great SF but often entirely missing in the mediocre. If that's true, and you ignore relationships, then that's saying you haven't handled everything well.

3. If you love raisins, you might believe the more raisins there are in something, the better it is; but not everybody loves raisins. Well, now I didn't start out knowing that paying attention to relationships was something I liked. I simply realized one day that it was something lacking in certain stories and present in others. I grant that I then scanned the literature widely, and found out that, in this sense, yes, I liked the stories better that paid attention to relationships. But arguing by analogy is unsafe; it's just as easy to liken this to "If you like breathing, you might believe that breathing is good; but not everybody likes breathing" — well, yeah, but they'll also be dead soon. Whether I like relationships in fiction or not, it may be that they actually are a small piece of The Secret. I hope I've proven with the statistical tests that this is more universal than my own tastes, i.e., that well regarded SF scores better than mediocre.

4. You can prove anything you set out to: There are lies, damned lies, and statistics. You bet. That's why I suggest people do the tests themselves. The neat thing about science is that it urges others to repeat the experiments for verification.

5. Your 0-to-10 method is subjective. This is true; however it's also the case that most people will tend to get the same rough shape of scores (a "bell" curve) — most folks will find the Amy Tan quote scoring "high" and the Gibson Johnny Mnemonic quote scoring "low" on the interpersonal relationship meter. And even if my 4 is your 6, it's likely our ratios of "mediocre SF" to "great SF" to "literary" will be similar.

6. But I like SF without relationships. Well, are you sure? If you score a bunch of books and conclude that, yes, you really do like the low scoring ones better than the higher scoring ones, including lots of award winners and other famous novels, okay then, you really do. If you prove it by the numbers, then by all means, ignore this article! However, if you don't do the actual tests, how can you know? It might be there are more relationships in the SF that you like than you know (it amazed me when I noticed it). You needn't love Oprah books, but if you like Flowers for Algernon and Gateway and Speaker for the Dead better than, say, Mech-warriors or a typical first novel, chances are the relationships that skilled authors include are a part of why you like them better.

7. SF is escape fiction, and some people want to escape relationships. I don't doubt that's true for some, and if you score lots of books and agree it's true for you, that's great. But otherwise, there's this counterargument that says people might not mind seeing other people having relationships, so long as that doesn't "get in the way" of the action. Which, in great SF, it doesn't seem to. The bottom line, obviously, is don't write something you don't want to write. But I'd hope you'd only dismiss a technique if you've analyzed it first.

8. You like this stuff so well, go read Oprah books. Heh, sometimes I do, but they lack what makes SF great. Attention to relationships won't turn your work into an Oprah contender, don't worry.

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