Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Dark Side of Description: Evil Adjectives In Sci-Fi

Adjectives can be evil in any genre. Evil adjectives are never more powerful than Lightside adjectives, but they are the easier, more beckoning. *wink, wink* There are certain modifiers that should, in this bloggers opinion, get the user flogged if used in science fiction. Whether you are a fan fic newbie or an award-winning author - please, I beg you, stay away from the darkside of description!

As lists seem to be required in all blog entries now, here's mine - Five descriptions that should never be seen in science fiction literature:


1. "Futuristic City." Ouch. If the characters travel in time and land in the future, any city they land in will be a "futuristic" city. Description of places yet to be seen should feel organic. Is there pink grass in this future? Are all the buildings topped with minarets? This, by the way, goes for any future object, spaceship, ray gun, etc. Is it dusty, rusty, musty - throw a reader a bone!

2. "Metal Robots." Ermmm - duh. A robot automatically portrays a thing made of metal. The only reason to stick a one word adjective in front of the word "robots", is to differentiate from that preconception. How about organic robots or ceramic robots? Robots made of individualized heavy water molecules, Eh? If the point is that these bots are shiny and silver then say so. Can you type "C-3P0?"

3. "Super Powers." We get it. Joe's a super hero. But calling his laser vision a "super" power in every paragraph gets old. And simply saying someone has super powers leaves the reader feeling vague-ish. The best way to describe an ability that's beyond the range of the average human is to let that power unfold before the readers eyes. Does Joe feel a little feverish? Do his eyes itch? What's happening? When his crush is suddenly in peril, does the bad guy he's staring down spontaneously burst into flames? Ooooh! That's handy!

4. "Aliens From Outer space" Oy! Albeit, I don't see this one very often, but when I do, the groan fest is never ending. I understand that "aliens" can mean people from another country (ie: "illegal aliens") but you are writing science fiction, for Spock's sake. We know the aliens are from outer space! Name those poor aliens! Are they Vulcans? Are they Outerspace-ians? Maybe the little green men hail from Uranus? Wherever your aliens were brewed, they deserve a home of there very own.

5. "Faster-Than-Light, Warp, Hyper Drive." This future tech needs a new face. Battlestar Gallactica calls it "FTL." Acronyms are a start. Star Trek made "Warp Drive" famous, so if you write fan fic, you're stuck with that specific appellation. But if you are inventing your own universe, at least try for a new name for the light speed concept. Doctor Who simply calls them engines and travels in time, totally avoiding the issue. Does your future society fold space, create a bubble outside normal time and space? Is it Fold Drive or Bubble Drive or Super-Fast-Fun Drive? Understanding the mechanics of your future tech will most likely give you an out for the typical "warp" drive conundrum.

*Screen capture of Libria courtesy of Marta on the Equilibrium fansite.

1 comment:

The Swedish Mystery said...

Hahaha, this is good and I think I am guilty to at least one or two of these deadly adjective sins (or maybe all of them... ?). This is a very good point you are making about writing and I will most certainly be more aware when writing in the future.