If you’ve been writing any length of time, it may have dawned on you that “The Rules” are more like the Pirate Code. They’re more like guidelines.
I write speculative fiction, and all of these genres come with some expectations. If the author doesn’t deliver on those expectations, the reader will be disappointed. This is something I agree with completely. This usually involves the way the world functions, and a lot of background to the story. Woe to the author who proclaims his newest book is fantasy, then doesn’t include any magic or fantastic creatures.
Science fiction is almost two genres now. (Or dozens if you want all the sub-categories.) There is hard science fiction, where readers expect you to predict the future to some degree, and where all of the science makes logical sense. There is also a softer science fiction, where the setting is science fiction, but the characters aren’t as involved in creating the equipment. Think of it like a millennial who can use every feature on her iPhone, but can’t tell you how it works on the inside. She still lives in this world, and uses her iPhone. People in futuristic settings would live in a similar style. They take the transporter to work every day, but couldn’t tell you how it works.
Paranormal isn’t immune to expectations either. There may not be magic involved, but readers will expect a ghost or cryptid of some kind to be a central part of the story.
Having said all that, I’m going to make a bold statement and say, “All of this is window dressing.” Let the controversy begin. The genres are more like the Pirate Code.
I’m of the belief that all stories, in all genres, are about people. This is because all readers are people, and we have to relate to them.
This means that my speculative window dressing is less limiting than people think. I can write a murder mystery, but mine could take place in outer space. Maybe I want to write about a serial killer; mine could be about a cryptid bog beast of some kind.
I may write a fantasy, but my goblins and dwarves are stand-ins for a fascist regime, and basic human dignity. (As one example.)
You can fill in your own human interest story, but it needs to be there. If you write about giant purple space amoebas, they’d better have human emotions of some kind because no space amoebas are going to read your story. If you make them completely different and wax on about how different they are, your readers won’t feel invested.
I’ve followed many writing gurus over the years, and most of them taught me something. One used to talk about delivering a powerful emotional experience to the reader. He took great glee in abbreviating it PEE, and I still get a kick out of that. It took me a long time to come around to the idea, but he was right. There is more to a story than just blowing crap up.
Even an adventure story should deliver an emotional experience of some kind. How many mentors have you watched die on the movie screen, but the hero has to forge ahead with less than perfect training. There is emotion in the story, even in an action story. Even Indiana Jones had Marion.
In many cases, our emotions get in the way of the end goal. This is a good thing for a writer. We need controversy and angst in our stories. Maybe your group of superheroes needs a bit of sexual attraction between the members. This can cause bad decisions during the big battle scene. Maybe it even leads to failure at the midpoint of the book.
I guess what I’m trying to say is your characters still need human emotions. Think about E.T., Wall-E, the Little Mermaid, those are non-human characters with emotions.
You can still have emotionless non-humans in a story, but then the human characters provide this necessary ingredient. Godzilla wasn’t in charge of the emotional element, that was required of the humans in his stories.
My position statement today: All stories are about people, even if they aren’t people.
Let me hear from you in the comments.