World Building Versus Info Dumping
First off, let me just remind everyone of one thing -- as Abraham Lincoln said, you can’t please all the people all the time. So, it’s unlikely anyone is ever going to be able to create the “perfect book”, one where they world build with the exact right amount of data and detail without any form of info dumping…at least according to the entire reading population.
You can write the most popular book in the world, but there will always be those who don’t care for it, some of them virulently. It’s the nature of art because everyone truly IS a critic: No matter what you do creatively, someone will always find fault with it.
World Building -- creating the sense of place and time so the reader/viewer is included into the story with a sense of acceptance or wonder and is able to suspend disbelief.
Info Dumping -- too much information, over-abundance of information, detracting from the reader’s/viewer’s enjoyment.
Info Lack -- The lack of enough information, which can leave the reader/viewer confused, annoyed, and ultimately dissatisfied because there isn’t enough explanation to allow disbelief to remain suspended.
Genre Needs Are Different
World building is important in every genre, but possibly most important in science fiction and fantasy. In these genres, authors are taking readers to a place that either exists only in the author’s imagination, or sharing events that can only or have only happened in the author’s imagination. This makes world building vital to a reader’s understanding of what’s going on, their ability to “see” the world and situations the author’s taken them too.
Romantic sparks are vital to a romance. But romance isn’t a requirement in science fiction OR fantasy. There’s plenty of romance in both, but not enough to be accepted as a natural part of the SF/F genre overall. If there’s romance, most times it’s not front and center, and many times it’s not integral to the plot.
But all that’s different with Science Fiction Romance. In this cross-genre/sub-genre, the romance is as important as the science fiction, or at least it’s darned close. (There are debates raging about Romantic Science Fiction vs. Science Fiction Romance, but I’m not getting into that here -- that’s for others to discuss and decide. For this purpose, SFR or RSF are the same: there’s a lot of romance in that science fiction story.)
Herein lies the crux of the problem. Science fiction readers expect world building. They expect to have the science explained. You can’t say, “he moved at supersonic speed” without, somewhere along the line, explaining how that’s possible. Traveling to a new world? You’d better have some explanation for how the space flight will work. Depending on your SF -- hard or soft -- you’ll have to explain a lot or a little, but explain you will. Because science fiction readers expect it, and if you don’t do it, they can’t buy your situations.
Romance readers, on the other hand, are willing to take a lot of the world building as a given, as long as they find the characters’ romantic situation compelling enough. They’re willing to accept what the author says at face value, because what they care about most is how believable, fun, romantic, spicy, etc., the romance actually is. Their focus is on the relationships between the characters more than the characters’ relationships to the world.
I’m not saying that romance readers aren’t discerning. They are. But what they’re looking for is at odds with what most science fiction readers are looking for. They want a central relationship they can sink their teeth into and become emotionally invested in, far more than they want to understand the inner workings of black hole technology.
I’m not saying that science fiction readers don’t care about characters and relationships. They do. But what they want is a believable world, a situation that they can buy into, and proof that it could actually happen, far more than they want a romantic happily ever after.
I personally think it’s a lot easier to get the romance side to come over to SF, than the SF side to go to romance. Books shelving in the SF/F section will have a better chance of garnering both SF and romance readers -- the SF ones because the book is on “their” shelves, the romance ones most likely from buzz, be it word of mouth, reviews, or social networking.
Yes, I’m suggesting you cater more to the SF side and put in a little more of the world building and scientific explanations than you might in a straight romance. The key phrase is “a little”. Too much and you run the risk of losing the romance side. Too little, though, and you’ll lose the SF side. And as much as it pains me to write this, it’s easier and less frustrating for a reader to skim (ack!) over some explanation they’re not interested in than to wonder why and how some character can achieve some feat that appears impossible.
Walk the Line
I follow a rule here -- please your publisher. If you’re pubbing with an imprint that does no romance (like I do, since I’m with DAW Books), the SF side is always going to take precedence. If you’re with a romance imprint, the romance side will take the lead, most likely per your editor’s requirements.
Find a romance reader(s) if you’re heavy on SF. Find an SF reader(s) if you’re heavy on romance. Have them read your MS and tell you where they stumbled. Change what you can/agree with.
So, once that’s done, how to still ensure the other ‘half’ of your potential readership enjoys your book? What’s a science fiction romance author to do? What any other writer should do: Write the story you want, that your editor approves, that your publisher wants to put onto the bookshelves. And know you’ll never please everyone, so you’d better please yourself.
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