Friday, April 16, 2010

Marriage of Science Fiction and Romance

Science fiction and romance make for an odd marriage, or is that odd bedfellows? When I started writing nine years ago, I wrote what I liked, which was hard science fiction, or so I thought. My stories follow the rules of science--all machines have a power source, all animals eat something, and nothing happens by magic--but my fellow writing befuddled my fellow science fiction writers. It has characters who fall in love and have emotions. Imagine that? I realized to my embarrassment, that I was writing romance. Yep, girl meets boy, overcomes problems, and lives happily ever after. I refuse to denigrate my own genre. Several well known science fiction writers claim they don't write science fiction at all. I won't do that sort of thing so I joined Romance Writers of America and started reading romance to gain an understanding of the genre.

After about four years, I'm back where I started; my stories aren't romance. Sure, relationship is central to the plot and the ending is happily ever after, but romance has other unstated conventions. If a novel does not follow these "rules," it won't be accepted by romance readers. Making it all the more difficult, some of these "rules" are in direct opposition to hard science fiction. So my writing is stuck in between, neither romance nor hard science fiction.

At my weekly romance writer critique group, I asked for help in solving a science fiction world building problem, deciding how deep-sea weather buouys are anchored to the ocean floor. I've been working on buoy design for my novel, Rulers of the Deep. My imaginary planet is networked with stations which gather oceanographic data and send the data to implants in people's brains. Weird, I know, and a bit hard to explain in one sentence, but this situation brings my hero and heroine together and drives the plot. My fellow romance writers shrugged and said it must be some futuristic technology which hasn't been discovered yet. But I do need to know in order to work out the relationship between my hero and heroine.

The discussion next moved on to another writer's story about a heroine who is codependent. My fellow romance writers went into detail about the behavior and feelings associated with codependency. I shrugged; these details don't seem all that important to me. Ah yes, the genre gap yawned(pardon the pun) between us.

I'd like to know how the rest of you are dealing with this gap. I'm delights to see this blog start up. It offers a wonderful opportunity to join with other writers trying to bridge the difference between the two genres.

By the way I solved the bouy problem. I talked it over with a guy who doesn't read romance at all, and I got some great ideas for scenes from the solution.


  1. Hi, Lizzie!
    I write historical and paranormal romance, but am plotting out my first ever science fiction romance. With the genres I've been writing, it's easy to keep the romance first before anything else happening in the plot. I'm hoping to accomplish the same with this new genre. I've been reading both hard and soft science fiction for years and have recently discovered--to my delight--science fiction romance.

    I would say, if you want to write SFR as opposed to SF with a romance in it, you have to keep the romance plot ahead of the sci-fi plot and your romance has to have a happy ending. I think right now, this genre is a hard sell, anyway, but I'm used to it since the historicals I write are all set during the American Civil War, another hard sell with romance publishers.

    Best of luck with your story! It sounds fascinating!!

  2. It's a tough situation, for sure. I don't have a writing group, unfortunately (there aren't enough pro sffh or romance writers where I live to make it happen). So I can't bat anything (ideas, drafts, etc) around with anyone.

    I started publishing in 1993 -- all of my sales were sffh, with a heavy emphasis on weird fiction, which straddles the sub-genres. Talk about cross-genre writing, geesh! Now I'm writing paranormal romances, which straddle sffh-romance and mystery. Double that geesh!

    With romance, I think (imho) that the romance must be front and center: this is the main storyline. The other sub-plots -- whether sf, f, h, mystery, whatever -- are secondary storylines. That's my humble take on the situation.

    Interested in what other people think!

    Lana Griffin

  3. Lizzie, I think you're looking for love in all the wrong places. ;-) Or rather, answers from the wrong crit group. First off, the chance of finding a physical SFR crit group are fairly slim unless you live in a major metropolitan area. That's why the cybergods invented the Internet. So that SFR writers (and other cross-genre-ites) have not only a place to play, but a place to get answers.

    I have my craft of writing crit partners and I have my reference crit partners. No one lives near me. Everything's done via email. I do have my local RWA group and we have fun and can, from time to time, talk general craft of fiction writing (characterization, etc.) But the real work gets done via email.

    My "reference" crit partners are those I go to for specifics (like your buoy problem). I have an ex-USN officer who vets my military stuff. I have two pharmacologists who clean up my medical scenes. In the same way, I 'vet' other authors' detective/suspense stuff as I'm a retired PI.

    As for the amount of emotional growth or issues you put in your stories--and how you do it--that's up to you. Understand our small cross genre really encompasses
    futuristics (more romance/less tech)
    SFR (50/50)
    Romantic Science Fiction (more tech/less romance)

    All are valid. Where you are on that scale depends on how you write, how your characterize, what you stress as plot points.

    If you're interested, on my personal fan group on Yahoo, I have several great "reference" fans who have real life experience with NASA, DOD, various science labs, the military, as well as hard SF writers and editors AND romance writers. When I needed a ship in HOPE'S FOLLY to have a rather continual scent of oranges, one of my "groupie loopies" (a totally brilliant gal with a formidable science and military background) gave me all the details I needed about the corrosiveness of citrus oils.

    You can find the link to join my Yahoo Group on my CONTACT page on my site. ;-) Tech and writing questions are always welcome there. ;-) ~Linnea

  4. I understand where you are 110%. I write sci-fi, with romantic elements. Which means I may be slightly out of place here, but I'm trying. At least a few of my novels (still patiently waiting me for to edit and query) are SFR.

    Hard sci-fi doesn't have romance. For me to tag something as SFR the story needs to have strong sci-fi elements, and have a romance plot line that is integral to the story. At some point, the romance needs to be the hinge for the story to hit resolution.

    That doesn't mean the romance can't be subtle. It does mean that the story could not be written without the mention of the romance.

    Several sci-fi books I know have good stories with a touch of romance. Maybe some kissing, maybe more. But you could remove those pages and it wouldn't change the story.

    Likewise, some SFR books are really Lasers n' Loincloths romances. You could take out the sci-fi elements, replace them with pistols, and you'd have a western, or a historical, or a contemporary romance novel.

    For me, what makes SFR is the two elements equally balanced within the story. It really should be a marriage of the two genres.

    Re: Weather Buoys
    I have a series of posts about science in fiction, this is the sort of thing I love to tackle...

    How deep is the water? What physical laws apply? What material are you using? How strong are the currents, tides, and storms?

    Cables or magnets would be the most obvious solution. But, since it's sci-fi, you could consider setting the bouys at in a low-atmosphere geosynchronous surface-level orbit.

    Outfit the bouys with boosters like you would a satellite. Give them some shielding so they can withstand the wet weather, and let the bouys hover at sea level.

  5. Liana Brooks said, " Hard sci-fi doesn't have romance."

    Could you, or someone, explain why not? I may not have the right idea about 'hard sci-fi' yet. I thought it was SF that could be explained with real or realistic science. So can't that be mixed with romance?

    Not sure if anyone will see this posted at the end, so may pose the question again in a post.

  6. Traditional hard SF *could* be paired with romance--but authors are probably avoiding it because of the inevitable marketing nightmare (unless they went digital and worked their butts off to find the audience for it. Talk about a labor

    But Catherine Asaro's work is a combo of hard sf and romance, and she seems to have done pretty well :)

    I think any of the SF subgenres can be paired with romance. The question is more how much romance, how much SF to equal SFR?

    The answer?

    Understand our small cross genre really encompasses futuristics (more romance/less tech)
    SFR (50/50)
    Romantic Science Fiction (more tech/less romance)


  7. One of the things (okay, it's late, I'm tired, and I've had more than one glass of a nice 2000 Super Tuscan) that might oughta wanna be considered here is that SFR/Futs/RSF didn't invent cross-genre. I don't know who did but it behooves you (in the generic sense) if you're interested in writing this cross-genre to look and READ others. Like mystery. In mystery there are police procedurals, cozies, amateur sleuths...more. Sorry, it's late and I'm tired but if you really want to know (and you should), learn. We are not the first odd-couple marriage.

    There was no romance (other than Irene Adler who shall always be THAT woman) in Sherlock Holmes and then Laurie R King--a hugely perfect author--did the Mary Russell series. With bells on.

    Military action adventure novels were the sole residence of guys until Suzanne Brockmann--who is one freakin awesome author--did her series on SEALS and more.

    There are still, yes, mystery readers who will not touch romance but very successful and lucrative inroads have been made in romantic suspense and the like.

    We are NOT inventing the wheel here, kids.

    Can you have hard SF and romance? Of course. Can you have hard SF and an HEA? That's the more difficult proposition. Not because of the romance issue but because of the word count required to do justice to both plot arcs--uh, yes, we write to word count. I get over 115,000 words and Bantam begins to hyperventilate.

    So the salient question is not so much can one do hard SF and romance but rather, can one do it in under 110,000 word without shorting either? THAT is the issue. THAT is why books 'read wrong' or 'feel wrong' because there simply is insufficient space to address the reader expectations and requirements of both genres.

    You cannot pack for a Caribbean cruise AND an expedition to the arctic in one small suitcase.

    Somethin's gotta give.

    Okay, I'm really tired. ~Linnea

  8. Laurel,
    You've got it right. Hard science fiction uses realistic science. It also has science central to the plot so if you removed the science you would no longer have a story. In my opinion romance science fiction is all about combining romance with hard science fiction, so that the story cannot stand without either the romance or the science.
    I believe Liana means that if a hard SF story has only a bit of gratuitous kissing we can't call it RSF; it's ordinary hard science-fiction.
    I understand that hard SF romance is a recent phenomena. The Golden Age science fiction writers such as Heinlein and Asimov largely neglected romance, courtship, and such messy parts of human biology.
    I think Liana is also addressing the very real problem caused by giving the lable "hard science fiction" to a book containing romance, regardless of the rigor of the science. Readers attracted to the lable "hard" do not like romance. I think to succeedthe story must hide both that it's romance and that it's hard science fiction so that the romance readers are seduced into the science and the science readers are seduced into the romance.

  9. Hard Sci-fi = Something you need a technical manual to read. It's the literary intelligentsia writing of the sci-fi world. Usually, there is one character, sometimes there is a crew, but they're so emotionally cut off and involved in technical read-outs that you can't tell them apart.

    Hard SF starts with science, and builds fictional stories around that idea. Blue Mars comes readily to mind, although I admit I didn't finish the series.

    Asimov's I, Robot also trends toward Hard SF, the story is about the robots, not about people. With the exception of Robbie. And that's more loyalty than love or people.

    Regular sci-fi, and military sci-fi, tend to straddle the line. There may be casual one-night stands, sometimes the character will get romantically involved, but the romance element could be removed without harming the story. Good reading, no special dictionary required, but not a segue point from romance to sci-fi.

    SFR is as stated above, a balance of romance and science fiction.

  10. Linnea,
    You've got another interesting issue here having to do with length. I've been unable to write hard RSF which is under 140k words. And the hard RSF that I have read is all on the long side. The best of them seem to be part of a series or broken into multiple volumes.
    That leaves several options: attempt to squeeze the story down to 110k, which we seem to agree does bad stuff to the story, convince publishers that 140k stories will sell, or write 400k novels and sell it as a 3-4 volume series.
    All of these approaches are being done successfully. Catherine Asaro is publishing books in the 160k lenghth. Bujold is publishing multi-volume novels. The Sharing Knife really is one novel published in 4 volumes. The first volume is pretty much romance. The next three are more like science fiction. It's fantasy but has the rigor of hard SF.
    My own preference as a reader is novels is for ones that are 160k or longer. I like multi-volume novels.
    The saving grace seems to be that hard RSF is marketed as science fiction, which customarily allows longer novels than does romance.

  11. Linnea makes a good point about word count. It's why some of my novels aren't SFR. The novel's story arc doesn't end with Happily Ever After, or even include enough romance in the single novel to count. Through a series arc, the romance builds and the overall series may end with HEA.

    There is also an issue of audience.

    The people who are reading hard sci-fi, or military sci-fi, may not be interested in a romance. There are sci-f readers out there (Bless Their Hearts) who don't care for women in their fiction, or women writers, or women characters who survive for more than five pages. There are writers who target those readers.

    That's not the audience I think anyone from the Brigade is aiming for. Even if your books will sit side-by-side on the shelves.


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