Since I have finished Gods of IMAGO, I have been thinking a lot about what I enjoy in good fantasy/scifi. I’ve come up with two elements that place a work of speculative fiction in the “must read” category.
The first is world-building. Any good fantasy or scifi novel must be carefully rendered, thought out, a world where… well, the physics work. I may or may not like the physics of the world, but everything in the world building works, has a reason, makes sense. If a culture does X here, they better do X there. Examples of fantastic world-building are everywhere (fantasy and scifi have been with us for quite some time), and writers that come to mind are Le Guin, Tolkien, Jemisin, Mieville, McCarthy, etc…. And many, many others. We enter the world expecting something wonderful… we are not disappointed.
The second is style, and although this sounds subjective, it really is not. Anyone who has been mastering her craft for a while understands how hard it actually is to place a really good word next to another really good word so that the sentence has power and effect. What does this actually mean. I will discuss controlling prose and mastering the art of the sentence in another post, but suffice it to say: just as there is intention in the structure of a novel, there is intention in the paragraph, and paragraphs are nothing more than sentences stacked one upon the other… and sentences are simply carefully chosen words placed one after the other from left to right. That is incredibly hard to do well. It’s hard in Poetry. It’s hard in Short Story Writing. It’s incredibly hard to sustain in a long work of fiction: the novel. Simply put: a great sentence has a reveal (just like great storytelling), an intentional surprise planned by the writer to do something on the sentence/word level to the reader. You heard rightly. A really good writer understands this and plans for it. So, the scene is planned with a reveal and the paragraphs build to a reveal and the sentences reveal. Boom! That is power. That is hard to do.
Put great world-building with intentional prose, and you have a master craft. If you are not sure what good world-building and well crafted prose looks like, check out some of the authors I mentioned above. And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my own works: IMAGO, Gods of IMAGO (coming soon).