Redstone Science Fiction is an online sci-fi magazine that has published monthly since June 2010, and it has quickly jumped up the ranks to become one of the top-tier outlets for science fiction. Last week they posted an article, “Common Mistakes from Past Contest Entries: Things to Avoid.” It’s five tips, so go read it, and then check back here.
The tips are geared toward science fiction writers, but I think they apply to writers of all genres of fiction. To me, the tips can be sorted into two areas: research and writing/revision. The first group of tips boil down to this: do your research so that you can write authentically. Also, make sure the sources you use for research are credible and accurate. While some shorthand is acceptable based on the genre for minor details, don’t use the same reduction for characters–these must be authentic, well-developed personalities, even if they are robots or aliens or magical beasts.
The second group of tips boil down to this: a good story idea is only as effective as its execution. Although science fiction and fantasy have been looked down upon for generations, this is not an excuse for sub-par writing. The fans–you know, the people actually reading your story–can tell good from bad. And when genre fiction is good, it can do beautiful, amazing things. There is a reason many big-name literary fiction authors are dabbling in genre fiction, folks. Excellent prose can make a good story great; bad prose can make a great story terrible.
In other words, good writing is hard work. If you want your writing to stand out from the crowd, you need to put forth the effort at every stage of story development. Relying on stereotypes, bad research, or genre conventions, you are relying on a crutch. At best, your story will only limp along. Do the work. Make your story strong, and it will race ahead of the others.