Horror and science fiction go together so well that it’s often hard to write one without at least some elements of the other. Unless you’re writing something more akin to dark fantasy, which we talked about last week.
Dark Scifi is a fun subgenre, and a popular one, too. I’ve always been a fan. One of my favorite shows of all time, X-Files, falls right into this category. Another great example is the Alien franchise. My science fiction tends to sway heavily into Dark Scifi territory. You Can’t Trust The AI in particular.
The trick to getting Dark Scifi right is balancing the expectations of each genre. Scifi readers expect to see technology that is beyond what we have today. Beyond even what we might fantasize about having. Horror fans expect a body count. I’m sure you can see how these two expectations can work together.
What exact expectations you’ll be juggling will vary. Within each genre, there are a million subgenres. I’ve talked about Scifi genres here. So if you’re starting on a Dark Scifi story, it’s not a bad idea, to begin with, the expectations your readers might have. From there, consider how these lists might complement each other. Or, how you might use these expectations to surprise your reader and create a more original story.
When you’re considering the genre expectations of Scifi and Horror, your mind will likely also wander to the weaknesses of each genre. We are hardest on the things we love most, of course. And I really, really love horror.
It can be callous with human life, though. It’s not always great with character development. It often throws science right out the window. And I don’t mean advanced science most people don’t know. I mean some pretty simple shit.
Scifi has its own set of issues. It can talk over people’s heads with the science. Worse, some authors are worried that they’re going to do that. So they spend way too much time making damned sure they explain every detail, derailing the story and boring the reader. Asimov, to my dismay, had that problem.
The great thing about writing Dark Scifi, though, is that the problems of one genre can be solved with elements of the second. Your horror story with a baseline of scientific understanding is going to feel more real, therefore scarier.
Scifi tends not to be as character-driven as some other genres, but it’s often more so than Horror. This means that your characters will tend to be richer, more fleshed out. So, when one of them dies it’s worse. This means that there’s more worry and anxiety over their deaths, upping the tension of every page.
Dark Scifi is a beautiful marriage between two genres. Where one is strong, the other is weak. And when done right, it’s a genre that is rich, thrilling, and scary as hell.
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