Pitfalls of Writing SF & Fantasy #8: It Looks Like Seem or Appear!

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McIntyre’s First Law:

Under the right circumstances, anything I tell you could be wrong.

Pitfall #8: It Looks Like Seem or Appear!
These Seem to Be More Weasels

Be very careful about the use of words such as “seem” and “appear,” especially in science fiction. As Samuel R. Delany pointed out, in sf things can happen that are unlikely to happen in real life or in realistic (“mainstream”) fiction. Therefore, if you use “seem,” you should mean “seem.” As in, “This is what it looked like but this isn’t really what’s going on, so pay attention!”

A perceptive reader will note “seem” or “appear” or “looked like,” perk up their ears, and wait for you to tell them what really is going on. If nothing other than the superficial action is going on, the reader is going to be irritated.

Eventually the reader will quit trusting you.


Read the previous Pitfalls

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Pitfalls of Writing SF & Fantasy #8: It Looks Like Seem or Appear! — 3 Comments

  1. You imply that losing the trust of the reader is a problem . . . surely that is true (SURELY!), but what to make of the popularity of unreliable narrators in fiction?

    I guess it makes me think that there are two kinds of trust. One kind of trust seems to me to be utterly inviolable, and the other kind of trust people like to have played with just a bit. To discern the two types more clearly requires at least two cups of coffee that i haven’t had yet.

    Also my brain is still whirring from having gone with my spouse and son to Walt Disney World (the lad and meself both newbies), and the ways they play with “willing suspension of disbelief” has me semi-consciously squirrel-caging not on “how did they do that” (which is usually quite obvious) but “how does what they did work so darn well?” Trust with trickery, or vice versa.

    But i still think your subtle point about weasel words is absolutely true . . . it’s just the broader point about the trust of the reader you’ve got me mulling. Coffee, coffee . . .