The Sci-Fi Cliché

Does the tension in your novel come from (yet another) threat to blow up the world? If so, does the world actually end? Is it clear from Chapter 1 that the hero will save the day? Can we recognize your characters from the latest blockbusters and bestsellers? Yeah, maybe you should rethink that (unless you’re the author of that blockbuster/bestseller, of course), and Liv Archer explains why, in her usual engaging, ironic, and highly readable way.

(header image credit: NASA/JPL-CalTech)


With the advanced technology of today, there’s not much limitation on what we can put in movies. Unfortunately this means that everyone goes for the biggest possible special effect: exploding planet.

Every superhero out there is fighting the threat of the end of the world. Somehow the bad guy is gonna end all life on earth – and yeah, I guess that would be concerning – but am I the only one who gets bored when the bad guy starts talking about his weapon that has the ability to destroy a planet?

Yeah, it was devastating when Vulcan got swallowed by a black hole in 2009 but isn’t that the only planet that’s actually bitten the dust anyway?

The ‘human residence’ was almost incinerated in Doctor Who and the new Justice League was kind of apocalyptic.

Everywhere you turn, the whole world is being threatened and it’s ironically anticlimactic.


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5 thoughts on “The Sci-Fi Cliché

  1. Brent Stypczynski

    “ but isn’t that the only planet that’s actually bitten the dust anyway?”

    Alderaan (Star Wars IV: A New Hope). (And the entire Hosnian System, Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens.)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Brent Stypczynski

        Forgot that one, somehow. Guess I’m still thinking of it as a “base” like the Death Star, not a planet. And it was blown up by the “good guys”, so may or may not count here. 😁

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I was really thinking of the death of the beloved character himself, not the planet, as an example of truly high-stakes writing. After all, as you pointed out, in the Star Wars pantheon we’ve become used to planets blowing up, and to Liv’s point in her original blog post, that’s almost passé. Yeah, a bunch of people die, their world ends, but we don’t know them, we only care in an abstract sort of way.

        But to kill off a character who is loved by fans over the course of several movies, now that’s risky and immediately much higher stakes, because we care about the character. And, it’s good writing, because it’s unexpected — usually the good guys always survive to the end, right? But now that we know that the writers are perfectly willing to kill off beloved heroes, well… anything could happen. Suddenly this story is no longer following cookie-cutter patterns, and we really don’t know what awaits us with the turn of a page (or a few minutes of screen time). That introduces some significant tension.


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