What Is the Difference Between General Fiction & Science Fiction in Structure?
Writers and artists constantly search for mediums to ponder fundamental questions about the human condition and the human being's place in the vast and seemingly never-ending universe. Authors who write science fiction bend and manipulate fundamental laws of the universe, allowing readers to question what other solar systems, galaxies and universes might be like. Science fiction authors utilize a different narrative structure than fiction writers do.
In general fiction, characters experience time in a linear fashion. Despite the fact that a narrator may reveal points in a character’s life in a disjointed way, jumping from the character’s 5th birthday to his 30th, readers understand that the character experiences time the same way that a real person does. It is the narrator who jumps around the character’s third dimensional, linear existence. Science fiction writers manipulate the laws of space-time, and often create characters that experience time in a non-linear way. For example, in Kurt Vonnegut’s "Slaughterhouse Five," the protagonist does not experience time linearly; he travels through time and lives his life in a fourth dimensional non-linear way.
General fiction relies on the technological advancements of the present and past to inhabit and develop different settings. For example, in a general fiction piece, an author might include a girl sitting on a bench using a laptop. Science fiction is not bound by real technologies, and a focus for many science fiction writers is dreaming up potential futuristic technologies. For instance, it is normal in science fiction to have characters living on a space ship 10 million light years away from earth.
Human beings have yet to discover hard evidence for the existence of life forms on other planets, and even though a general fiction writer must create with this fact in mind, a science fiction writer is free to imagine and create alien life forms. An extra-terrestrial living on a planet 2 million light years from earth is a science fiction fan's favorite type of character.
Conflict driven action is at the heart of a narrative’s structure. Despite the fact that a general fiction writer must create action that abides by real world laws, the science fiction writer can ignore earth’s physical laws. For example, a general fiction writer may write a story that revolves around a central character obsessed with throwing chairs at cars, whereas a science fiction writer may create an alien protagonist that must stop falling asteroids with his mind.
Jake Shore is an award-winning Brooklyn-based playwright, published short story writer and professor at Wagner College. His short fiction has appeared in many publications including Litro Magazine, one of London's leading literary magazines. Shore earned his MFA in creative writing from Goddard College.