Sci-Fi/Fantasy Writers Could Take a Tip from Arundhati Roy

Recently, I have been reading a lot of popular Sci-Fi and Fantasy books that all feel like they are lacking something. While the world is usually intriguing, I often find myself bored or unsettled by the characters who are the stars of the novels. Through reading GOST, I have figured out just what these books are lacking and why.

In the first chapter of GOST, we are taught more about Rahel and Estha’s world than I was taught about any of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy worlds that I have read in the entirety of their first novel. Along with this, the chapter doesn’t feel rushed or jam-packed and all the transitions are swift and unnoticeable. This is quite different than the Fantasy book that I most recently read called An Ember in the Ashes, where the transitions between perspectives were abrupt and random.

I think Roy’s writing differs from many of these Sci-Fi and Fantasy writers because of what/who she centers her story around. GOST is primarily driven by the characters, particularly Rahel and Estha. Their desires and feelings decide where the plot will go and what conflict will arise. In a Dystopian book that I just read called Legend, it felt as if the world was the main character and drove the plot while the actual protagonists were a mere backdrop.

I believe that many of these authors get too caught up in making their make believe world into something that is bigger and better that they forget about what is supposed to be the driving force of the novel. This does not mean that big and beautiful book worlds cannot exist, for Roy explains all the intricacies of Rahel and Estha’s world. The difference is that she does this in a swift and coherent manner that ultimately supports the action and conflict of the main characters. This is why Roy’s writing has come to inspire my current sci-fi story writing, even though it is a completely different genre.

3 thoughts on “Sci-Fi/Fantasy Writers Could Take a Tip from Arundhati Roy

  1. I usually don’t like when people says that a certain story is a “character-driven” story. I hear that a lot about certain TV shows and films, even more than novels. It’s a way of saying that it’s probably boring or not a lot happens.

    But, as you argue eloquently, Olivia, all good stories are character-driven — and that doesn’t preclude them from having a lot of action. Remember, while working on short stories at the start of the year, when we discussed Flannery O’Connor’s definition of a good story. It always involves, she says, the “mystery of personality” — “a story is a dramatic event that involves a person because he is a person, and a particular person—that is, because he shares in the general human condition and in some specific human situation.” Without that exploration of the universality and the particularly of being human, a story will be empty, no matter how much special effects it might have.

    And yes, Roy, commits from the very beginning to explore the complex depths of Rahel and Estha, introducing us to them as adults but then tracing back their development as children.


  2. Lucy S.

    I wholeheartedly agree! One of the reasons sci-fi isn’t my favorite genre is because I’m so confused by the new world the author spends so much time creating. I’d rather read a well-crafted story that could happen in real life, like Roy’s.


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