I am spending some time this month reading the award-winning and nominated science fiction and fantasy short stories (Hugo Awards, Nebula Awards, Locus Awards). I look at is as research for writing my own short stories in those genres.
I realize as I read these stories that one of the things that makes them so good is that when I read them I forget that it isn’t realistic. The characters feel real and you connect with them in a very short amount of time. The theme and conflict in the stories are so real that you don’t even notice the advanced technology in the science fiction or the magical elements of the fantasy fiction.
So, this is lesson number one in my short story research:
Focus on the human elements of your characters and their story as the priority, then have fun with the science fiction and fantasy elements.
Of the stories I have read so far, Ken Liu’s “Paper Menagerie” (read, listen) is my favorite. It is a story of a man telling childhood stories about growing up as a Chinese American with a mother who barely speaks English. He was never able to connect with his mom and resented her (and himself) for being Chinese. Oh, and she had a magical ability to breath life into the paper origami creations she made for him as a child. It is such a touching story that you barely acknowledge the fact that there is magic in it.