Author Ann Aguirre wraps up Wednesday's "SF For Femmes" panel at the convention. She captained the panel that also included author Colby Hodge aka Cindy Holby, Stacey Klemstein aka Stacey Kade, and agent Lucienne Diver from the Knight Agency.

For me, the magic of science fiction comes from the characters. I don’t remember idea books. I don’t remember who wrote the first story of a generation ship taking human beings out into the stars. But how I felt as a little kid, the first time I saw Star Trek in re-runs on network TV? Oh yeah. I remember that. And I can recall so clearly falling in love with Spock because of Leonard Nimoy’s controlled, yet powerful performances. I always had the impression that Spock was a man of great passion beneath his half-Vulcan restraint.

So when I set out to my write my own SF, I wasn’t looking to reinvent the wheel. Instead I wanted to imbue books with the same traits that make our favorite SF series (whether in film or television) so addictive. If you examine the demographic, many more women watch SF on TV or at the movies than will read it in print. There’s a fundamental disconnect there, a certain missed opportunity. So when people say my books are more like reading a television show than other SF they’ve read? I am totally good with that. It means I did my job.

Primarily, I wanted people to attach to the characters. Not just Jax, though she’s the heroine. I want them to care about the crew and the mission. I want them jonesing to return, just as Jax craves her next jump. Sure, certain aspects of my universe are familiar, but that’s the point. People should be able to slip into my stories without fighting to integrate a bunch of made up words.  

I took some risks with Jax. She was an antiheroine in the beginning, and somewhat polarizing. But those who have stayed with her should be very pleased with the way she’s headed. I love seeing character arcs like that in television, where you can see who they were at the start of the story, and now they’ve come so far, changed so much. That only increases the attachment, so long as it’s done in a consistent manner.

Additionally, if you’re writing SF for women, you will win a lot of non-SF readers over if you focus on the relationships. I’m not saying skimp on world-building, but the friendships and love lives of your characters matter. That’s part of real life; those touches need to be complicated and poignant without veering into melodrama. And if you ignore that completely to detail how your quantum engine works, you’re going to lose some female readers. (Me included.) There are, of course, female SF readers who prefer the hard stuff, but it’s a much wider readership if you attract the eclectic female readers who will give anything a crack, so long as it contains a thread of romance.  

My best and final tip for creating captivating characters of your own? Come up with the names, the appearances, and the history. Know them like your best friends. And then hurt them. Break their hearts. Set them on fire and dare them to survive you. Perfection is boring. Struggle wins.

- Ann Aguirre