Beginners' Tips For Writing Science Fiction

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This topic contains 66 replies, has 16 voices, and was last updated by Profile photo of Josiah DeGraaf Josiah DeGraaf 1 month, 2 weeks ago.

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    Profile photo of Mallory O'Bier
    Mallory O’Bier

    Hey @emily-d ,

    No, I haven’t read the Winds of Light books, but they look interesting. 🙂 Have you read any of Chuck Black’s other works?

    Profile photo of Mark Kamibaya
    Mark Kamibaya

    @brandon-miller Love how you summed up science fiction in that one sentence

    A good sci fi story always explores what it means to be human in the present, by exploring alternative realities, past or present, and highlighting humanities strengths and weaknesses in those settings.

    Profile photo of Brandon Miller
    Brandon Miller

    @mark-kamibaya I was just rephrasing what you said. All the points go to you. 😛

    Profile photo of Mariposa

    @emily-d Basically, science fiction is what it says: fictionalized science. Sometimes you don’t have to read a lot of that genre to write that genre (although it is a good idea). Reading a bunch of books won’t make you a master. A person could read tons of books and still not know anything. If you do your research and do your best work, it won’t matter if you’ve only read a few science fiction books. What kind of science fiction would you like to read? Then write that. You like historical fiction? Why don’t you try writing a story that’s a mix of historical fiction and sci-fi?

    Profile photo of Mark Kamibaya
    Mark Kamibaya

    Sci-Fi Research Part 2

    Huh, Sci-Fi Research sounds dry. What should I call it instead? Anyways . . .

    So I found out the definition of sci-fi and I’m super excited. I can’t wait to get more and I immediately start researching sub-genres. You know—the genres within science fiction (I use genre and sub-genre interchangeably. Just warning ya).

    That went on for a while. I kept on finding list after list after list of science fiction genres. The funny thing was they were all different. Sure, there were some staples, but most of the time they were completely different. Even the so called “definitive lists” were different.

    By now the excitement has dissipated and I’m tired of researching science fiction. I have a list of the sub-genres that were mentioned the most, but I still have the nagging feeling that there’re more.

    Then, here’s what I realized (epiphany coming soon). Genres are ever-changing. They’re unheard of, then they become extremely popular, and then, sometimes, they die. Many times they’re blended and combined to form fresh, hybrid genres. I can’t list all the sci-fi genres ever created, and I don’t have to. I just need to pinpoint the popular, the unique, and my favorites. Because, at the end of the day, I don’t want to make a complete, authoritative list; all I want to do is inspire creativity through the dispersion of knowledge (Boom! Epiphany).

    And that’s what I’m gonna do.

    Profile photo of Emily D
    Emily D

    @overcomer Yes! I’ve read some of the Kingdom Series and some of the Knights of Arrethtrae (did you read this series? If so, did you have a favourite?) They were pretty good. 😛

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    Emily D

    @mariposa Oooh, I love that idea, thank you! And yes, I will definitely start reading some more sci-fi. Thank you 🙂

    Profile photo of Mark Kamibaya
    Mark Kamibaya

    Sci-Fi Tips Part 3

    First one up, the alien invasion sub-genre.

    You’ve definitely heard of this one before. Aliens suddenly appear on earth. The people on earth go into panic mode. Questions arise. Why are aliens here? What do they want? What do we do? Defend or make peace? What normally happens is the aliens are attacking the earth and we must defend mankind’s existence. It becomes a fight for survival.

    The premise of the alien invasion genre is super simple. Aliens invade the earth, and humans react strongly towards them. How the humans (and especially different individuals) react can vary greatly. That’s what makes this genre so exciting. Also, the definition of science fiction plays well to this sub-genre, because the whole premise revolves around the human reaction.

    This genre is as old as science fiction itself. It extends all the way from the classic book The War of the Worlds to the popular film Independence Day. Though a human-alien war usually happens, this expectation can be (and, in some cases, should be) subverted. E.T. is technically an alien invasion film though there is no massive war.

    I believe this genre ties into the general definition of science fiction perfectly. That’s what makes it great. Especially since there are so many ways to twist and turn this genre to make it unique and compelling. An amazing example of the alien invasion at its best is last year’s Best Picture nominee Arrival. Don’t watch Youtube videos about it and spoil it for yourself like I did. 🙁 Just watch the film itself and discover how layered and thematically deep this genre can be.

    The alien invasion sub-genre isn’t all explosions and fighting. At its best, it asks questions you’ve never asked and lets you see the human race like you’ve never seen it before.

    What do you think about the alien invasion genre?

    Profile photo of Mark Kamibaya
    Mark Kamibaya

    Sci-Fi Tips Part 4

    The most well-known genre of science fiction, thanks to Star Wars, is probably the space opera.

    The space opera is primarily characterized by adventure and space travel. Space battles. Belligerent aliens. Futuristic gadgets. These are just a few of the elements of the space opera.

    Parallels can be drawn between space operas and other genres. The closest relative is the adventure story, a genre characterized by foreign lands, exotic cultures and swashbuckling heroes. Like the adventure story, space operas also feature strange lands and brave people. Another relative is the Western. Both genres usually contain distant colonies, lone gunmen, and rampant lawlessness. I could also add drama to the list, but drama is so prominent in other genres it’s hardly worth mentioning (though space opera is usually concerned with melodrama). If you want to write space operas, examining these parallel genres will prove worthwhile.

    Classically, space operas had a common theme of science prevailing over ignorance, but most modern space operas disregard this. The theme most space operas cling to is one of good triumphing over evil. There is rarely any trouble distinguishing the “good guys” from the “bad guys” in a space opera.

    Popular examples of the space opera are Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy. However, Asimov’s The Foundation Trilogy is probably the best example of a space opera at its finest.

    Personally, I find the space opera sub-genre quite trite and boring. To me, it doesn’t give much intellectual stimulation or any truly moving dramatic moments. Nevertheless, I do respect space operas for being able to picture humans idealistically. Because in a world of terrorist horrors and widespread immorality, the idea that good trumps evil is a breath of fresh air—even if our heroes live among the stars and not on earth below.

    What do you think of space operas?

    Profile photo of Dragon Snapper
    Dragon Snapper

    *drags self over by hands, clawing against the dusty road* Must…reply… *collapses*
    Ahem…anyway. You can ignore that. 😛
    SFR-P2 Eureka!!! Wow! I never thought of genres that way. They are changing quite often, especially in popularity. New ones are popping up often. As of now, the most popular one seems to be dystopian. You could say that genres are like shifting sands in a desert. They are never in the same place. It all depends on the writers and the readers.
    SFR-P3 *gasp* Aliens! I think that the alien invasion genre is quite interesting, and indeed can be fresh each time as long as…well, it fresh each time…otherwise it would get boring. I haven’t seen many alien invasion movies though…mainly just Monsters vs. Aliens.
    SFR-P4 Ah, the space opera. I love the space opera. Parallels. I’ll have to keep that in mind.
    WHAT? You think it’s boring?? I love space operas, especially if done well. What do you mean by intellectual stimulation and dramatic moments?

    Profile photo of Mark Kamibaya
    Mark Kamibaya

    Sci-Fi Tips Part 5

    I believe one of the best science fiction genres is the “robot” genre. Here’s why:

    Technology has always been a key part of advancement. Humans have always depended on machines throughout the years, and the technology we depend on has advanced too (from the wheel to the microprocessor). As the quality of technology advances and our dependence upon it intensifies, a threatening question looms over us—will technology ever overcome us?

    This is the question posed by the robot genre. Technology has advanced so much that advanced robotics is now possible. Depending on the story this can mean robotic arms, primitive robots, or artificial intelligence. However, we’re faced with the dilemma of potentially creating something too powerful for us to handle. And that is the dominating question of this genre.

    I believe this genre is great not only because of the drama it can create, but also because of the compelling issues it can probe into such as . . . the ethics of creating autonomous beings just to serve us, the question of what differentiates humans from robots (my personal favorite), the threat of deliberately enhancing our bodies through robotics, or whether or not creating robots is misusing our abilities. These are just a few of the issues that can be presented in the robot genre.

    Although the Terminator or Transformers action movies are the more popular examples of the robot genre, Blade Runner and Westworld are better examples of the robot genre at its best. Both Blade Runner and Westworld tackle thought-provoking issues. However, I cannot whole-heartedly recommend them, because it might offend some. The Iron Giant and Wall-E are also great robot films. Or if you’re more into reading see the I, Robot short stories by Asimov.

    The robot genre usually yields great science fiction. I highly recommend writing within the genre. I love the robot genre, but what do you think of it?

    Profile photo of Mark Kamibaya
    Mark Kamibaya

    @dragon-snapper Okaaay . . . yeah, sure I’ll ignore that.

    SFR-P2 <– that’s cool btw Yeah, genres are always changing in popularity, but even in form. They’re always being combined and transformed. If you’re interested there’s a really cool essay on how genres change. Click here to read it.

    SFR-P3 Alien invasion is great. Since you haven’t been saturated by the genre that much, I highly suggest reading War of the Worlds or watching Independence Day in order to get an idea of the common conventions. Then, watch Arrival to see how it subverts the genre and adds thematic depth. How Arrival handles the alien invasion genre is just amazing. Highly recommend it to anybody.

    SFR-P4 I just think space operas are boring, because adventure stories and melodrama aren’t really my thing. But with any successful story, I have to know why it works. So that’s why I sat through a couple Star Wars movies. As for intellectual stimulation, many space operas aren’t really character-driven and don’t require much thought in order to follow the plot. And, for me, a lot of the dramatic moments hinge on melodrama (which is bad). But that’s just my bias speaking there. I mean, I’m still gonna watch the Last Jedi 😀

    Profile photo of Mark Kamibaya
    Mark Kamibaya

    Sci-Fi Tips Part 6

    So I’ve given a basic idea of three popular sci-fi sub-genres: the alien invasion, space opera, and robot genre. I hope I’ve given you enough information to reveal the possibilities available within these genres. But, to tell you the truth, I don’t think you should write within a genre. It can be a great starting point, but stories are bigger than certain genres.

    When you write a story, you should just focus on creating a great story regardless of genre.
    After you’ve nailed down your concept then go over to the genres and see what conventions you should adhere to. When you look at the genres, try to see the genre’s premise, appeal, conventions, and what’s been done before. This will open your eyes to how far you can go without “breaking protocol.”

    But some stories need that. Some stories need you to “break protocol.” So what do you do? Mix genres. Look at another genre that is similar and combine the two. In a sense, you’re creating your own genre, because you can’t include every generic element. And, sometimes, you can just borrow a single element from another genre “just because.”

    Mix genres together. That’s my main point. Genres should serve not hinder your story. So go ahead and mix ’em up. Sometimes it’ll work. Most of the time it won’t. But who knows? Maybe the world does need a science fiction alien invasion/robot horror-romance (most bizarre combo I could think of).

    Profile photo of Mark Kamibaya
    Mark Kamibaya

    Sci-Fi Tips Part 7
    I’ll give the rundown on three more sci-fi sub-genres, and then I’ll begin posting useful randomness on sci-fi (though some of it crosses over into fantasy). Stay tuned!

    Make fun of it all you want, I’m a sucker for the post-apocalyptic world. A place where everyone is a survivor and no one is trustworthy. A setting bursting with terror and conflict. If you want edge-of-your seat entertainment, then the post-apocalyptic world is right for you.

    It can take place after a natural disaster, a financial market crash, a virus outbreak, or a worldwide water shortage. Any disaster is reasonable, just as long as it works. The world has shifted into an animalistic mindset. Survival is the most important thing. That’s why an every-man-for-himself mentality is present in nearly every human being.

    The post-apocalyptic world is a fiery crucible bringing out the worst in all of us. It’s a keg of gunpowder with a lit match lying inches away. You can call it an excuse for an outpouring of machismo or a rare, honest look at humanity without its ever-present façade. There may be value in the post-apocalyptic world after all.

    Profile photo of Mark Kamibaya
    Mark Kamibaya

    Sci-Fi Tips Part 8

    Social science fiction. Once I heard of it I was fascinated.

    It’s a broad genre of science fiction that revolves around the effects of technology on society. Accurate technology or science is not needed nor is it the focus. The effects of science and technology are more important to the story.

    Probably one of the most well-known genres around, social science fiction is probably better known as dystopian fiction–a society where everything is bad (like in social science fiction classics 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World). However, a future dystopian society is not the only option when writing social science fiction. It could be set in the near future where social media has caused everyone to not engaging in real life. Or (to be a little less predictable) a near future society where personal privacy must be compromised in order to catch criminals and force those in power to be accountable. Social science fiction can include a dystopian society. However, the great sci-fi classics listed, and the onslaught of sub-par YA dystopian fiction has almost made dystopian fiction the only type of social science fiction out there!

    Social science fiction proposes the effect of science and technology will have in the future. It forces the audience to consider issues they may have never thought of. This genre is desperately needed nowadays. But it doesn’t just need to be written, it needs to be written well. Too many social science fiction stories fall into the teen rebellion/love story dystopian category. Rarely do they bring up the social effects of science and technology. Or even if they do, it’s usually heavy-handed without even a hint of tact.

    So maybe instead of writing a predictable dystopian story, try exploring true social science fiction.

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