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How to write great science fiction?

by Jim Jacoby


In a contest between authors and scientists, who would win? I think it would be close. Scientists do come up with some pretty interesting ideas and concepts, but they’re often heavy on facts and light on story. As a writer myself, I have to admit that the first thing I think when reading a science fiction story is “That could have been written better!” So what makes great science fiction different from the other stuff out there? Here are six things to consider

Write about people.

If you want to write great science fiction, then it's important that you start with people. The human element is what makes a story interesting and relatable, and without it there wouldn't be any point in writing your book at all!

Here are some examples of how real-life events have impacted our society:

  • People made the decision to create nuclear weapons, which changed everything about warfare forever.

  • People developed new technology like computers and smartphones so we can stay connected at all times (and also get distracted by Candy Crush).

  • And finally...people discovered Earth 2!

Make it relatable, even in the future.

The best science fiction is relatable. Whether it's set in the future or not, your story should be able to connect with people on a personal level.

  • Make it relatable to the reader: You can do this by making sure that your characters are believable and have some kind of internal conflict that we can relate to--something like trying to figure out what they want from life or dealing with an illness or injury.

  • Make it relatable to the world: If you're writing about something like climate change (which many writers do), make sure that everything else about your story makes sense too--the plot must flow naturally from everything else happening around it! For example, if there's a drought causing food shortages throughout Europe but no one seems bothered by this fact except for one character who has been trying desperately since childhood not only survive but also thrive despite all odds stacked against him/her...then maybe there needs tweaking here ;)

  • Make sure everything connects back together at some point later down line? Maybe even earlier than expected? This way readers won't get bored easily because they'll always feel like something exciting could happen next!"

Ask a question that can’t be answered right now.

Asking a question that can't be answered right now is essential for writing great science fiction. It's also important that you don't use a question that has already been answered in the past, or will be answered soon (like "What happens when we run out of fossil fuels?"). Google has all the answers!

In fact, there are only two types of questions: those you can Google and those that require a bit more thought. If you want to write good sci-fi, make sure your story involves some new and interesting concepts--ideas no one else has thought about before!

Include a sense of adventure.

Adventure is the adventure of the mind. It's an exploration of new places, new ideas and new possibilities. In science fiction, you can use it to take your readers on a journey into another world or time period--or even a future version of our own planet. Adventure is one of the most important elements in any story because it allows readers to see things in a way they never have before!

When writing science fiction, think about how your characters might react if they found themselves in strange situations: Would they be scared? Excited? Confused? How would these emotions affect their decisions as they fought against whatever challenges came their way?

Know what you’re talking about.

You have to know what you're talking about.

  • The science behind it: This can be as simple as knowing the difference between a solar wind and an ionosphere, or more complex things like understanding how gravity works in your story's universe. If your characters are going into space, make sure you understand what happens when they get there!

  • The history of it: How did we get here? What were some milestones along the way? Who were some important figures along the way (and why)? Are there any famous quotes or sayings associated with this field that might help establish its culture?

  • Culture surrounding it: What do people think about this subject now? Is there any debate over its ethics? What kind of laws govern its use/misuse/abuse/etc.?

Keep it simple.

To write great science fiction, keep it simple.

Do not try to write an epic story that spans multiple galaxies and timelines. Start small; focus on one setting or character at a time. The more complicated your plot becomes, the harder it is for readers to follow along and understand what's happening in your story. You want them engaged with what's happening on the page--not struggling with whether they've been transported into another dimension or not!

A great example of this principle can be found in George R R Martin's A Song Of Ice And Fire series (which serves as inspiration for HBO's Game Of Thrones). While there are many wonderful characters in these books/TV show(s), none of them have superpowers or otherworldly abilities--they're all just regular people living through very difficult times together as best they can manage under extreme circumstances

Work backwards — think of the ending first.

If you're a writer, there's a good chance that the ending of your story has already occurred to you. The trick is working backwards from there.

Start by listing all the events that lead up to that ending. What are the consequences of this event? What do you need in order for it to happen? This can be as simple as "an alien invasion" or more complicated: "The Xeno-Federation launches an attack against Earth using its new superweapon, which destroys 95% of humanity's military assets before being stopped by Captain Yano's actions." From there, figure out what events led up to this point: Is Captain Yano someone who would have been involved in stopping such an attack if it happened--or did she just happen upon it while traveling through space at random? And what led up to that point: How did she get her position on board an interstellar vessel in order for her actions (and/or inaction) during battle against invaders from another solar system matter so much?

Have fun!

If you're writing a novel, it's important to have fun. This is your story and no one else's; if it doesn't make sense or if the characters don't behave in ways that make them feel real, then go back and fix it!

I can tell when an author has had fun with their characters because they take risks with them--and sometimes those risks don't work out so well (but sometimes they do). This is okay because it makes the reader feel like they're in on the joke with the writer, who has been able to let go of their own expectations and just write what comes naturally instead of trying too hard for perfectionism or marketability.

Do all of these things and you can’t go wrong.

If you're a writer and you want to write science fiction, then do these things:

  • Make sure your story is about something.

  • Make it personal and emotional as well as political, social or philosophical in some way--the best science fiction has all three of these elements working together seamlessly.

  • Think about what kind of world would be different from ours (if any), but also think about why it would be that way; what caused those differences? Who benefits from them? How does this affect the characters' lives? What do they stand for? How do they change over time because of their experiences with each other and/or society at large?


So, if you want to write great science fiction, just remember these tips! Write about people and make it relatable even in the future. Ask a question that can't be answered right now, include a sense of adventure and know what you're talking about. Keep it simple by working backwards -- think of your ending first then work towards it from there. Finally, have fun with it!

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