In honor of Star Wars Day (May the 4th), I thought it would be a good idea to have the theme for this month’s article be about writing Science Fiction. Some people may disagree about this popular franchise being Sci-Fi and think it is more of a fantasy or drama. To be honest, after doing the research I am inclined to agree. Let us explore the details of what makes a story Science Fiction further.
The basics of a story is a plotline which follows the exploits of the main characters as they attempt to resolve a conflict while making their way to their intended goal. So how exactly does Sci-Fi differ from other genres? Science Fiction (also referred to as ‘’speculative fiction’’) is just that, fiction about science. At its core, science fiction is about people dealing with situations that are out of the ordinary for the audience. The protagonist will experience encounters or events that focus on scientific discovery and human innovations. Its stories contains elements which are based on modern scientific facts or ideals, but that are expanded to unforeseen or even improbable levels.
While writing science fiction, the goal is to create the worlds and societies of tomorrow by exaggerating the facts of the present day. To explore possibilities and human nature through exposure to subjects, situations or scenarios that are otherwise impossible or unlikely to happen. This can be incredibly tricky, but luckily, there are some simple guidelines to help authors along.
RULE 1: DO SOME RESEARCH
There are as many different types of Sci-Fi as there are scientific fields; political, psychological, social, technological, etc. Details are what sell science fiction, so the more research you do into a selected field, the more confident you will feel and the more ideas will come to you.
It is not necessary to study to a point where you earn a Phd, but it would be helpful to acquire an understanding of scientific elements, a grasp of scientifically established facts and knowledge of how to feed this information to the audience (for more details on how to control the flow of information, see my post showing and telling).
RULE 2: FORM AN IDEA
The basics of creating science fiction stories revolve around addressing a modern day scientific aspect, then asking the ever popular ‘what if..?’. There are two different approaches to this query: prediction or speculation.
Prediction is when fiction is created by extrapolation. By taking what is currently known to science, the author then guesses as to how it will change over time. This can focus on anything from various technologies, to social trends or even climate changes. When trying to predict the evolution of a science, event or practice, look for documentation on a similar situation from the past, as it could help extrapolate results. For example, for writing a story about aliens colonising on earth, maybe read books on how the Europeans colonized America.
Speculation is when an author adds elements based on theories or concepts that have no firm evidence of their probability or their existence. Intelligent alien life, faster than light travel or teleportation are classic examples of speculation in science fiction. Researching for this approach can be tricky, as it requires some level of ingenuity. For example, no clear documentation exists on intelligent alien lifeforms, so for creating an imaginary race from scratch, research other lifeforms that are documented and have uncommon attributes; natural camouflage, regenerative abilities, extra limbs, etc.
Here are a few popular examples for ideas using these approaches:
- What if artificial intelligence became sentient?
- What if intelligent alien life landed on earth?
- What if social media eliminated all need for physical interaction?
- What if pollution caused an unforeseen global natural disaster?
- What if dinosaurs still existed?
RULE 3: PUSH
Once you have your central idea, it’s time to ignore the limitations of modern day science and push said idea past any known boundaries, achieving the characteristic feel of Sci-Fi. Imagine how your concept would impact your society and setting, and what changes occur because of them say five, ten, even a hundred years down the road.
The challenge with science fiction, however, is to keep the science plausible, and not push it so far as it becomes unrealistic (even by fiction standards). It is best to keep your ideas clear and straightforward. Of course stories often contain several plots and themes unfolding simultaneously, so try to link most details from the setting or characters back to your central idea, this will help minimize inconsistencies and long winded explanations (also known as the dreaded ‘’infodumps’’).
In closing, the most important thing I learned today, is that science fiction requires the writer to look at things differently, to think outside the box and not to be afraid to push the limits. Research is also very important, as it will make your stories more compelling.
Until next time!
**All images in this post are considered public domain under the Creative Commons law (CC0)**