When you pick up a sci-fi novel or short story there are certain things as a reader you’d expect out of the piece. Whether the work consists of alien invasions, dystopian, shifters, or colonizers on a new planet, you want the piece to ultimately make you think what if at the end of the story.
Do you get excited over the full-length explanation of how gravity works? Or do you find yourself heading over to the part of the book where the fight scene between the hero and the invading overlords take place (I’m guilty of that)?
If you’re a writer, and you also enjoy good sci-fi, maybe you’ve wondered what makes a story hard to put down? This list isn’t exhaustive by any means, but it contains five core things I look for when reading (or writing) a sci-fi story from cover-to-cover.
Pacing is important to the tempo of the book. As someone who is trying to become immersed in a new world, you don’t want to become bogged down by drawn-out conversations or speedy fights that end with a meh. You want a story that makes you anxious to turn the pages.
No one enjoys being forced to read a book just to get it over with. And, some sci-fi novels may do this, even unintentionally.
From a writer’s point of view, you may need to explain how plasma gets into a laser gun. But, it may not be important to explain this while the alien princess is about to get her brains blown.
Like most things in life, if it takes forever or it ends too quickly. I’m not interested. I think for writers this would be a gut reflex or a feeling that pops up, maybe after a critique or two. Coming from a reader’s point of view, if I’m not entertained, I’ll just turn on the TV or start reading Yahoo News articles on my phone.
You know the main character of the story is probably not human especially if it’s sci-fi that’s hardcore or taking place in a totally different world. How on Earth am I going to relate to a creature I’ve never met or knew existed? That’s something only a great writer can accomplish. And, when they do, it makes the story even more exciting.
I love it when characters in the novel share a flaw or some gift that is something I possess (or at least wish to possess). I want to be able to step into their shoes and understand their point of view. And, if they’re relatable then I can’t put the book down.
Even when it comes to an antagonist. If the villain has a soulful moment, before taking out the hero’s world with a laser cannon, then I know the writer knows what they’re doing. Relatable characters add that dash of spice into a piece of literature that makes the reader want to see the character succeed or fail in any of their endeavors.
Location, location, location
When was the last time you read a book about a country you’ve never visited and next thing you know, you’re trying to figure out how to scrape up the money to visit? Some sci-fi writers have the ability to make you feel like you need a SpaceX ticket stat.
One of my favorite authors, Gini Koch, knows how to propel her readers into a new world, whether it is a parallel universe or a different planet, entirely. At the end of the ride, you miss the location and wish you could’ve gotten a souvenir, but at least you have the memories.
If a writer can successfully transport you from your comfy couch with the cat in your lap, and send you somewhere in an alien rainforest surrounded by two-headed elephants, giant insects and torrential downpours of acid rain. Then, clearly, you’ve got a book and author worth reading.
Plot Makes Sense Even if It’s Not Possible (on Earth)
You know explosions in space don’t make a sound. But, even after realizing that it still makes a sci-fi flick more entertaining. This is true for sci-fi stories, where there seems to be more fiction than science in play.
If your story is filled with aliens, dragons, or a combination of the two, then as long as the laws you create for these creatures make sense throughout the story or series, then your readers shouldn’t feel lost.
Maybe the planet a team of colonizers just landed on is filled with breathable air. That’s acceptable as long as the main hero doesn’t die at the end of the book due to a lack of oxygen outside of his biosphere.
Action with Meaning Behind It
You read a great sci-fi, you get to the fight scene. And, now the main character decides to start a war, just because. If the reason for the battle is petty, you can lose your readers fast.
There needs to be a reason behind the madness. Why is the main character breaking faces and taking names later? Is it because of an inbred hatred for a particular creature? Or is it something deeper?
Another thing that falls under this category is the romance.
I could write a whole other post about romance in other genres, but I’ll keep it short.
The romantic duo needs a reason for their coming together or break-up. And, it doesn’t need to be as extreme as an alien baby or a mystical bond that keeps them attached to the hip. If there’s a good reason for the characters to be together, then you need to make it believable in the story. Otherwise, readers are just going to think the romantic part is just fanservice.
As I mentioned before, this list is not exhaustive. What are some things that you believe makes a great sci-fi story? Comment below and let me know.
Thanks for reading!