In my last post of Writing Science-Fiction for Beginners (Part 1), I focused on what science-fiction was and the beginning stages of writing your first draft.
Now, I’m getting into some of the tedious areas of creating great science-fiction. I could focus on a number of different areas and turn this post into a book in the future (noting it!). But, for now, I’ll focus on these three specific areas that I believe is important to writing sci-fi:
- World Building
The world your characters travel in should become a character itself. When I think of sci-fi, I do automatically think of distant worlds or a future filled with chrome buildings and jetpacks. Not every sci-fi needs to be futuristic, or follow the distant world formula. Some dystopian-type sci-fi stories, which are popular today, may show humanity returning back to “ye olde days” and reverting to a time when technology is no longer king.
When you are writing a piece of sci-fi, your world gives you the opportunity to create a space for your readers to disappear into. Readers might not care about every single detail that comes into play. However, they will remember worlds that come alive. Worlds that leads readers out of their comfy chairs and into the pages of your book. They want to explore these worlds and miss them when the book ends.
A great example of world building comes from Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. Area X came alive from the flora and fauna that took over part of a former city within the novel’s version of Earth. Area X wasn’t just a rainforest of sorts with a cave system and fungi that spelled out words (spoiler alert). But, it was a living and breathing animal of an environment.
There aren’t rules as to what kind of world your sci-fi should have. But, one that is unique and that includes enough trials for the main character to explore, would be a great start.
Storyline or Plot
I’ve read stories where the plot just didn’t make sense. I might’ve loved the characters and the author, but the plot became difficult to grasp. Another scenario would be that the plot was complicated. Too many side stories were being built into the original storyline and by the end, I was lost and disinterested in reading the story.
The storyline or plot (using it interchangeably) should be central to your writing. The world is where the action takes place. But, the plot should contain the action in an order that readers can follow.
Most beginning writers (myself included) may create flashbacks, flashforwards, or side stories that detract from the main plotline.
It’s important to remember that flashbacks, flashforwards, or side stories should be like seasonings to a plot “stew”. The story might’ve started on Mars, but somehow we’re sipping iced tea on grandpa’s back porch in the middle of June somewhere back on Earth…, see even I’m lost.
Unless grandpa’s back porch is important to what’s going on in Mars, then let’s keep it out of the story. Your central plot takes the key characters’ time and energy and should be the main focus.
The central plot doesn’t have to be a typical trope or stereotypical storyline. For example, the trope of a woman who is abducted by aliens and later returned to Earth pregnant is a cliche at this point. Where have you seen this before (I’m talking to you almost every sci-fi ever made since the dawn of history)?
Tropes aren’t necessarily bad if done right. They can be reworked and revitalized, i.e. the Cinderella fairytale was transformed into a popular work of sci-fi through the novel, Cinder by Marissa Meyer.
Of course, as the creator of the story, it’s your job to find out how to recreate a trope into a fresh sci-fi storyline.
If I were to describe your sci-fi story as a dish:
world building = veggies
plotline = mashed potatoes
characters = t-bone steak
The characters can be humans, humanoid aliens, a bloodsucking parasitic worm; whatever your mind produces the characters should be able to carry the story even if the world sucks and the plot is thin.
The emotional tension.
The powerful clash between two warriors.
All of these things are what makes a reader excited to read your work.
Some sci-fi writers may feel a little lazy when it comes to creating the secondary characters. Sure, we know the primary character’s favorite colors and their license plate number. But, the secondary characters, such as aliens from a different world, may all act exactly the same.
And that’s not right!
Let’s say your secondary character is an alien from a distant planet.
Aliens that come from another planet shouldn’t be exactly the same. No two humans on Earth, twins included, are not the same. They all have different religions, emotions, cultures, and so should the aliens in your story.
Yes, it may feel easier to blame a particular planet of aliens for abducting most of the human race. But, not all aliens have the same motives or even look the same. Neither should their reason for abducting humans.
This is true for villains.
Sure, a villain might want to destroy the planet, but why? It can’t just be because he’s an evil monster from planet Turde 15-C (crude name, I know).
He’s got motivation.
Something that makes him a bad guy that happened back in his childhood in his homeworld.
No, you don’t have to go into a backstory about the villain’s homeworld, but you can give him some soul so that when he gets ready to crush the hero or terrorize the planet, we know that he’s doing it for some reason bigger than just being an alien from Turde 15-C.
So, you’ve got the three components to creating a great sci-fi novel that I would be glad to read. If you have more suggestions, please leave a comment below, I’ll gladly reply. And, don’t forget to check out my latest sci-fi novel, Syphons first chapter preview.
Happy writing and keep on reading!