Writing science fiction can be an equally arduous and amazing process.
Luckily, we have some expert advice aimed at making your writing journey easier. Let’s look at how you can begin your quest to write a complex and compelling sci-fi story.
Science fiction is a genre that has lasted for generations. But if you’re wondering, “what is sci fi?” that’s understandable. The genre varies widely, ranging from dystopian fantasies to cyberpunk stories to tales of futuristic or intergalactic societies.
In short, science fiction encompasses stories that share a reality that’s different from the one we know.
In general, there are two types of science fiction:
If you want to learn how to write science fiction, it’s helpful to start by reading science fiction examples.
We’ve compiled a list of science fiction books that range from classics to new releases that are appropriate for both young adults and adults.
Want to write a science fiction story? Here are six steps to get you started.
You’re not only writing a science fiction story—you’re also drafting an entirely unique storyline in a new setting. That means you have a lot to come up with.
Start by brainstorming your fantasy world, characters, and overall theme. In sci-fi, your story often begins with the simple question: What if?
You can always start with a science fiction writing prompt to get the ideas flowing (don’t worry—we’ll share a few a little later), or you can simply start thinking about elements you’d like to weave into your story.
Even if they exist in a fantasy setting, you have to create realistic characters. To get inside your characters’ heads, consider how your experiences overlap with those of the characters you’re creating.
“As writers of science fiction and fantasy, we have to find what I call portals into our characters’ heads,” says Skillshare instructor Lincoln Michel. “One handy exercise I found to do this is to use a Venn diagram in which you have two overlapping circles. On one side, it’s you, the author, and the other side, your character.” This visual tool helps you see what experiences or areas of interest you could have in common with the character you’re creating.
World-building doesn’t have to mean creating a whole world—it just refers to creating a different reality than our own.
Michel says to think about the “ripple effect” of making a change to your world.
“Thinking through those ripple effects is how we come up with stories that feel real, that have verisimilitude to them,” he says. “At the same time, world-building is also all about constraint. Because you cannot put everything that you’ve come up with on the page.”
Science Fiction Fantasy Creating Unique and Powerful Worlds
When you are writing science fiction, you have to create consistent rules for your universe. Fantasy worlds often include mythological, fairytale, or technological tropes, but they also have to feel distinct.
In the “Harry Potter” series, for example, wizards need to go to magic school and use a wand to perform magic. In “Game of Thrones,” different families have access to different kinds of mythical creatures or advantages, and the story focuses on the political aspects of their world.
If you are writing a trilogy or a fantasy with multiple volumes, you need to make sure that your world-building is consistent across them. Once you’ve set the rules of your world into place, prioritize cohesiveness. Establishing limitations also helps your story from feeling overpowered.
Revision, revision, revision! Every story needs a red pen taken to it to make it great.
Review your characterization, and take another look at your world-building efforts. If you can, loop in a friend to read your work and give you constructive feedback. If you want more in-depth edits, it may be time to consult an editor or experienced literary expert who can review your work with a critical eye.
Now that the hard work is done, it’s time for the most rewarding part: publishing your story!
Some science fiction authors go the self-published route, while others will work with a literary agent in the sci fi genre. You can also publish your story through writing contests, which we’ll get into detail on shortly.
Now that you have a list of things you should know when writing science fiction, it’s time to put those skills to work!
Here are a few science fiction writing prompts to get your gears turning.
There’s another way to earn attention and money for your science fiction writing: science fiction writing contests.
There are hundreds of literary contests and awards that you can compete for—far more than we could list here.
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has a whole list of awards to apply for (and advice on spotting scams). You can also check out writer’s publications like Writer’s Digest and The Writer Magazine that list contests and often host their own.
Science fiction has the components of other fiction work, including characters, plot, setting, and theme. But the genre is defined by four distinct elements:
The amount of money you earn as a science fiction writer depends on a variety of factors. Traditionally published authors often make more than self-published authors, and their book sales (and salaries) rise when a book is adapted for film or TV.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that authors made an average salary of $63,200 in 2019. A 2018 survey by The Authors Guild discovered a median of $6,080 for all writers, with full-time authors earning a median income of $20,300.
However, famous sci fi authors can make much more. “Game of Thrones” author George RR Martin makes $15 million from the TV show and $10 million from his books annually, according to Mental Floss. Leigh Bardugo, author of “Six of Crows,” has earned seven figures for two books signed with Random House, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
When you’re writing a science fiction story, there are a few common mistakes you need to stay away from. These include:
Writing science fiction can feel daunting, but it’s also a fulfilling and enlightening process. Use this as your guide, and you’re well on your way to pulling together your first story.
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