The Ultimate Guide to Writing Science Fiction: 6 Expert Steps
Apr, 27 2021
9 min read

The Ultimate Guide to Writing Science Fiction: 6 Expert Steps

Learn the art of writing science fiction in this guide and tutorial that will get you started on the path of authorship.

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.

What Is Science Fiction?

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:

  • Hard science fiction: Includes concrete scientific details, like biology, chemistry, astrology, or physics.
  • Soft science fiction: Deals more with the economic, political, or psychological elements of the story
large bird man
Skillshare instructor and fiction writer Lincoln Michel shares a concept for a fantasy world and explains how to build your own.

Examples of Science Fiction Books and Authors

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.

  1. “Kindred” by Octavia E. Butler
  2. “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
  3. “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley
  4. “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood
  5. “The Martian” by Andy Weir
  6. “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” by N. K. Jemisin
  7. “Scythe” by Neal Shusterman
  8. “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury
  9. “Children of Blood and Bone” by Tomi Adeyemi
  10. “Six of Crows” by Leigh Bardugo
  11. “War of the Worlds” by H. G. Wells

6 Steps to Writing Science Fiction

Want to write a science fiction story? Here are six steps to get you started. 

1. Brainstorm

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. 

2. Focus on Characterization

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.

venn diagram
Fiction writer Lincoln Michel shares how to create a Venn diagram between you and your character as you work on characterization.

3. Work on World-Building

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.” 

Create Your Own Fantasy Story!

Science Fiction Fantasy Creating Unique and Powerful Worlds

4. Ensure Consistency 

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.

5. Edit Your Story

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.

6. Publish Your Science Fiction Story

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.

Lincoln Michel
Fiction writer Lincoln Michel breaks down everything budding authors need to know to write science fiction. 

Science Fiction Writing Prompts to Get You Started

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. 

  1. Aliens have landed in your hometown. What happens next?
  2. Your spaceship has landed on a new planet, and you step outside to explore for the first time.
  3. Your home has been hit by a natural disaster. When you emerge from the rubble, you discover that extraterrestrial beings have taken over the town.
  4. Your inventor grandmother has recently died and left everything to you. You discover something in her collection that changes your life forever.
  5. Your best friend is a rocket scientist. You stop by one day to help her but get trapped inside the rocket. Then, you hear an explosion.
  6. You grew up hearing stories about the fairies who live in the trees. You never believed them—until you spot something between the branches on a winter’s day walk.
  7. As you navigate a post-apocalyptic world in your wheelchair, you discover what looks like an untouched bunker.
  8. In the aftermath of a nuclear event, women survivors rise up as political leaders to form a new country.
  9. The United States government has been experimenting on human and alien DNA. As a prisoner, you’ve reluctantly been recruited to participate in a trial.

Science Fiction Writing Contests

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.

Writing science fiction is a great way to use your imagination to quite literally create a new world. 

3 FAQs About Writing Science Fiction

1. What Are the 4 Elements of Science Fiction?

Science fiction has the components of other fiction work, including characters, plot, setting, and theme. But the genre is defined by four distinct elements:

  1. It deals with an element of science, like space, technology, or physics.
  2. It uses elements of science to create unfamiliar situations. For example, characters may have supernatural powers as a result of a chemical reaction.
  3. It occurs in a strange setting, such as a futuristic society, an imaginary world, a new planet, or an alternate universe.
  4. It reflects human nature with authentic, relatable characters.

How Much Do Science Fiction Writers Make?

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.

What are the Top Mistakes to Avoid When Writing a Science Fiction Book?

When you’re writing a science fiction story, there are a few common mistakes you need to stay away from. These include:

  • Sticking to science: While physics and science principles operate one way in our reality, you don’t have to abide by them in your new reality. In fact, sticking too closely to these rules can sink your story as unnecessarily complicated and distract your reader.
  • Not including characters with diverse backgrounds. While your fantasy story may include trolls, goblins, werewolves, or vampires, you also need to ensure your characters come from diverse backgrounds. Different genders, ethnic or racial backgrounds, levels of ability, and more will make your characters more relatable to audiences.
  • Jumping into writing without world-building first. If you tried to build a foundation, walls, and flooring all at the same time, do you think your house would look correct? World-building before getting too far into your story will save you headaches later.

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. 

Written by:

Kaitlyn Arford

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