Starting Out Writing Sci-Fi

Given recent world events that we are living through, we may start to feel a little bit like we’re living through an episode of “Black Mirror” or something akin to science fiction. Some of us writers may even be finding ourselves tempted to foray into the genre of sci-fi just based off the fact that we have so much inspiration around us with the current pandemic that is going on. So, if you’re feeling the call of inspiration and want to try your hand at writing either a sci-fi short story, novella, or novel, below are the five elements that make up the genre of science fiction:

1. World Building

Ok, first things first. World-building is a big portion of sci-fi. Very similar to fantasy, people who read sci-fi are ready and willing to accept the impossible as possible – provided there is a plausible explanation for everything. In order to do this, you need to really build your world and make it authentic and believable. Don’t worry about using elements that have already been done – such as flying cars – just be sure to put your own spin on something that is already familiar in order to keep it fresh.

2. Unfamiliarity

Sci-fi tends to take us into a territory of unfamiliarity. It takes parts of our own world that are familiar to us – we’ll use the flying cars example again – and twists it around to make it unfamiliar and new to readers. Of course, this is where world-building really plays a major role in bringing everything to life because in sci-fi, the setting is very much integrated into the plot of the story. Furthermore, the setting also affects the action of the story as well as the characters’ lives.

3. Plausible Foundation

Believability is key when creating your world. It’s sci-fi, it’s based in science, therefore your world has to make sense. You can’t introduce futuristic technology without plausible scientific explanations for how it works. For example, you can’t write a story where humans colonize Jupiter and walk around the planet without spacesuits because it wouldn’t be believable – your audience would know that’s not possible. Of course, if you have explained that over thousands of years of terraforming, humans managed to change the atmosphere of Jupiter enough that they could get away with walking around sans spacesuits, then you have a much better story forming. Of course, in order to plausibly explain everything in your sci-fi story, you’ll probably have to conduct a bit of research. Additionally, you’ll probably also want to create a timeline of events in order to keep track of everything that happened in order to be able to avoid plot hole popping up in your story because let’s be real…setting a story 1,000 years in the future is going to have a lot of history happen in between that explain why and how things are the way they are in the present point of your story. Therefore, creating a timeline for yourself will very much help keep things linear. Of course, you don’t have to add in all 1,000 years worth of history to your story (you’re not writing a pretend history book) just the bits that make sense to add because they explain certain technologies or elements in your story.

4. Scientific Principles

Sci-fi isn’t really a genre that leaves much wiggle room for breaking laws and rules, more like gently bending them. If you do bend them, you need to be able to back it up with a plausible scientific explanation to explain it. For example, you can’t break the rule of gravity on Earth. However, you can bend the rule that Mars in uninhabitable to humans. What you need to remember when writing your story is to adhere to the scientific laws of physics and chemistry in order to ensure that the world you create can be plausibly explained in theory.

5. Character’s Reactions

Just like when you write any story, you want to do more showing, rather than telling. Of course, when you have a story that is set in another world, it’s hard to stay away from the tendency to want to explain everything. But a great way to show what is going on in your world rather than tell your audience about it, is to use your characters. Your characters using a teleportation device as easily as they would an elevator is a great way to show that teleporting has been around for a while, rather than telling your readers that it’s been a thing for years. Using a character’s reaction is good for gauging what’s old technology in your world and what’s new without explaining things to your audience. It’s a story you’re writing, not a history book.

Creating a Soothing Writing Space

With the current trending news climate, many of us may be experiencing a little more time at home than normal. For writers, this is a golden opportunity to get through all the projects that we’ve started and been meaning to finish. Personally, I’m plotting out my Camp NaNoWriMo while also planning to finish two short stories and make some changes to an old manuscript that was submitted as my master’s thesis.

However, our quest for solitude might not be as easy as we think. A global pandemic might mean that we’re not alone in our own space. Children might be sent home from school, spouses may be working from home, a whole 20-pack stack of toilet paper may have moved into our office space, Netflix’s delightful programming might seem even more delightful – there’s plenty of possible distractions.

So, what can we do about these distractions in order to get the most out of Armageddon? Well, through trial and error I’ve come up with a couple ideas to create a calming writing area to get stuff done.

1) Turn Off or Limit Social Media

Social media is a great platform to market yourself as an author and promote your books, but it’s also a black hole of panic – especially when it comes to world affairs. While yes, the memes coming out of the thing are hilarious, there is also a lot of misplaced panic and misinformation being spread as well. Therefore, for your own mental health and focus, it’s a good idea to take a step back. Not worrying about the latest trending hashtag helps you get into a writing frame of mind: calm. In addition, it also helps you avoid that late night social media spiral that keeps you up and leaves you unrested and irritable the next day.

2) Take a Walk

Before you sit down to write, it doesn’t hurt to get out of the house for a few minutes and take a walk around the block – especially if you’re feeling a little cabin feverish. As a very cliché coffee shop writer, I’ve been finding myself having a difficult time not going to my favorite coffee shop with my laptop or a notebook to write. So, I’ve been doing my best to recreate the coffee shop setting at home. However, I’m not going to lie, the cabin fever has gotten to me a bit. That is why I’ve found that going on a short jaunt around the park across the street kind of helps to get those jitters out. Fresh air definitely helps. If you have a garden you don’t even need to go out for a walk you can just enjoy the outdoors from the comfort of your backyard. It will help get you into a relaxed frame of mind where you can think about writing.

3) Recreate a Chill Space

Like I said in my previous point, I’m a writing cliché, I love to write in coffee shops come the weekend. However, since recent global events have left my part of the world on lockdown, I need to find alternative ways. So, in my quest to carve out a place of my own to write, I decided that since I couldn’t go to my coffee shop, I’d bring the coffee shop to me. That meant that I cleared a little nook at the dining room table where I lit a rose-scented candle, played a little café jazz music on a playlist, and brewed myself a cup of coffee. In these uncertain times, it’s basically all about the little joys in life. So, carving out a portion of paradise for yourself is just what you need in order to keep writing during this time. Whether it’s your living room couch, bedroom, kitchen counter, or elsewhere, pick a place in your home where you can set up a nice little nook for yourself. It doesn’t necessarily have to be exactly like mine, but it should make you feel good and safe. So, that could entail putting yourself a vase of fresh flowers, setting out some yummy writing snacks, playing your favorite music, wrapping up in your coziest blanket – whatever relaxes you and inspires you to write.

Hope you’re all keeping well and staying safe! Happy writing!