The Science Fiction Writer’s Journey

Motivation: That movie had so many plot holes. I could write something a million times better.
Sergeant Hugo Steel climbed out of his hibernation pod and checked the monitors. Everything was going smoothly.

Revelation: Characters need goals.
Sergeant Hugo Steel climbed out of his hibernation pod and checked the monitors. Everything was going smoothly. After three hundred years in suspended animation, he really needed a coffee.

Revelation: Technology will change how people behave.
Sergeant Hugo Steel climbed out of his hibernation pod and checked the monitors. Everything was going smoothly. After three hundred years in suspended animation, he really needed a coffee. He injected a dose of neo-coffee into his bloodstream.

Revelation: Science fiction stories need cool ideas.
Sergeant Hugo Steel climbed out of his hibernation pod. He opened the adjacent pod and was horrified to discover a man who looked exactly like him. When Steel looked closer, the man’s face flickered as though it were a hologram. It was then that Steel realized — he was a clone trapped in a virtual reality simulation!

Revelation: Readers need to be emotionally invested in the character.
Captain Hugo Steel climbed out of his hibernation pod and brushed his long, luxuriant hair from his eyes. He opened the adjacent pod and was horrified to discover a man who looked exactly like him. When Hugo looked closer, the man’s face flickered as though it were a hologram. It was then that Hugo realized — he was a clone trapped in a virtual reality simulation!

Revelation: If you want to write science fiction, you should read science fiction.
Captain Hugo Steel climbed out of his hibernation pod and brushed his long, luxuriant hair from his eyes. The monitor in front of him was the color of a screen tuned to a low bandwidth streaming channel. After three hundred years in suspended animation, he really needed a dose of spice.

Revelation: Your opening needs to grab readers.
Captain Hugo Steel leaped out of his hibernation pod. Something was wrong! He grabbed his gun and hurried down the corridor. He was going to kill every last one of the alien intruders.

Revelation: Specific details anchor the reader in your world.
Captain Hugo Steel leaped out of his Nakagawa Corp Hibernation Pod. Something was wrong! He grabbed his hand-crafted Takashi Ultrapistol and hurried down the corridor. He was going to kill every last one of the Ver’geth alien intruders.

Revelation: Show, don’t tell.
Captain Hugo Steel leaped out of his Nakagawa Corp Hibernation Pod. The air was thick with the stench of burst intestines. He grabbed his hand-crafted Takashi Ultrapistol and hurried down the corridor. “I’m going to kill every last one of you Ver’geth alien intruders!” he screamed.

Revelation: Writing should engage all five senses.
Captain Hugo Steel leaped out of the silky smooth cushions of his Nakagawa Corp Hibernation Pod. The air was thick with the stench of burst intestines and the sound of alarms. He gulped down a dose of spicy coffee, its bitter taste refreshing him. He gazed in awe at the hand-crafted beauty of his Takashi Ultrapistol, then hurried down the corridor. “I’m going to kill every last one of you Ver’geth alien intruders!” he screamed.

Revelation: Editors want diverse stories.
Major Akira Steel leaped out of the silky smooth cushions of his Nakagawa Corp Hibernation Futon. The air was thick with the stench of burst intestines and the sound of alarms. He gulped down a dose of plasma ramen, its umami taste refreshing him. It was a shame none of the white people on the ship knew how to cook plasma ramen the way it was made in Neo-Tokyo. He gazed in awe at the hand-crafted beauty of his Takashi Ultrapistol, but decided he was going to rely on his space fu combat training instead. “I’m going to kill every last one of you Ver’geth alien intruders!” he screamed.

Revelation: Too many bad stories begin with a character waking up.
Major Akira Steel was ready for bed after a long day working out in the space fu dojo. He was brushing his teeth when the alien invasion alarm sounded. He dropped his toothbrush and hurried down the corridor. “I’m going to kill every last one of you Ver’geth alien intruders!” he screamed.

Revelation: In media res.
“…kill every last one of you Ver’geth alien intruders!” he screamed. He kicked an alien in the head, splitting its mandibles as though they were overripe instant noodle cartons.

Revelation: Great science fiction comments upon contemporary society.
“What are you reading?” Sergeant Amy Parker asked.
Major Akira Steel sighed and put down his book. “A Catwalk Orange. It’s a tale of a dystopian future where innocent citizens are harassed by ungrateful beauty pageant contestants.”

Revelation: Write what you know.
Major Akira Steel’s poem had been rejected again. This rejection from the Martian Academy stung even more than the time the Ver’geth Queen had held him in its writhing mandibles.

Revelation: Stories need to have important stakes.
“If we don’t stop the Ver’geth mother ship, it will destroy the whole galaxy!” Major Akira Steel shouted at the stupid Galactic Senator.

Revelation: Stories need rising tension.
Major Akira Steel stared at the galactic map. It was worse than he thought. There were two Ver’geth mother ships. They were each going to destroy an entire galaxy!

Revelation: The young adult market is huge.
The civil war tearing apart the galaxy had ruined Akira’s dreams of graduating from Space Academy.
Natalie tossed back her hair and pointed to the monitor. “The rebels are hiding in the plasma ramen factory.”
The family of Akira’s ex-girlfriend owned that factory. Could he betray the girl he had once thought he was going to marry?
Natalie put her hand on his chest. “If you really love me, you’ll nuke that ramen.”

Revelation: Good stories have subtext.
Akira stared yearningly as the rocket thrust away from the launch pad and penetrated the black hole. One day he would be old enough to go into space. One day he would be a real man.

Revelation: My ex-girlfriend was holding back my writing career.
Colonel Akira Steel stepped out of the ship and onto Mars’ surface.
The crying woman waiting in front of the ship couldn’t stop sobbing. “Thank goodness you survived. The virus wiped out all of the other men on Mars.”

Revelation: Traditional publishing is for suckers.

Revelation: Successful self-published writers produce lots of books.

Revelation: Successful self-published writers need a strong social media platform.

Revelation: Nobody reads any more.

Dear Arthur McScalzi,
Congratulations on your enrolment in the How to Write Apps course. With a little hard work you’ll soon join the ranks of developers earning millions!