5 Tips for Writing Science Fiction Stories
Finding some great resources to get started…
Today I spent my day immersed in UC Riverside’s Eaton Collection which apparently is one of the largest collections of publicly “accessible” Science Fiction books, novels, and comics in the world with over 300,000 items.
I went with my wife because we’re attempting a fun journey together of writing a science fiction novel together as a fun couple thing to do! We’re both Science Fiction nerds and love various aspects like Time Travel, so we wanted to do some research.
There’s a trick however, you can’t just walk in and peruse the books like a normal library, you actually have to sign up for an account and request the books 24 hours in advance. So when we got there, we discovered that we couldn’t access ANY of the books, except a few of the online ones that had just been added to the collection in the last year.
SO, we delved into some of the available titles.
The first one that was available was a pretty cool title:
There were a series of collected excerpts that were AWESOME and really a good taste of what Science Fiction was capable of doing in terms of story.
But delving into this genre more, we started to ask ourselves:
What is Science Fiction?
What does Science Fiction mean? What is it supposed to do?
Why does it exist?
Me, being of Chinese decent, remembered that Science Fiction when directly translated from the Chinese words for Science Fiction actually is: Scientific Imagination Fiction
So, Science Fiction the genre has very strong roots in Science, but also has extremely strong connections to Imagination which means taking what we know in the present and extrapolating possible scenarios that don’t yet exist in the real world, aka, possible scenarios that exist in a potential future.
Many of our favorite Sci-Fi references come from today’s TV Shows and Movies such as:
- Back to the Future
- Ender’s Game
- Star Trek
- Dr. Who
- Star Wars
- Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
These are great starters and they all provoke the viewer/reader/watcher to see the world differently. They challenge the paradigm of our world and what is and provoke us to think of a world and what could be.
Science Fiction empowers us to create a better future instead of thinking “there’s no hope” or passively watching as the world goes by.
From Utopia to Dystopia, the worlds that are built in today’s science fiction cause us to stop and think about a possible future we might inhabit one day and that we as a human race have a profound impact on what the future could and should be.
Most stories are dystopian not because they want to spread doom and gloom to everyone but simply to warn the world that if we continue down a certain path, there are certain consequences if we don’t change our actions. Making us think, “Is that the future we want to live in?” If not, then we’d better take action and change it.
For us, we like happy, utopian stories. Those filled with hope and optimism of a world that’s better than the one we’re currently living in.
So as we begin this journey, there are already a ton of things that we’ve learned in starting to write a science fiction story.
1. Read a lot of Science Fiction
This genre is huge. There’s speculative fiction, steampunk, “new weird” fiction, hard science fiction, space opera, scientific romance, cyberpunk, dieselpunk, etc.
You have to choose which genre is your favorite and you can only do that by exposing yourself to some of the greats:
- Samual Delaney
- Ursula K. LeGuin
- Isaac Asimov
- Robert Heinlein
- Arthur C. Clarke
- Ray Bradbury
- H.G. Wells
- William Gibson
- Kim Stanley Robinson
That’s just a few that they should be able to get you started. If you follow anything with Elon Musk, you’ll see that most of his amazingly grand ideas are founded in science fiction literature and ideals for a better future.
2. Watch a lot of Science Fiction
The next best thing to reading is to watch stories through the film and television medium because that’s how the majority of the world is exposing themselves now to Science Fiction even though they may not realize it.
Start with the familiar ones that we’ve listed at the beginning of this article. But recent movies include:
- Ex Machina
- Cloud Atlas
One of our super favorites is a recent anime movie called Your Name which apparently was the 3rd highest grossing animé movie in Japan OF ALL TIME. It finally got released here in the United States with an English Dub and we fell in love with it! It’s not for everyone, but those who like time travel and high school romance will definitely have a good ride.
Most good Sci-Fi films are grounded in a good book or short story first since that’s where the author can really explore the concept and world he’s trying to create.
They challenge you and make you think of a world different from today.
3. Ask Yourself These Questions
Imagination + Story
You first have to start with Imagination which is the “What If?” concept of your story. The world that you imagine where you ask, “What if this happened?” or “What if this was possible?”
Then after you introduce that concept and we’ve all bought into it, then the story with all its characters and setting and theme and structure unfolds from there and opens your mind to what could happen.
And you want a good takeaway: What is the Question I want them to leave with? after they finish the story?
Maybe you don’t want to knock them over the head with a message of hope and goodness, but perhaps you want them to walk away with better questions than they started the journey with.
Who am I?
Am I really who I say I am?
Am I all I should be?
How can I become all I can and should be?
They’ll start to question where they are, where the world is, is this where thye want to be? If not, how do they get there? and How to go about doing that?
Science Fiction can be grounded in science but can touch the mystical through myth. The dreams of today, we will be doing in the future very shortly.
4. Let your reader see themselves in your story
All great stories allow the readers to see themselves in the story almost as if they ARE the character and are actively going through the events that your character is going through.
One of my favorite quotes is:
A story well told… can change the world.
And so you have to allow the world to see themselves in the story and walk away changed because of it.
The one thing we love about Star Trek is that its episodic nature lended itself to be a “weekly morality tale” where you learned a lesson about how to live a better life.
As Robert McKee said in his keystone book Story:
Story is metaphor for life.
You want the reader to ask the question: How would this unfold if I was in the story?
Thus science fiction is where metaphor is literalized. It is imagination literalized.
5. Think of your story like a “historical simulation”
You start with the human experience and think of how it could be improved or made better.
Think of your story of people in the present reading a story about the future talking about the present. Essentially all science fiction is set in the present with real-life current issues happening right at this moment. So all science fiction stories that we’re familiar with have to be taken in the context with which they were written in order to see the whole picture.
But basically science fiction is like a simulation of possible realities. Science fiction stories don’t represent the future, they simulate the possible future of experience that we all plausibly might have one day.
After your reader finishes your story, they’ll go home and ultimately become the type of person you wanted them to be because of the picture you painted and the world that you built.
That’s an awesome responsibility that should be taken with great care to inspire people to hope for more than they are. We only have one world, one humanity, one life, let’s make it a good one.
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Jonathan Chew is a Disney Imagineer, multi-potentialite, writer, coach, inspirational speaker, and work-in-progress. He lives in Los Angeles with his newly-wedded wife. He’s on Twitter @jonathangchew, is the co-author of Secrets to Being a World Changer, and is on a mission to “Chews” Joy.
He is also a Coach, so sign-up if you want to talk more :)