When it comes to writing science fiction, the possibilities are endless. Your imagination is the only limitation. In regards to the story itself, however, that’s not always the case.
While science fiction provides a writer with incredible potential, story should not ever take a back seat by any means.
This is a common trap most science fiction falls into. Take Jupiter Ascending for example; it relies heavily on the spectacle and the intricacies of the world rather than the the story it’s trying to tell.
Science fiction can easily become style over substance, and ends up being quite messy
Here are a few general tips to fix those problems:
1. Do Your Research
Read the subtitle again.
One more time.
Okay, now that I’m sure you’ve got it, let me explain it further.
Doing research is essential for any great story, but especially for science fiction. I cannot stress this enough. It is extremely vital to do your research when writing science fiction.
For example, say you want your characters to rip around in space with a form of faster-than-light travel (FTL). Now while I don’t expect anyone (including myself) to understand FTL (mainly because it doesn’t exist…), but you should at least look up some theorized versions of FTL and know which one you’re going to use.
Even if your audience is never told which type of FTL you’re using, you should know. This will not only help keep things consistent, but will also make your story more sensible and will pretty much form its own rules for you to stick to.
Also, researching foreign planets, robotic technology, nanotechnology, or whatever you want to add to your story will never be a bad thing. The more you understand the basics of technology (or theorized technology) the more practical you can make your story.
Again, the audience doesn’t necessarily need to know the specifics, but you as the world creator should know those things.
2. Follow Your Established Rules
This very much goes along with doing your research. In science fiction many of the world’s established rules will come from the writer.
FOLLOW THOSE RULES!!
Following the rules you establish not only makes complete sense, but also will help shape your story and keep it from getting too messy.
To use FTL as an example again, if you establish how long it takes for a ship to get from one planet to another, don’t ever change that. Don’t suddenly invent a reason why it can travel faster to beat the villain to the sacred elixir.
This can be extremely frustrating to the audience if they catch you breaking your own rules.
3. No Deus Ex Machinas
Again, this ties in with the above topic. Quite often when writers break those types of rules it ends up being a deus ex machina.
Even though it’s not science fiction, an example of this would be the eagles from The Lord of the Rings. Now I don’t want to bash those books/films, because I thoroughly enjoy them, but I have to be honest with myself.
If you didn’t know, a deus ex machina is an unexpected power or event that comes to the rescue in a hopeless situation. It translates from Latin to “god from the machine.”
They are stupid. Period.
Deus ex machinas are not very believable. Something coming out of nowhere to help our heroes (like the eagles) is too coincidental and a lazy way of writing a way out of a problem.
Explain or at least mention things earlier on in the story if you plan on using them as an integral plot device later on.
The use of eagles to bail out our heroes comes completely out of left field. Again, these books/films are not science fiction, but I’m using it because it is such a clear example.
Don’t do this. Find ways to allude to things you plan on using or even better, come up with ways for your heroes to succeed that just make sense and work with the world you’ve created.
4. Careful Politics
Basically, don’t do what the Star Wars prequel trilogy did. Don’t focus on the politics of your world, when it’s not a political drama. Yes, it’s important for you to understand these things, but they should merely dictate how your world works, you shouldn’t show it to your audience.
The main reason for this is this is boring and no one cares. (The only exception to all of this would be if your story revolves around politicians and your story is about politicians in the future.)
But I’m not just talking about government politics. I’m also referring to over explaining how your world works. Often in science fiction there will be a character whose sole purpose to give the main character (and therefore the audience) a massive info dump on how everything in this world works.
This is easily avoidable. You can easily write these things into the story so they come out naturally. It might take a little longer to write, but it is totally worth it in the end.
This can be accomplished by tactics such as visuals or one-off lines of dialogue. Use description in your script that could translate into explaining things visually. Often a secondary character may be given a singular line that draws the audience’s attention to what they need to understand.
The 1927 science fiction film Metropolis does this very well. Despite the fact it’s a silent film, we quickly understand the conflicts going on and the rules of this world. We immediately see the contrast of how the rich versus the poor live; the poor gruel all day long in dirty conditions to keep the city running, while the rich live in high rises and live the life of luxury.
Show us how the world works, don’t tell us.
5. Make Your World Unique
Lastly, make your world something no one else has ever seen.
Now I know this seems hard, because as they say: “There is nothing new under the sun.”
So you’re not going to come up with a purely original idea, but somewhere out there in your imagination, there is a twist to a pre-existing idea yet to be discovered.
There are an infinite amount of twists to concepts that already exist. You might think this statement false, but think of this: what if the Jedi were evil and the Sith were the good guys? How much would Star Wars change?
A whole lot!
So you can see that even the slightest of twists can have massive “consequences” to an already existing story.
Take Fight Club for example. (***SPOILERS***) It eventually revealed that the Narrator and Tyler Durden were the same person. It was a crazy twist no one saw coming. The film still would have had a great story without the twist, but it added much more of a reason to be interested.
So keep that in mind when you’re trying to come up with something new and unique. You have to find the “it” factor.
I hope these tips are helpful and give you something to think about.
Now I know these tips might make you think writing science fiction is now a lot harder, but I’m just trying to make a point. I use extremes to get my point across.
You can write amazing science fiction stories! This I am sure of.
Remember, your imagination is your limit, just keep yourself grounded.