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10 Things New Science Fiction Writers Should Know

Being a science fiction creator is the most amazing adventure — you get to invent whole new worlds, brand new futures, and fantastic technologies, and you get to tell the most incredible stories about them. But it’s also a tough and heartbreaking career path, whether you’re in books, comics, movies or television. Here are 10 things that every brand new science fiction creator ought to know at the start.

Top image: guitfiddle on Deviant Art.

1) You’re still just telling personal stories

This is kind of a big one — no matter who you are or what kind of work you’re doing, you’re still telling a story that’s personally meaningful to you. Because science fiction is so idea-focused and so often driven by technologies or world-changing discoveries, it’s easy to lose sight of that. But not finding the personal story inside your huge alien-invasion narrative is the easiest way to fail. The only way to stand out, and the only way to tell stories that are going to move others, is to figure out what you’re personally connecting to in your work, no matter how clever or widescreen your premise.

2) The things everybody remembers about their favorite stories are never why those stories work

We see this all the time nowadays — once a movie or book becomes a classic, people fixate on that one cool moment or that one clever line of dialogue. (Or sometimes, they fixate on something totally random, that just became a meme for some reason.) But no matter what, that one cool moment is not why people love that story — they love it for everything that sets up the cool moment, and everything else that makes it a great story. And this is why nostalgia is so deadly — because nostalgia tends to focus on the tip of the iceberg rather than the huge frozen juggernaut beneath. So if you spend a lot of time trying to recreate the coolest moment from your favorite TV episode, you’ll miss the stuff that mostly goes unnoticed, which made people care in the first place. Nostalgia always cheats, and the only answer is to try and create your own thing.

10 Things That Every Brand New Creator of Science Fiction Should Know

Image via JadrienC/Deviant Art.

3) Science fiction is always about the time when it was created

4) Ideas aren’t stories

Basically, you need to understand the difference between a premise and a plot. (This took me years to master, and I’m still not always great at telling the difference.) A premise is “in the future, everybody has a brain chip that regulates emotion.” A plot is “one person’s brain chip malfunctions,” or “someone invents a second brain chip that allows technology, but people who have both chips go insane.” A story that just lays out a basic premise isn’t really a story at all — it’s a pitch, at best. The hard part is often turning the idea into an actual story, and see point #1 above — you need to find what’s speaking to you personally about this premise.

5) Even if you perfectly imitated your heroes, you’d still fail.

Let’s say you manage to write a book that Ursula K. Le Guin could have written, or you figure out how to direct a movie exactly like James Cameron. Leaving aside the impossibility of fully capturing the style of one of the genre’s great originals, you’ll still be kind of screwed. For one thing, even if people may say they’re looking for the next James Cameron, they don’t mean they’re looking for a carbon copy of James Cameron. It’ll just fall flat. For another, the field is constantly changing, and if you copy your heroes too much, you risk coming up with a perfect rendition of what everybody was looking for 20 years ago. Pay homage to Le Guin all you want — but you also have to work to develop your own style, that’s something new and fresh.

6) Cool story ideas are dime a dozen.

People get paranoid about having their ideas stolen, or being accused of stealing someone else’s idea, or “wasting” an idea, or whatever. But ideas really are as common as dirt, and it’s easy to come up with more. Even cool ideas. Just spend half an hour reading New Scientist, or scanning the front page of the newspaper, or watching people in a public place — story ideas come from everywhere. And they’re mostly worthless. Even if you come up with a clever story idea that would make a Hollywood producer’s ears prick up, it’s still worthless unless you can turn it into something. And that, in turn, requires coming up with a protagonist who’s fascinating and belongs in the middle of that cool idea. Ideas are easy, but stories are freakishly hard.

7) Resist the urge to give up on your characters

If your characters aren’t clicking, or if you can’t figure out how to make them go in the direction your plot needs them to go in, that usually means you need to take a step back and think about what they’re really going through and what they would really feel in that situation. It’s tempting to push them into a pat resolution that satisfies your plot needs but doesn’t actually make that much sense for the characters. It’s also tempting to fall into a bleak, “existential” ending where your characters fail, just because you’re annoyed with them and can’t figure out what else to do with them. (And there’s nothing worse than a bleak ending that hasn’t been earned.) The end of your story is not a finish line, and this isn’t a race. Sometimes you need to go back and figure out where you went wrong.

8) Trends are at least half over by the time you know about them

Seriously. Everybody who’s been around for a while has a sob story in which they (or a friend) tried to jump on that hot vampire romance trend, or that super-popular “dystopian teen fiction” trend, and then realized that the trend was already on its last legs. You shouldn’t chase trends anyway, because that’s probably not going to result in work that you’re going to feel as good about in the end. But even if trend-chasing was a good idea, bear in mind there’s a long pipeline for books and an even longer one for movies or TV — the things you see coming out right now represent the trends that are already ending.

10 Things That Every Brand New Creator of Science Fiction Should KnowSExpand

Image: Ben Wootten via Concept Ships

9) Doing your homework is half the battle

Research is a huge part of writing really good science fiction, especially if you’re speculating about future developments. Learn how to talk to scientists about their work — if you seem smart and interested in telling good stories about science, they’ll often be willing to talk toyou. Also, learn how to read scientific papers and do research. And learn how to do research about other cultures and other times, too — even if you’re not writing about them, it’ll make your worldbuilding way stronger.

10) You’re the worst judge of your own work

This never really stops being true, for a lot of us. Especially when you’ve just finished something, you often can’t see what’s working. There’s no substitute at all for getting feedback from others, and running your work past professionals as much as you possibly can. Join a critique group or take classes, just to get more feedback on your work. When you wonder why your favorite writer or director has gone downhill since they became a megastar, it’s usually because they stopped getting feedback on their work. But especially when you’re starting out, you need constant abuse to get better at your craft.


Filed under Writing

29 Character Questions

reposted from RM Anton from National Writing Month Forums

There are 30 listed, but 10 and 14 are duplicates.  Apparently, they were one a day prompts and one was repeated.

These are not only good writing prompts for exercises, but in my opinion, things you should know about your main characters in order to write them better in your stories and provide more depth.


Hi there! I posted this last year and received word that it was very useful to a number of my fellow Wrimos. So for the second time, I present you with the Thirty Question Character Survey. Either answer the questions straight up, or use them as prompts for scenes, short stories, etc.

Have fun!

01 – Introduce yourself, in great detail
02 – Your first love, in great detail
03 – Your parents, in great detail
04 – What you ate today, in great detail
05 – Your definition of love, in great detail
06 – Your day, in great detail
07 – Your best friend, in great detail
08 – A moment, in great detail
09 – Your beliefs, in great detail
10 – What you wore today, in great detail
11 – Your siblings, in great detail
12 – What’s in your bag, in great detail
13 – This week, in great detail
14 – What you wore today, in great detail
15 – Your dreams, in great detail
16 – Your first kiss, in great detail
17 – Your favorite memory, in great detail
18 – Your favorite birthday, in great detail
19 – Something you regret, in great detail
20 – This month, in great detail
21 – Another moment, in great detail
22 – Something that upsets you, in great detail
23 – Something that makes you feel better, in great detail
24 – Something that makes you cry, in great detail
25 – A first, in great detail
26 – Your fears, in great detail
27 – Your favorite place, in great detail
28 – Something that you miss, in great detail
29 – Your aspirations, in great detail
30 – One last moment, in great detail

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The “Perfect Story”

Here it is:

”               ”

I know this because EVERY guide to fiction writing, every agent, every publisher, every list of writing tips says to CUT, CUT and CUT some more.  They never mention that some authors might not be overly wordy.  The possibility has crossed my mind on occasion that even if the vast preponderance of authors write too much, there have to be at least a minute few who write just enough, or even not enough.

If truly you should cut and cut and gut every unnecessary word out of your story, then the best story, the perfect story in fact would be one with no words at all.  I have not once told instead of shown, I have not used to many adverbs.  I did not change tense.  I did not change perspective.  The brilliance of the story with no words at all, is that you are guaranteed perfection, there are no mistakes, no one can even critique your character arcs.

My story of no words is as deep or as shallow as the imagination of the reader themselves.  If they look at a blank page with no cover and laugh, then they simply don’t understand great writing – do they?  If however, they stare, intrigued, let their mind capture the essence, then awards and recognition are sure to come my way.

My only concern now with my perfect book with no words is whether I should submit it to an agent with a blank query letter with no words, or if I should self-publish it on Kindle with no descriptor or title…

I wonder how you would critique the Bible verse – Jesus wept.  Two words, but you have to CUT!

Obviously, I have been facetious to make a point.  In my personal experience, most writers I know don’t write.  They want to write.  Some are even very good at writing from things they read that they wrote long ago.  However, life, jobs, loved ones, ill health, or even the television sap the life out of their creative spirits.  They simply don’t sit down and write.  Then they are all told – CUT, you have written too much.  Wow.

Michael Stackpole told me that you are not a novelist until you have actually written a novel.  I took that to heart and finished my first novel.  He was right.  Actually finishing a novel changes you as much as losing your virginity.  You feel different.  Having sex the first time makes you feel like a real man, or real woman.  Finishing a novel makes you feel like a real novelist.  It still might not make you a good one, but at least you passed the first hurdle.

So, in my continuing effort to debunk common writing advice that is crap – just write.  Write MORE not less.  You don’t even know what to cut until you finish the story and look back.  Imagine editing a movie where you are only given the first ten minutes.  What do you leave in and what do you take out?

Finish.  Ignore everything else.  Write and actually complete something.  Then worry about editing.


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Filed under Humor and Observations, Writing

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