by Ellen Buikema
(Part 1 of this series can be found here.)
When building the world for your science fiction story, consider creating the backstory, or history.
Whether your world is an advanced space-faring civilization, about to encounter aliens, or if a virus wiped out most of the planet’s peopled population, you need to begin in the past.
How did it happen? Why did your world get to the point it’s at when your story starts?
Work backward to figure it out. What did the world look like a few years ago? Twenty years before? A century? You already know the effects. Now determine the cause.
The cause is critical for writing a well-developed world within your science fiction story. As you delve into the past, occasionally falling into the rabbit holes that we all know and love, you will find other plot points to explore.
After building your foundation, ponder the details of your story’s societies and their social structures. Spend quality time on this aspect as the more detail you have, the easier your plot building will be.
This link has a helpful template to use while word-building.
The science has to be believable. Good science makes good science fiction.
“If a work of science fiction is to be believable and engrossing, the science in it must be plausible—and the science must be understandable to the reader. Too much detail easily becomes boring and makes the readers think they are back in school being harangued by a tedious teacher. Too little detail, and the author is asking the reader to take giant “leaps of faith” undermining the credibility of a science fiction story.”William R. Leibowitz, for Writers’ Digest
Soft sci-fi stories may take place in a dystopian Earth or a futuristic society in space, below the ocean, or floating above the planet. Science still needs to be a guiding force in the world you create to be true science fiction.
Soft SF is more concerned with social aspects. The technical details of the fictional universe aren’t essential. Whereas, hard SF is grounded in scientific laws and understanding, and the elements of natural science form a critical part of the plot.
Look here for more information on soft sci-fi vs hard sci-fi in part 1 of Writing Science Fiction.
Developing sci-fi tech can be an enjoyable part of the process. It’s time to turn up your geek gauge and create new toys for your world.
Think about the following as you develop your tech:
Consider any current, real-world examples that are related to the technology. While pondering these questions let your imagination run amuck.
Peter von Stackelberg has a fantastic guide to writing sci-fi technology.
Now that you’ve built your world, it’s time to populate it.
Keep your story’s themes in mind when creating your protagonists and antagonists. How will their traits, flaws, and character growth weave into the subject matter?
Characters need motivations and goals that make sense within the world paradigm. They should also have flaws that are relatable to the readers. Those imperfections can contribute lots of tension in the story.
Something is wrong in your characters’ life. They need to reach their goal and an object, person, formula or other impediments are in the way. Therein lie the conflicts.
Your main characters advance toward their goal via the plot. When writing science fiction, the way your characters fail and succeed depends on science. Sometimes it’s in the math.
The science in your story might be causing your characters' problems keeping them from achieving their goals.
Ian McEwan, who wrote Machines like Me, had this to say,
“There could be an opening of a mental space for novelists to explore this future, not in terms of traveling at 10 times the speed of light in anti-gravity boots, but actually looking at the human dilemmas of being close up to something that you know to be artificial but which thinks like you,” McEwan told an interviewer with The Guardian.
“If a machine seems like a human or you can’t tell the difference, then you’d jolly well start thinking about whether it has responsibilities and rights and all the rest.”
What do we do when the line drawn is fuzzy?
Now that you’ve figured out what role science plays in your character’s development and story arc, you’re ready to roll!
What technology would you invent for a sci-fi story? How would your world be different? Do you prefer stories where the science hinders or when it helps?
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Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents, and The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon chapter book series with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Works In Progress are The Hobo Code, YA historical fiction and Crystal Memories, MG Magical Realism/ Sci-Fi.
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