Thursday, December 9, 2010

Aspiring Advice: What Makes Sci Fi Tricky

When I first began writing, I had a colossal idea for a science fiction epic, something that might even stand with the greats like Star Trek, Star Wars, or Firefly (if I can polish it right), and while this idea is still safe from other creative minds, the story itself has complications. From what? Inexperienced writing, for the most part, and simply not knowing how to apply good science. But then, if I'm making stuff up, why do I have to be more careful than fantasy? This week, I'll cover a few aspects that make writing science fiction a tricky business.

This week's picture comes from 2001: A Space Odyssey - great book, great movie, but there is a problem: the date. By now, we should have large space stations orbiting Earth, moon bases, and have accomplished a manned mission to Jupiter. As we can all see, this hasn't happened yet. This doesn't change the context of the story, by any means, but you have to admit that the setting is compromised, as is any setting when high science fiction is portrayed in the near future (within a few generations). Back to the Future: Part II has a similar problem. Now, stories like Alien, Avatar, and Mass Effect have avoided this by placing the story in a future far enough away from our time line that when the year 2150 rolls along, everyone alive right now will be dead and these stories will be ignored for cooler, newer stories. In short, if you're going to set a date in your high sci fi, play it safe and keep your distance.

Even though it's science fiction, story and character should come before the science. What makes Star Wars such an enduring, expanding property? "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . ." If the events of Star Wars happened in the past and in a different galaxy, that's almost like fantasy, in that you can do just about anything you want. And they did, but why it works is because no one gets into the science of it. Watching the movies alone, I still don't know how their hyperdrive works or what keeps a lightsaber from expanding more than a few feet, but I don't need to. It works for them and it moves the story along is a cool way. In short, when getting into the science of your story, focus more on character and plot rather than the nifty hardware (or, at the very least, what's behind the panels).

To make things real when they don't exist, you'll need to have a theory to back up your setting, whether actual or of your own making. Be careful when making your own, because the thing about theories is that they are always changing, based on new findings. For example, the method of space travel that I devised back in the late 90s for my story is completely worthless now because of astronomical discoveries in the last couple years. When the time comes to revise it, I'll have to scrap it, apply better science, and be more subtle about it. In short, research the science you plan to use for your story and follow the "real world" rules for it.

The only real difference between science fiction and fantasy is that science fiction has to be tangible, or rather, something that may eventually become fact at a later date. In fantasy, you can pretty much do whatever you want, but the most liked fantasy has rules and consequences for their magic systems and settings, but you can still make those up! The field is wide open.

These are all suggestive tips and not the rule. Explore your world(s) however you see fit. Thanks for clicking into the Laire. See you next time!

I'm David, and these tissues have aloe in them.


  1. I was just thinking about this very subject not long ago. I realized that people, for the most part, want to believe a story, and that if I'm going to write a good story, it should be written for the casual reader with no science degree, and not Steve Hawking. Thanks for the post!

  2. Hi David! There's an award for you on my blog.

  3. So true! I love fantasy for the fact that you can just make up stuff. But scifi IS SO COOL because it does involve things that can actually happen one day! How can that not be cool to read about!? With awesome plots and characters thrown in too of course!

    And...we don't have civilizations on other planets yet? *jipped!*

  4. Exactly, Hanny. Thanks for sharing that. At the time I thought, "I'm writing for adults, so I should write with lots of big words and stuff." Big mistake :)

    Thank you, Alexia! I'm honored. Now I just need to figure out how these awards work and find someone else to pass it along to :)

    Colene - I'm sure other civilizations are out there. We just don't have any "evidence" yet. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!