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7 Essential Tips for Writing a Gripping Science Fiction Novel | Explained by UK Book Editor

So, you’ve always been a fan of the genre, and now you’ve decided to go about writing your own science fiction masterpiece. You’ve got a killer idea, a handful of interesting characters, and a setting to make a tech-head swoon. Maybe you even have a plot mapped out, or at least a few interesting scenes ready-to-go. But now what?

Well, now comes the difficult part — translating those pieces into a complete, engaging narrative and adhering to the genre conventions enough that you write the sort of book you want to write.

This is a lot to consider, and maybe as you’ve started, you’ve begun to overthink the whole thing — what makes science fiction good? What makes it “science fiction” for that matter? As with any genre, there are as many rules as there are exceptions to those rules, but there are a few key things to keep in mind when approaching this sort of writing.

Luckily for you, I’ve got a handy guide here, ready to give you a handful of tips to consider while you craft your masterwork.

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1. Science Fiction is Based on Speculation

More so than any other genre, science fiction is future-leaning, which means the heart of these stories is speculative. But what does that mean for an aspiring sci-fi author?

Ask good questions of your story and of your world. You should have some key idea or quandary that you want to explore; this could be as simple as: “What sort of lawyers will be needed in a hundred years?” to something more complex and existential like: “At what point in the technological revolution does humanity become something else?”

Wherever your interest lies, this sort of speculation is what sci-fi fans really crave, and it's the kind of thinking that forms the soul of any sci-fi work.

Keep in mind though that good sci-fi asks interesting and puzzling questions, but that doesn’t mean you have to find any solid answers. Sometimes, speculation is enough, and there are some quandaries that can’t be wrapped up into a neat little bow, not even within a novel. Just because you don’t know where your key question might lead you, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the chance to explore it.

In fact, it’s exactly those sorts of questions that create a compelling world and story.

2. Don’t be Afraid to Emphasise Character and Narrative Over Ideas

This second point might seem to contradict the first, but really, they go hand in hand: good science fiction is fiction, which means that story and character should be taking centre-stage.

It’s all well and good writing about the profession of space-lawyering, but if you can tell the narrative of a specific space-lawyer and let the reader fall deep into the intricacies of their life, then you’ve written good fiction.

As important as key speculative ideas are in sci-fi, your set-up is different from the actual narrative, and you should be developing your characters just as much as you would in any other genre.

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3. Setting is not Story

Similar to point number two, the setting of your space drama shouldn’t make up the meat of your book. We can all agree that exotic alien lands and cyber-punk styled cities are cool, but don’t let lengthy descriptions of place and world get in the way of telling a good story.

This is surprisingly more difficult than you might first imagine — like any genre that falls outside the realm of the every-day, a science fiction world is bound to operate within spaces that your reader will need a good deal of help visualising and understanding.

There’s a careful balance to be struck though, and unfortunately, that balance will depend on the writer, but just keep in mind that while pages and pages of descriptions, exposition and backstory might be fascinating to you, there are better ways to develop a world than creating an encyclopaedia.

My best advice on this point is to pay attention to how other writers balance description and world building in their own novels. There’s nothing wrong with imitation, especially when you’re starting out.

4. The Rules of Your World Should be Consistent

Here’s another point that might seem to contradict the previous: science fiction typically takes place in worlds that are unfamiliar in some way to the reader, and those differences and how they impact the narrative is something you should have a firm grasp on and keep consistent throughout the story.

This goes double for any technology/futuristic science that you incorporate into your world building. Physical laws and scientific functions should be replicable, right? So, for these aspects to be believable, then they need to have clear rules and expected effects within your world.

Think of this a bit like you’re writing a high-fantasy novel with a ridged magic system — in many ways, how that magic works, who can use it and its limitations determine how the narrative progresses and where potential plot-holes might appear. Sci-fi writing has the same sort of world building bent, only here, we typically deal with scientific jargon rather than magic, but really, those are two sides of the same coin, especially when the “science” in question is far-fetched by today’s standards.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with these parts of your story — or even that they must always stay consistent. Having your characters encounter some singularity, some exception to the established rule makes for a great point of conflict and is a tried-and-true route to interesting plot.

Though, this only works if you and your reader know the status-quo for your world.

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