How to write SF fantasy

Like fantasy novels and horror, science fiction centres on speculative fiction, but of the type that explores alternative realities, futuristic possibilities, alien intelligence and space travel. The “what if?” supposition is likely to haunt the writer’s mind. But how does the science fiction author make the novel a reality?
Sci-fi Subgenres
To help give the aspiring science fiction writer an idea of how to pitch a sci-fi novel, it helps to have sound knowledge of the current subgenres of SF, examples of which are:
  • Utopian science fiction
  • Aliens
  • Alternative realities
  • Alternative histories
  • Space travel
  • Time travel fiction
  • Other worlds
  • Futuristic fiction
  • Space opera
  • Science fiction classics
  • Cyber punk
  • Hard science fiction
  • Apocalyptic sci-fi
  • Post apocalyptic sci-fi
Writing Science Fiction Novels
Fun and fascination can be sought from dreaming up bizarre worlds, weird natural laws and odd beings. But as with any fiction novel, it is essential that the narrative style captivates the reader, the central story is compelling and that the plot is fuelled by characters the reader cares about.
Ideas for Sci Fi Fiction
Sci-fi writers such as Larry Niven and Arthur C Clark attach present and established scientific theory to speculative science to make the reader suspend belief. The Rama trilogy and the Ringworld stories, although incredible have elements of logic and scientific grounding to make them seem possible and yet awe inspiring.
Furthermore, providing human characteristics to machines and aliens are also likely to instil empathy within the reader such as Asimov’s I Robot and Adam’s paranoid android in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Writing Great Sci-fi Fiction

Getting the right balance between realism and fantasy, logic and chaos and human and robot/alien is likely to result in a quality science fiction novel that readers can believe in and yet escape into. But how does the Sci-fi writer get ideas for science fiction in the first place?


Where to Find Ideas for Science Fiction Novels
Creative ideas are often borne of the right side of the brain, which is mostly active during pseudo sleep. But the analytical left side of the brain is needed to reign in these ideas and weigh their value. It is always wise to keep a notebook by the bed to jot down possible sci-fi ideas before they evaporate and then to critically analyse them in the cold light of day.
Advice for Sci-fi Writers
The ideal fantasy novel must have believable central characters driven by motives, fears and desires intricately understood by the author. By character, this may include human, animal, alien, machine, energy force or spirit.
The alternative world or situation should have a reason to exist. Avoid creating fantastical elements for the sake of it, or worse, writing passages of colourful description that will slow the plot and possibly make the reader skip pages. Ensure the sci fi factor impacts somehow upon the characters or shapes the plot.
Read other sci-fi greats such as Clark, Asimov, Niven, Huxley, Adams, Herbert, Dick, Bradbury and Wells. Reading lesser-known sci-fi writers, good and bad will educate the writer on what works and what doesn’t work, as well as providing a diversity of writing influences.

Getting a Science Fiction Novel Published

Although a tough market, publishers are always on the lookout for new sci-fi talent. This means leaving nothing to chance regarding the characters, plot, narrative and writing style. This also means honesty on the writer’s part. Does the sci-fi fantasy novel hold weight? Has it been done before? Can it be done better? Does it need fleshing out or more research? Or does it need a rethink? Putting the manuscript away for a month or so before revisiting the idea may help the writer gain a new angle and see new possibilities. All being well, the novel should be edited, edited and edited again after the drafting process before it is sent to a sci fi publisher.
Information for Science Fiction Writers

Books on How to Write SF Fiction

Publishers of Science Fiction

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)


© Rachel Shirley 2010

Photo credit: Les Bossinas (Cortez III Service Corp.)