Thursday, 12 November 2015

Writing good science fiction

I grew up on sci-fi, particularly the works of Andre Norton with a bit of Isaac Asimov thrown in (although Andre Norton was always my favourite). Since then, I have keep an eye on the sci-fi world and have, on occasion, taught on the subject as well.

My take (based on my observations and what other writers say) to create good sci-fi includes:

* The best science fiction writers create fantastic worlds but write about them as if they were completely normal. You need to do so as well.

* Make sure the reader is able to suspend disbelief. The plot and events need to be believable.

* Base your ideas on good science - that is what makes the best sci-work, it could happen.  If a story comes over as impossible, you are moving into fantasy rather than sci-fi.

* Science fiction must evoke a sense of wonder in the reader. They must want to be in that remarkable world, to meet aliens, to travel in time and space.

* Be visual - you can see what is happening, make sure we can as well.

* Awe and wonder is all very well but what is also needed is a command of writing: a hatful of bug-headed aliens does not negate the need for skilful writing.

So what makes for bad science fiction? Well, the great Science Fiction editor John W Campbell said that a science fiction writer should never put beings into a story that are so far superior to Man that we cannot understand their motives, we cannot overcome their will or we cannot meet them face to face in a fair fight. It’s a rule that stands true today.

I would add:

* Don’t try to re-create popular sci-fi stories - we do not need another Star Wars. You can be more original than that!

* Make your aliens alien - be original, it’s not enough to give them a pointy head. Think it through, make them realistic.

*  No, it wasn’t a dream - keep loyal to the genre, no one waking up to discover they were in bed all the time.

John Dean

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