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Type40Human
11-30-2014, 10:54 AM
I woke from such a vivid dream yesterday that I can't let go of, and has sparked my interest in writing something in the sci-fi genre. The thing is, I know absolutely naff all about it (the most I'm familiar with is Doctor Who, which is vague on the sci-fi element these days), but I keep thinking about it rather obsessively.

I'm not sure what to ask in terms of advice at tackling this genre, though first things that spring to mind: what is considered cheesy/cliché, what is acceptable, and what is required from a sci-fi story (if anything)? For instance, do you need to be familiar with scientific terminology to cram a little of that in, or can you basically riff and get away with vagueness?

I'm starting from scratch here with a rough plot idea, so anything you can advise me on is appreciated. Please go easy on me; I just want to learn. :)

Thanks.

rwm4768
11-30-2014, 11:11 AM
What kind of science fiction do you intend to write?

There's a spectrum from soft science fiction to hard science fiction. In soft science fiction, the technology is there more as a vehicle to tell a more interesting story. In hard science fiction, the technology is often the focus of the story.

A lot of the science fiction you see on TV and in the movies is on the softer side. Doctor Who. Star Trek. Star Wars. In fact, each of these mixes in some fantasy elements as well (which you can do in this kind of story).

For hard science fiction, you'd look at some of the classic authors in the genre. Asimov. Clarke, Niven, etc.

More recently, you see a lot of space opera. Some of them are very much rooted in science (Alastair Reynolds). Others just use technology because it's cool (Lois McMaster Bujold falls into this category, and her stories are still excellent).


Minimally, I'd say you should expose yourself to some of the classics and some of the newer stuff most similar to what you're writing. Thankfully, many of the science fiction classics are relatively short.

You don't have to have a science background. You just have to make sure you don't write stuff that simply couldn't happen, and for which you don't explain in some way how it can happen.

Brightdreamer
11-30-2014, 11:12 AM
In light sci-fi, you can get away with vagueness, so long as you're consistent; for instance, you don't have to know how a Macguffin drive works, but if you establish that it won't work near a planet's gravity well, don't suddenly have Hero Bill escape the baddies by punching it while skimming the planet surface. If you do decide to delve into the science, however, you better know your stuff - you'll lose credibility and readers fast if you mess up.

I would suggest reading some sf, to familiarize yourself with what's out there. Just don't forget that, in any genre, you still need the basics of a story: characters a reader wants to follow, and a plot worth following them through. Barring parody, you can't get away with cardboard cliches or nonsense plot twists because there are cool spacey things exploding (contrary to what some in Hollywood seem to think, but I digress...)

Good luck with the shiny new idea!

Once!
11-30-2014, 11:40 AM
Read, read, read.

Read novels similar to the one you want to write. Read this forum. Read books on how to write science fiction. One of my favourites is Orson Scott Card's "How to write science fiction and fantasy."

"How do I write science fiction?" is a huge question. It's a bit like asking "How do I learn to speak French?". So it's going to be hard for us to give you specific answers.

But I think the journey starts with reading. For most of us, at least.

Thuro
11-30-2014, 11:46 AM
I woke from such a vivid dream yesterday that I can't let go of, and has sparked my interest in writing something in the sci-fi genre. The thing is, I know absolutely naff all about it (the most I'm familiar with is Doctor Who, which is vague on the sci-fi element these days), but I keep thinking about it rather obsessively.

I'm not sure what to ask in terms of advice at tackling this genre, though first things that spring to mind: what is considered cheesy/cliché, what is acceptable, and what is required from a sci-fi story (if anything)? For instance, do you need to be familiar with scientific terminology to cram a little of that in, or can you basically riff and get away with vagueness?

I'm starting from scratch here with a rough plot idea, so anything you can advise me on is appreciated. Please go easy on me; I just want to learn. :)

Thanks.

Write what you want is my advice. Cliches are only cliches until you reinvent them.

RDArmstrong
11-30-2014, 11:53 AM
I would say for Sci-fi that you do need it to be a logical world. You will want to do some research on the concepts of your idea so that you can make it believable in the context of the world you create.

Most sci fi I know of uses the world we live in now with an alteration to life on Earth and/or the advancement of technologies. It usually logically explains how this alternate Earth or technologies were created. But there are always exceptions, you can always just say "this is happening because it just is".

Can you tell us more about your idea without giving it away (if you're worried about that)?

sabindanjoup
11-30-2014, 12:10 PM
I agree with most of the advice you've been given, so I'm going to collect it all in a single post.
1) Read.
Read extensively in your genre. Read outside your genre.
2) You've also got to write. Then rewrite it again about a dozen times till your prose sings. :)

thepicpic
11-30-2014, 01:16 PM
Write. Have fun. Watch out for that planet. No, not that one. That one.

Seriously though, pretty much what others have said, but have fun. Don't read x or y because you feel you have to. I launched into my very first project (science fiction) with absolutely no reading beforehand. I had half an idea and the keyboard. Sure, it was awful, but I learned a lot just by doing it.
Another thing you could do (hey, somebody's got to say it) is go and browse TVTropes. Now, this isn't always a good idea if you have limited time, are easily distracted or just value your sanity, but it's also a valuable resource. Just don't get lost in there, okay?

unionrdr
12-02-2014, 04:45 AM
I always liked the basic idea behind George Orwell's 1984. So after talking on homebrewtalk to a sci-fi author, an idea hit me like a sledge hammer. A dystopian world in the near future that develops out of the FEMA camps & the New World Order being shown all over youtube nowadays. So I guess that makes me a futurist. I also researched not only the latest tech goodies being researched at the moment, but lost &/or Ancient knowledge, like The Emerald Book of Thoth. The ancient Egyptians, Atlantis & the like. You have to make the tech & the reasons for using it believable in the context of your story. And I've also found it a good thing to let the characters drive the story. with what you want them to do in the back of your mind, just letting them figure out how to get their.

Type40Human
12-04-2014, 01:15 PM
Thanks for your replies. I was hesitant to read them (long story short, I suffer with Social Anxiety Disorder) and couldn't bring myself to scroll down past my original post. But they weren't as bad as I was dreading.

I should have mentioned what type of science fiction I want to write. I'm a big fan of steampunk, and have written in that genre for something before, but I don't feel this one is like that. It's going to be more along the lines of cyberpunk, I think. Which I know nothing about. I have looked at some websites about various subgenres and they've given me some idea of what to write.

I wouldn't feel comfortable sharing the idea at the moment. Maybe in a few days when I've got something stronger. But it's basically about a rogue female cyborg who crash lands to Earth and meets a 16yo lad (and his dog), who she ends up manipulating, though he doesn't realise. She then will end up bringing a threat to the planet from her own with the confession of why she really fell to Earth. That's all I'm brave enough to say so far! :)

It's something aimed at youngsters/teens - if it were to be published.

unionrdr
12-04-2014, 05:12 PM
Sounds interesting. Kind of a cross between the terminator & the man who fell to earth.

WaywardSquirrel
12-04-2014, 10:19 PM
Personally, I don't worry so much about hard science, unless I have a character who's a scientist. Like how the average person nowadays couldn't tell you much detail about how cell phones work, they just use them, if that makes any sense. Some people are big on science, but if it's not your thing, you're still fine.

For me scifi's more about the what if. Like what if everyone in the world were assigned a personal robot assistant the day they were born? How different would society end up, a generation or two down the road? I start with a question, then ask myself more questions about the answers I come up with, lather rinse repeat, and somewhere down that line of questions I get some that'd make for a good story.

(as a fellow Social Anxiety person I do the exact same thing)

unionrdr
12-05-2014, 12:53 AM
I basically do the same thing, just study the latest tech & extrapolate that into the near future. Woven into the fabric of the story, of course. One helps explain the other.

Smiling Ted
12-06-2014, 07:03 AM
You should read, and you should start HERE (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=126838).

The thread in this sub-forum that's titled "The Basics."

Type40Human
12-06-2014, 09:48 AM
Sounds interesting. Kind of a cross between the terminator & the man who fell to earth.

Oh right. That's not a bad thing, is it? I know similar ideas are thought up all the time but I've no experience with either of those, other than knowing their names.


Personally, I don't worry so much about hard science, unless I have a character who's a scientist. Like how the average person nowadays couldn't tell you much detail about how cell phones work, they just use them, if that makes any sense. Some people are big on science, but if it's not your thing, you're still fine.

For me scifi's more about the what if. Like what if everyone in the world were assigned a personal robot assistant the day they were born? How different would society end up, a generation or two down the road? I start with a question, then ask myself more questions about the answers I come up with, lather rinse repeat, and somewhere down that line of questions I get some that'd make for a good story.

(as a fellow Social Anxiety person I do the exact same thing)

Yea, that made sense. I was never any good in science at school, never really understood it, but I find it interesting still. I only wondered if there was any need for it because people would spot I haven't a clue otherwise lol. I like fantasy too and I do enjoy mixing them, but I enjoy learning about physics and I like things to be 'just right' if I try to write something that should be fact. I wouldn't want it to be nonsense for the sake of being nonsense, and I don't know if that's acceptable. That's sort of what I meant by my original post, I think. I just didn't have the words at the time.

And hello fellow SA person!


You should read, and you should start HERE (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=126838).

The thread in this sub-forum that's titled "The Basics."

Oh, I already had a look through all those types of threads. I do on every forum I go to, that's the Obsessive Compulsive in me lol. Thanks though. It is good to have those to view again and again as reminders. :)

Also, 'you should read' is not exactly an ideal option for me. Sorry for the ramble but: I was scared off reading as a teen, despite loving it when I was a kid. I only loved it because I was an incredibly sensitive, shy kid, who would have rather read and drawn and made something, than go in the playground with all the other kids at break-time. Books were where I'd go. I loved Roald Dahl, for instance, and I was in love with Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts. But because I was so shy, when I'd have to read to my teacher each day, they would always say they couldn't hear me, because I spoke so quietly. I also was told I read too slowly. It didn't really matter in primary school though. During my teens, this got worse, and I developed mental health issues, became socially withdrawn, so when it came to moments in various lessons where I'd have to read aloud off a worksheet or from a book we were studying in English, I'd be too quiet and read too slow. Other kids in the lessons would read out what I was given to read instead, or moan that I was taking too long, that they couldn't hear me across the other side of the room, and that made me paranoid under the pressure and I began completely missing words or complete lines of a paragraph, to just be laughed at. The teacher would eventually get fed up and give the task to someone else. I stopped enjoyed reading around the age of 15 because it would give me a panic attack each time I thought about reading a book or a letter or something, let alone actually doing it.

Until this year I hadn't read a book since school 11 years ago. I don't remember what I read as a teen, just anything I found of interest in the school library. I didn't have books at home, only Paddington, and a copy of Belle and Sebastian which was my mum's, but nothing really suitable for my age as I grew up. I didn't get taken to the local library in town unless it was to find a book about dog breeds or nature and things of learning, not entertainment, and I couldn't go by myself but that's a whole other ramble which I'll spare you with lol.

Basically, when I've written stuff, it's all been inspired by watching films and my own personal experiences in life. Lol, because of that, a lot of my stuff is pretty dark, strange, yet comical and deep.

blacbird
12-06-2014, 12:05 PM
Read yer ass off.

Read:

Asimov
Bradbury
Sturgeon
H.G. Wells
A.C. Clarke
P.K. Dick
Stanislaw Lem
Van Vogt
Zelazny
Haldeman
. . .

Read. And pay attention.

caw

Cathy C
12-06-2014, 03:49 PM
Also, 'you should read' is not exactly an ideal option for me.

One of the nice things about reading as an adult is nobody to stand over your shoulder and comment about speed or content. While I'm the exact opposite of you in that I read too fast, I got the same complaints from teachers and others in school. "You can't possibly have finished that!" "There's no way you comprehended the subtexts." "Start over and give it a proper read." I even had a music teacher who said that she'd give me an A in the course if I wrote a paper on a book I finished over a lunch hour. :Wha: It was a week into the semester. As tempting as it was, I knew from past experience it would only make the comments worse.

But the freedom of reading as an adult...! So many books and nobody caring about subtexts or critiques or papers. Really, I think you could rediscover your early love if you give it a try. :)

Lillith1991
12-06-2014, 04:08 PM
Also, 'you should read' is not exactly an ideal option for me. Sorry.

This part stands out to me, because I'm honestly not sure how you expect to write well if you don't read. It is an extremely rare few who can write well, and compose an appealing story structure without reading. Ideal option or not, there is not actually anyway for you to physically observe what has been done in WRITTEN SF and Fantasy except to read, nor in any other genre or subgenre. You can for example know the chosen one is a cliché because we tell you so, but without knowing what a "cliché chosen one" looks like, you are then left much more open to accidently writing such a character instead of subverting the trope. To subvert you first must know and understand how tropes are used, something you gather from reading.

Also, what Cathy C says. :) I never personally stopped reading at any point, but I do go through cycles of what I find most interesting. It may be fanfiction or a specific fandom over others, or it may be original work falling into a certain genre or subgenre. Point being. These cycles are perfectly fine and a natural part of how I personally function, thus other's opinions on them count for absolutely squat. Don't let your anxiety or others stupidity limit your reading, because that does you more harm then good in the end. Employ distraction techniques id need be, though I'm sure you likely do already.

Type40Human
12-06-2014, 07:32 PM
Okay, taken that on board, but this is where I'll make a lot of enemies, I'm sure. I hope you'll respect my point of view, however.

I've read about a lot of books over the years (ones supposedly by 'brilliantly talented' authors), and the previews you get on Amazon, only to try to get some desire to read anything I might be interested in, because I have missed that enjoyment (don't think I haven't attempted to overcome my fear), but I've found a lot come across as pretentious, have weak plots, their characters seem to have no actual character, and the dialogue is lifeless. That doesn't suit the way I enjoy to read or write. I know most of that could be down to personal taste, I may not see something in it that others see, like a film or a song, but I never believe the hype to begin with.

Only one novel that I've been reading these past few weeks has given me the feeling I had as a child, and I couldn't stop smiling when I read the first page because I'd missed how it felt to love and enjoy a story. It's not well-known, only came out this year, and not by a well-known writer either, but it instantly had me thinking 'YES! This is what I've wanted to read for years!' and it felt amazing.

My grammar is not perfect, and neither is my spelling all the time, but I've always been relatively good at both, plus I have OCD about getting things just so with my writing, whatever it may be. Neither get ignored, and sod double-checking, I have to go over it as many times as I feel necessary. I'm constantly Googling dictionary and grammar sites to make sure I don't make a mistake. Even when I've posted something on any forum or website like this, I'll read my comment through again and edit it if I need to. Next to that, structurally, I've learnt a lot of techniques and rules from websites that are now in my 'bookmarks' list, which I always return to when I need a reminder. Ideas, well I'm never short of those, as my memory sticks and cards know all too well, and all of which are in different genres - my favourite is a short story I wrote when I was 18, and it's in the style of a letter from a widow to the wife she loved and lost. That's completely different to another of my shorts that I began writing only this past week, about a man who falls in love with a woman he's having a reoccurring dream about, and he soon wants to try to 'find' her. I admit, I was inspired by both because of dreams - they're usually where I get my ideas, because mine are so vivid, crazy and quite often lucid, and I find they make for interesting plots.

I didn't start writing because of an ego that I want to be the next best novelist, I started writing aged 9 in an English class and I just enjoyed being creative. It's a hobby I don't take overly serious of developing into a career because that's a waste of my life. Yea, it would be pretty cool to have a published book that was enjoyed, but then what? Lol. I want to run a pet rescue as a 'career', if you could ever call it that, which has been my love since I was 15 and worked in a dog rescue - since then I've done a lot with rescue work and there is truly no feeling like knowing an animal is safely going to a loving new home. AND, from my experiences at this rescue, and my own rescuing, rehabilitating, and re-homing of animals, I've got a strong idea for a story revolving around that subject.

And I rambled again, which I didn't want to do, but I hope that's given you an idea of where I'm coming from.

unionrdr
12-06-2014, 07:38 PM
Type40- The Man Who Fell to Earth was a film David Bowie did some time ago. He crash lands on Earth & gets involved with a girl while trying to make them all believe he's just a visitor. Not there to cause harm. The Terminator is a human skin-covered cyborg who's soul purpose is to hunt down & kill who it's programmed to. That is it's only goal & function. Hope this helps. Here's a Youtube link to the trailer for Bowie's movie; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfccDapMA14

Jamesaritchie
12-06-2014, 08:23 PM
I think the advice for SF is the same as for any genre. As one editor put it, "Read everything, write much."

zanzjan
12-06-2014, 09:12 PM
I think everyone's advice to read is excellent advice in general, and certainly reading both classic and contemporary works in the field is essential for anyone wanting to make an attempt at becoming an SFF writer. (Just as reading mystery would be for an aspiring mystery writer, etc.)

It seems, though, that from what you've said you're not at that point -- you just have one story you want to get out of your head and onto paper, and then see where you are from there. You're not inspired by the genre in general.

So.

Write the story.

Don't worry until you're done if it works for anyone but you.

When you do finish, then hey, that's a huge accomplishment regardless. By then you'll know more about how this fits into a larger goal or not -- ie, are you enthused and thinking, dang, that was fun! I need to do that again! or more, whew, glad that's finally over. If you decide you want to write more SFF, *and* you think you want to pursue trying to get published (which is also not a necessary component, because writing for one's self alone is entirely valid too) then that's when you'd really need to start learning more about the genre, its history, conventions, tropes, and language specifics. At that point, you can tell us more about what you like, and we can make more specific recommendations than "read everything".

So yeah. Stop worrying and write it. Then you'll know if it works for you. If you get stuck on writing specifics, we're always here to try to help, and if you just need to check in occasionally and tell us how you're doing, we're good at cheering people on too. :)

Brightdreamer
12-06-2014, 09:25 PM
Also, 'you should read' is not exactly an ideal option for me. Sorry for the ramble but: I was scared off reading as a teen, despite loving it when I was a kid. I only loved it because I was an incredibly sensitive, shy kid, who would have rather read and drawn and made something, than go in the playground with all the other kids at break-time. Books were where I'd go. I loved Roald Dahl, for instance, and I was in love with Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts. But because I was so shy, when I'd have to read to my teacher each day, they would always say they couldn't hear me, because I spoke so quietly. I also was told I read too slowly. It didn't really matter in primary school though. During my teens, this got worse, and I developed mental health issues, became socially withdrawn, so when it came to moments in various lessons where I'd have to read aloud off a worksheet or from a book we were studying in English, I'd be too quiet and read too slow. Other kids in the lessons would read out what I was given to read instead, or moan that I was taking too long, that they couldn't hear me across the other side of the room, and that made me paranoid under the pressure and I began completely missing words or complete lines of a paragraph, to just be laughed at. The teacher would eventually get fed up and give the task to someone else. I stopped enjoyed reading around the age of 15 because it would give me a panic attack each time I thought about reading a book or a letter or something, let alone actually doing it.

If you're still that traumatized by events that happened in your childhood, maybe you should seek help so you can learn to let go of it. I know we all pick up scars, but when they cripple you this severely and don't seem to heal...


Basically, when I've written stuff, it's all been inspired by watching films and my own personal experiences in life. Lol, because of that, a lot of my stuff is pretty dark, strange, yet comical and deep.

If you're happy writing just for you, then carry on. If you mean to share that writing with the world, you might want to try that "reading" thing again... Your idea of "comical" and "deep" may not translate the same way to others, especially if you haven't read how other authors communicate these ideas to the general public. (Especially the "deep" part. I've read stories where the author clearly thought they were being Original and Profound and Oh So Deep, but it came across as rehashed and hackneyed - usually because they hadn't bothered reading a few books to realize that every human has those same "deep" observations, and they weren't being particularly effective in discussing them.)

Otherwise, I'm not sure what you want from us. You ask us how to write sci-fi. We tell you our opinions, based on our experiences. You tell us it's "not exactly an ideal option." Unfortunately, if you aren't willing to read, I don't think it's possible to improve much as a writer. (And, yes, I'm sure there's anecdotal evidence of the one-in-a-million prodigy. Unless you're that Special Snowflake - really that special snowflake, not one of the 999,999 people who simply thinks they are - then that's not applicable here.)

But, hey, if you're having fun...

JustSarah
12-06-2014, 09:31 PM
What I was say is ... try a character-driven piece first, then gradually trickle the speculative elements you think the reader will need to know over time. I'm a bag fan of having the speculative elements there, and forced to come to understand it over time by learning the context.

Also note there is social SF and hard SF. Within that are infinite possibilities. Actually someone told me science fiction can be just as varied as fantasy. Take Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind versus say Star Wars. And within that, infinity. Well, allot anyway.

BabySealWriter
12-07-2014, 04:28 AM
Otherwise, I'm not sure what you want from us. You ask us how to write sci-fi. We tell you our opinions, based on our experiences. You tell us it's "not exactly an ideal option." Unfortunately, if you aren't willing to read, I don't think it's possible to improve much as a writer. (And, yes, I'm sure there's anecdotal evidence of the one-in-a-million prodigy. Unless you're that Special Snowflake - really that special snowflake, not one of the 999,999 people who simply thinks they are - then that's not applicable here.)

But, hey, if you're having fun...

This. Reading is paramount to writing. If you have difficulty doing so, do what you can to rectify the situation.

Filigree
12-07-2014, 05:07 AM
Without really knowing which novel rocked your world recently, I can't recommend more. In general, I'd agree with everyone else who says 'Read!' But I can also understand why you are gun-shy.

If you want to write, write. Give yourself permission to write, fail, flail around with whatever odd plots and tropes you want. It doesn't all have to be perfectly written or meant for publication.

True story: I was so demoralized by my first forays into writing original fantasy that I gave it up twelve years after I started. I had an agent who didn't really 'get' the direction I wanted to go, a couple of manuscripts going nowhere because I wasn't a strong enough writer, and a couple of short story sales to places no-one has ever heard of. So I stopped writing my own fiction for ten more years. Focused on nonfiction and an art career. I also wrote fan fiction as a way to train and test myself in a less-serious critical environment.

The thoughtful responses and critiques I earned from fan fiction - and several vibrant online writing communities - helped me ease back into original fiction. I'm a better writer for the hiatus. Maybe I could have been a better writer faster, if I'd gone to some of the expensive genre fiction workshops like Clarion. But free fan fiction worked for me and my budget.

The most important thing I learned about writing was something I already knew from art. I love it. I love everything from plotting to revisions. I write for myself, first - I'm just lucky that I've found a new agent and readers who like my original stories.

If you're doing something you love, the boring parts of the job get better. They're still there. Writing can be vicious hard work. But it's worth it to me.

Good luck finding your own path forward. Maybe if you shared more of what you DO enjoy, we can help?

ULTRAGOTHA
12-08-2014, 06:53 AM
Lots of other people have said variations on this, but let me add:

Several very good other genre writers in the last several years have decided to write an SF book. They had a bright, shiny idea. It was lovely and wonderful! The best idea ever! They wrote it up.

The problem in several cases was that Speculative Fiction writers, editors and fans have been having a long and rambling conversation with each other for over 100 years. That bright, shiny idea? In the SF world, it's moldy oldy. It's growing green and fuzzy stuff that has escaped, grown down the side of the jar, and is now in the process of carpeting the top shelf of the fridge.

And most everyone but the out-of-genre writer knows that. We not only know that, but we've read sixty books and forty shorter works discussing a hundred variations on that same theme since we were tiny sprogs. Five of them won Hugo awards! The idea in that book is old fashioned and dated to us.

I don't mean to denigrate your bright, shiny idea. Because it *is* fantastic and wonderful. You should have a ton of fun writing it!

But please be aware that without reading any Speculative Fiction you run the risk of your book breaking into an ongoing conversation that's rambled from Aardvarks to Xylophones and is heading off to Zircon, by brightly declaiming how wonderful Llamas are. Existing fans may side-eye the non-sequitur.

If you're writing this for yourself, then none of this matters, of course.

Introversion
12-08-2014, 07:04 AM
Only one novel that I've been reading these past few weeks has given me the feeling I had as a child, and I couldn't stop smiling when I read the first page because I'd missed how it felt to love and enjoy a story. It's not well-known, only came out this year, and not by a well-known writer either, but it instantly had me thinking 'YES! This is what I've wanted to read for years!' and it felt amazing.

That's a good place to start. Can you summarize (for yourself, not the board) what works so well about it for you? Why it fires you up that way? Because you want to feel that when you write, at least at times. You have to enjoy what you write. </end cliche speaking time>