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Genre 101: Creating a Science Fiction Novel

There is so much freedom for creativity within the Science Fiction genre. From journeys to outer space, strange lands, and even deep below the sea, adventure awaits for any writer brave enough to pick up the pen and write it. Readers of science fiction do so because they expect to be transported to a world entirely outside of their realm of expertise. By learning what falls under the guidelines of this genre, you can learn how to craft this type of novel for yourself.

What is the Science Fiction genre?

Also known as Sci-fi or SF, science fiction is a literary genre that typically deals with imaginative and futuristic concepts such as advanced science and technology, space exploration, time travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life. Sometimes called the "literature of ideas", this speculative genre explores the consequences of scientific, social, and technological advancements. Today many scholars and critics still argue over what exactly science fiction means. Due to this, there are many subgenres that fall under this broader heading, mixing with fantasy, horror, and superhero fiction. It's primary goal lies in entertainment but can have a larger commentary on society itself.

What are the subgenres of Sci-Fi?

For a complete break-down of these subgenres see my Genre 101: The Complete List of Genres & Subgenres for Fiction Writing Part 2 post. You'll learn the differences between the subgenres and how they mix with other genres. You'll also see real world examples to help you craft your own.

How did Science Fiction originate?

Science Fiction traces its lineage back to ancient times, where the lines between fact and fiction were blurred. A True Story by the satirist Lucian is credited as the first sci-fi novel. Written in the second century, it had many of the modern themes and tropes you see in modern sci-fi such as travel to other worlds, extraterrestrial lifeforms, interplanetary warfare, and artificial life. Other stories such as The Arabian Nights, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, and Ibn al-Nafis's 13th-century Theologus Autodidactus all exhibit traits of science fiction as well.

During the Enlightenment, technological and scientific advancements occurred, inspiring such novels as Johannes Kepler's Somnium (1634), Francis Bacon's New Atlantis (1627), Athanasius Kircher's Itinerarium extaticum (1656), Cyrano de Bergerac's Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon (1657) and The States and Empires of the Sun (1662), Margaret Cavendish's The Blazing World (1666), Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726), Ludvig Holberg's Nicolai Klimii Iter Subterraneum (1741) and Voltaire's Micromégas (1752).

In the eighteenth century novels such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) and The Last Man (1826) further established the genre. Edgar Allan Poe wrote several stories considered to be science fiction, including The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall. Jules Verne was noted for his attention to detail and scientific accuracy, especially in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870). Many more works helped expand the genre, and today it's one of the most developed.

Hard vs Soft Science Fiction

Two distinctions that one should note when sitting down to write a novel in this category:

Hard fiction: A sci-fi novel that is written with hard scientific facts, typically in physics, chemistry, and astronomy. Heavy science is the draw for novels written under this distinction.

Soft fiction: A sci-fi novel that either is not scientifically accurate or relies on the "softer" social sciences of psychology, anthropology, and sociology.

These two categories help readers understand what to expect when they pick up a science fiction novel.

Characteristics of Science Fiction

Here are the characteristics of a science fiction novel:

What are some examples?

Look no further for inspiration for your own novel- check out these fan favorites:

Tips to help you get started:

1) Find inspiration in real life:

Today there are so many technological advances, current events, interesting innovations, and mind-boggling problems that there's plenty of fodder for a great story. When you're feeling low on ideas, look at what is going on in the world and take it into the future. Whatever problems or advancements we have now have to progress and escalate- what happens when they do? What are the consequences? How does it change life as we know it? These are where the beginning sparks of a story ignite.

2) Do your research:

This counts particularly if you decide to write hard science fiction, but research benefits all types of writing. When you're utilizing science, you have to know you're talking about, why it works, how to use it, and under what circumstances it is faulty. Research also gives an air of credibility and realism to your work, especially if you're pulling directly from history.

3) Follow your own rules:

Science is governed by rules, and likewise, the science in your novel should be too. It has to line up and make logical sense to be effective overall. It must be compelling, plausible, and something readers can believe could actually be used and work. Once you make a rule, be careful not to break it. Think about it as a promise. Once you tell it to your readers you have to keep it if you want the illusion and the trust to remain in tact.

4) Get creative:

Brainstorm all possibilities. Play around with the timeline and think about how far you can push an idea. Write the unexpected and surprising. Write about what disgusts you, or what you're afraid of. Draw inspiration from other books and shows in this genre and piece elements of different ideas together in new ways. Think outside the box and see what you come up with. Sometimes the idea that randomly pops into our head is the one that truly makes a book we write special.

5) Keep your feet on the ground:

Remember that the base of all scientific and technological development is rooted in fact and reality. While you're free to explore the possibilities you still need to keep things within the realm of the possible. All advancements should be something that your society can reasonably accomplish currently or be logical advancements that could occur in a few years.

Science Fiction opens the door to the possibilities and consequences of technology and science. It allows us to push the limits of human intelligence and explore the possibilities of the future years before it ever becomes reality. It provides entertainment and escape but also keeps us learning. To write in this genre you must be able to balance fiction with fact. Doing the research and staying inspired will help you reach your writing goals.

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