So you want to write a science fiction novel. However, you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. Perhaps you read science fiction like this humble author and you’d like to try your hand at writing something in the science fiction genre.
Well, there are a few myths about science fiction novelists, and I’m here to debunk those right now like Neil DeGrasse Tyson at a Bigfoot convention.
- You have to have read a lot of science fiction – This one is one of the most obvious, and it’s something I hear all the time. Sure, it can help if you’ve read a lot of science fiction novels (I’d start with Philip K. Dick or Robert Heinlein) but you don’t have to be an expert on science fiction. If you love the genre (maybe you’ve watched a lot of sci-fi) then you’re on your way. Science fiction doesn’t have to be hard science-fiction. Ultimately it’s about telling a story, and if you can do that, then you’re on the right track.
- Good sci-fi writers are good world builders – Not necessarily. I talked to Timothy Zahn recently (one of the most prolific science fiction writers of our day) about this and he said that he only designs what is going to appear in the novel, not the entire world. Last I checked, Timothy Zahn has sold a few novels…more than two (heh). I used to think this was necessary, but now that I’ve written a few books myself I realize that much of that is time consuming nonsense that keeps you from doing the hard work of telling a good story.
- Everything has been written – This one is an oldie but a goodie. Sure. You could think this and never write another word. Why try if everything has been written? How else are we going to know what we can imagine if we don’t do some spring boarding off of good stuff that we know works. There are tons of dystopian novels out there right now (and critics are saying they are passe) …but who cares? Write what you love. If you write what you don’t love you’ll soon stop writing and find other things to do.
- My alien races have to make sense – I find this one humorous. Sure, you have to make your alien races (if you use them) make sense within the world you create, but is there really a reason Spock’s ears are pointed? What does it matter? It’s an aesthetic that made him “look” alien and those ears were cheap to mass-produce for the show. (We won’t mention the eyebrows). As long as the alien races you create are believable to most of the people you know, go for it. Try making aliens that don’t look human or are not humanoid at all instead of just another human with a weird prosthetic appliance on their forehead to differentiate them from human. Above all, does the race’s abilities get in the way of the story. If it does, then cut it.
- I have to know a lot about science – I’m an English teacher by trade. Does this disqualify me to be a science fiction writer? Does Dr. Who play canasta with the Daleks? Of course not. What I have up my sleeve are tons of consultants. I dream up some crazy idea for a book or a plot point or a new gadget and then I run it by the experts. I happen to live a short drive away from a major university. This university is crawling with well-versed scientists from every field imaginable, and one thing these folks love to do is teach you about science. All it takes to start the conversation is an e-mail. They love the idea of talking real science with noobs like me, and I learn something new every time I talk to them. They are the reason that the wormholes in my latest series look like reflective spheres.
If you have any more myths you’d like debunked about science fiction writing, then comment in the space below. I’d love to take a crack at them. Until then, I’m back to doing what I should be doing instead of writing this blog post…writing the third book in the Five Rims series.