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What to Avoid When Writing Sci-Fi

Avoid these like the plague and your writing will be stellar.

Courtesy of @nasa at Unsplash.com

It cannot be denied that science fiction is one of the hardest genres to write because you, the author, are creating entire planets from scratch. You are the Creator in the sense that you decide how people travel through space, what alien species exist in your universe, and what sort of scheme will potentially destroy the universe this time.

With all these sci-fi technicalities, there are some serious errors that first-time authors make when trying to write in this genre for the first few times. Learn from the people who've made the following mistakes so that your sci-fi writing can reach for the stars and wow readers along the way.

1. Don't over-explain.

This nugget of wisdom is especially difficult for new sci-fi writers, but no matter what the genre, most readers have a teeny tiny attention span. Too much explanation about what a particular planet's atmosphere is like or how two alien races interact with each other can become a detriment to keeping your reader interested.

Give enough information to allow the reader to get their bearings and then let their imagination do the rest. By all means, write details that are important to the story, such as a character's appearance or that a planet has a volcanic climate, but only if there will be an eruption later. Input key details, but don't write a book within a book about everything in this universe you've created. I'm such it's wonderful, but the reader wants you to get a move on. 

2. Don't do Star Trek with a twist.

Part of the beauty of science fiction is that it's hardly ever pinned down by reality. It can do whatever it wants to do and be whatever it wants to be. Because of this fluidity, people are not going to want to read about a SpaceCommand captain who's cocky and charming, but leads his crew into the far reaches of space and finds the center of a second sun. It's not Star Trek, but it might as well be. Be daring and do something different that's never been done in the genre.

That being said, there are genre expectations, such as ray guns, aliens, and a whole lot of space travel. Play to what the reader is going to expect to read in regard to the genre, but don't be afraid to chart your own course. Let your characters travel the universe in a way that hasn't been done yet. 

3. Don't let major breaks in logic be unexplained.

Science fiction is futuristic, and we don't know what will happen in the future in regard to technology or the potential discovery of new laws of physics. However, you need to at least give a brief overview of major developments. Science fiction, though fiction, is still rooted loosely in science and logic. If people are now able to fly, you will need to give a reason why they can.

The danger in not explaining why your character can become invisible at any point he chooses is that the reader will be taken out of your story and question your reasoning as an author. One of an author's many jobs is to keep a reader stuck in the story, and breaks in logic with this genre will inevitably make the reader take a step back and say, "huh?" It could only take a sentence of explanation or dialogue, but a little bit goes a long way.

4. Don't use overly complicated names.

Just like the fantasy genre, science fiction can have some names that may be difficult to pronounce. Sure, they don't have to oversimplified like Borg or Nob, but don't pick Ecthlaimaitipolisomak either. A good rule of thumb is to not use a name more than three syllables long. This applies for every name in your work, planets count too.

Now, if you want to use a long name but only mention it once and have other characters give that person a nickname, that would be acceptable. However, readers will get frustrated trying to pronounce a name that they may see multiple times (not to mention it will be frustrating to you as the author to type that name over and over.) I can assure you that if your characters don't give this individual or planet a nickname, your reader will. 

5. Don't be so focused on the technicalities.

You may have produced absolutely flawless logic for how a whole planet can break from gravity and move on it's own: excellent. But don't let the book focus on your genius. Readers in this genre want to be taken on a journey through a galaxy they've never been to and travel with the main character on the ride of their lives, so be sure to keep that in mind when you are writing your story.

Most readers in sci-fi will be impressed by the uniqueness of a storyline or the newness of a certain element in a science fiction book, but they won't be praising your smarts if they are forced to hear the entire explanation or hear the explanation multiple times. Take the reader to where they want to go: light years from Earth and on an adventure in this vast universe that you have created. 

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Danielle McDougal
Danielle McDougal

Hello! I've just graduated college and because I'm a sucker for pain, I'm going back for my masters. In the meantime, I'm going to write (which is one of my favorite things to do) to keep me from boredom and keep you entertained!

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