Genre Breakdown: Science Fiction


It doesn’t matter who you are or what genre you write in: everyone wonders what it would be like to write their own science fiction novel. It doesn’t seem all that difficult on the surface: it’s literally all made up, after all (but don’t, please, confuse sci-fi with fantasy; they are not the same thing—yes, fantasy comes next in our Genre Breakdown series, so hold on).

Writing in this genre does require a lot of thought and creativity though, because you have to not only be able to create a good story with intriguing conflict and dynamic characters: you have to set it up during a time and place that does not exist.

You have all the power to do what you want with your science-y story idea. But you need to know how to use it wisely.

What makes a novel a science fiction novel?

Science fiction is a genre portraying futuristic, fictional (duh) scientific and technological advances that bring major social and environmental changes upon featured societies and characters. Sometimes sci-fi involves time and space travel and interplanetary life, but not always. What makes a science fiction story a science fiction story is its ability to send its reader on a journey—not to answer questions they already had, but to discover questions they never even knew needed answering.

Most will tell you a book can’t be a science fiction story if it features a society or circumstance too similar to the ones your readers will recognize. It can feature similar themes—maybe one species of alien is discriminatory against another, starting a galactic civil war of some kind. But that’s the key: these are virtually unknown species. Which could technically exist out there somewhere, but to our definite knowledge, don’t.

Recent books and their authors

Armada by Ernest Cline

Alien invasions are terrifying enough. Try battling being a teenager at the same time (been there, conquered that. The teenage thing, not the aliens).

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

When it comes to the end of the world, there’s only one thing to do: leave. If you knew you were descended from one of those lucky ones who got off a planet before it was too late, would you be curious enough to go scope out where you came from?

Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman

Exploring new planets sounds fun. What happens when you get to this new world and you’re the only one who can see? If everyone else around you is blind, what are you to them? 

How to write successfully in this genre 

To succeed in this genre, you need to be willing to do what all of us are drastically afraid to do—dive into all the other ideas that have already been used. Read books (see above). Watch movies. Familiarize yourself with what’s already been done—and yes, you can technically classify watching Star Trek as research—so you can do one of two things: dig deep enough that you find a small stand of something that hasn’t been done, or the better of the two options, figure out which questions have been raised and pull from those an entirely new set of questions you want your readers to ask.

Sci-fi is not a new genre, so you won’t have trouble finding all kinds of weird and amazing stuff out there to explore. You’ll have to use your creativity to spin those old ideas into completely new stories because, sorry, unless you’re a sci-fi mastermind, you’re not going to write your way into the official Star Wars universe right at your start. Take today’s biggest social challenges, launch them thousands of years into the future, shift around the circumstances to fit your new universe, and you’re on your way.

Oh, and just so you’re warned: world building is hard. It is time-consuming, and you will get sucked in, addicted and drained. But it is so, so worth it. And if that’s where you want to start—go for it. As long as you can come up with a good plot to go along with it.

Yes, nonexistent technologies, aliens and epic space battles are, well, epic. But good writing still matters, so while you’re building up your action-packed, futuristic masterpiece, let the writing carry it along, not just the EXPLOSIONS.

Want more genres? Genre Breakdown: Young Adult Fiction is here.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

I Finally Did It (Midweek Novel Update #10)


It only took three years of confusion, rewrites and anxiety, but I’ve finally done it.

I’ve finally figured out which genre my book belongs in.

Ha. You thought I was going to say I finished writing the book. Ha. Haha.


Not even close, my friend. But you see, there’s been something holding me back a little: not knowing which genre I was even writing in. I floated between YA and sci-fi and I just couldn’t figure out what I wanted the story to be. It’s a story with mostly realistic elements, but takes place in the future. I wasn’t sure that could be a thing. I was almost afraid I would have to change something, choose one thing or the other, even.

Then I discovered soft SF.

Basically, and I’m both paraphrasing and simplifying from multiple web sources here (okay fine, Wikipedia came first), soft science fiction is a sub-genre of sci-fi that deals more with social and behavioral issues, character development and plot than most of the science fiction you’re probably used to. The “science” part of the story is just that: a part. It’s not the primary focus.

I felt relieved when I made my discovery, and okay, pretty embarrassed that I run a writing-focused blog and didn’t know this existed before now. My book has a place. If I ever get to the point where I feel ready to start sending out queries, I can narrow down which agents might actually give me a chance. I can actually explain the kind of story I’m writing, instead of “it’s kind of like Divergent but not really” (yes, direct quote from yours truly). I can keep my storyline and my character development without having to add more explosions and tech. (Though it’s tempting, especially the explosions. Explosion Wednesday? Anyone? Anyone?)

So I still have a long way to go. I’m a little over 30,000 words in and am starting to connect more and more of the literary dots. The thought of giving up crossed my mind only once, back in April, when I was only four months into my second major story revision and feeling like nothing I wrote was working.

There’s no reason to quit now. I can’t imagine giving three years of my life to something I truly cared about and then throwing it all aside the second things started getting harder. It’s the same reason I finished my fourth year of college even though my junior year was a train wreck and I wanted out.

I think writing a book is about more than just writing a story. If you’ve never written a book, I’m not sure it’s possible to completely understand what it means to do it. Half the time I find myself so engrossed in what I’m working on that I forget about the outside world. I forget I’m not getting paid for this (a thought that crosses my mind about 500 times a day amidst other tasks).

You start writing a book, and you become too involved with your characters to back out when you know things are about to get good. You can’t just leave them to their own devices. It is still sci-fi, after all. Anything could happen.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter. 

What Is Your Villain’s Motive?


Admit it: you love writing in evil characters.

It’s fun. It’s different. But it can also be challenging, to create a villain that is evil for a good reason—maybe even enough to feel sorry for her. Or him. 

In most (but not all) cases, villains are people, too. There’s always a motive—a reason why they, intentionally or not, do bad things. Adopting the villain lifestyle for the sake of pure evil can work, but it’s just not as realistic. It might turn some readers off.

While you don’t need to please everyone all the time, characterization that is believable is what makes a story readable. Relatable. Likable.

If your story has a villain, but you’re not sure of her or his exact motive for “living the evil life,” here are some questions you can ask yourself to find a reason that works. 

Does her/his personal past result in resentment toward another character or situation?

You can’t just come up with a villain for the sake of having a villain. Not only does your main character sometimes need someone to battle against, but back stories and haunting revelations (no really, I’m your dad, dude) add suspense, mystery and excitement to your main plotline.

Sometimes it’s the “bad guy”’s past that sends him on an evil streak. Let that drive the villain to act irrationally, even if you don’t reveal the exact motive right away (or even if you don’t figure it out right away, either). Roll with it. At some point in the story, hopefully, it will all come together. 

Did your main character do something to tick your villain off?

Not all villains are born evil. Come on, Anakin was cute when he was 10. The most ordinary, harmless characters can be pushed over the edge, even unintentionally, by other characters. Some people are really good at holding grudges. For a long, long time.

The Incredibles comes to mind with this point, but it’s not a new concept. Twist it whichever way works for your story and set of characters. Even better, switch the roles around. Your main character is the villain, and doesn’t know much about her motive other than the fact that she hates so-and-so and wants him dead/captured/etc. 

Is she/he power-hungry, or fearful of losing power she/he already has? 

As we’ve learned from about every hero vs. villain story out there, power can make anyone do things she or he would not normally do. Toss in a need for your character to gain, or maintain, power over something. Even if it’s just for the sake of taking power away from someone else.

We’ve planned out a series of posts over the next few weeks that are a bit more fiction-specific, maybe a little “out there” in some cases, but we’re just trying something different. Even we get bored with doing the same old thing, day after day, every once in a while.

Come back later this week for more on new ways to reveal your villain’s motive to other characters and the reader.

This is going to be a fun week.

Image courtesy of