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How to Write a Science Fiction Short Story

Candace has a broad range of interests that keep her head filled with strange facts, such as experimental cooking, games, and mad science.

How to Write a Science Fiction Short Story

How to Write a Science Fiction Short Story

Do you love science fiction and want to know how to write your own stories? Whether it's for an assignment or you aspire to be a writer, you will find some helpful tips for writing amazing short science fiction below.

Short stories are an easier way to start writing than trying to dive straight into a novel. A short story can be a less daunting task. And there are actually more opportunities out there to sell short stories and enter contests as opposed to longer pieces. Writing a short story may seem easy. But writing a great short story takes skill. Aspire to write a story that will leave readers wanting more rather than a story no one wants to read.

Learn the basics of short stories and how to craft them. Then how to incorporate science fiction elements into a story will be discussed. With these tips and guidelines, you will be on your way to becoming a stellar science fiction short story writer.

Writing Short Stories: The Basics

The approach to writing a short story is different in many ways from the technique of writing a novel. The difference comes down to one key word—short. Short stories have a limited number of words and that dictates how they should be written.

In a novel, the author can take the time to develop plot, characters, background, and story. With short stories, space is limited. The author has to get the story rolling and can't take the time for scenic detours.

The Elements of a Short Story

  • a limited number of characters
  • succinctly described setting
  • 1-2 plot conflicts
  • one point of view
  • one tense throughout the story
  • strong beginning and end
  • clear point or theme

What to Keep in Mind When Writing a Short Story

These are some basic ideas to keep in mind when writing short stories:

  • Hook the reader right from the start. If you don't do that, the reader will just flip to something else. A strong beginning in a short story will make the readers want to know more.
  • Don't start at the very beginning in a short story. Get straight into the action. Background and pages of buildup aren't necessary.
  • Description should be limited in a short story. You will start losing the audience's attention if you go into lengthy descriptions. This goes for character descriptions as well.
  • Establish the setting and the characters, and then move on to the problem. The plot is what the readers will care about most.
  • Keep the number of characters to a minimum. Too many characters will make the story too complex and the readers won't be able to tell them apart.
  • Dialogue and action will drive the story forward. They will also keep the reader involved in what is going on.
  • Focus on one or two ideas in a short story. More than a couple of plot conflicts can make the story too muddled and confusing.
  • Make every word of the story count. Don't add details to fluff up the story. Keep it simple and eliminate anything slowing down the story.
  • Know what the point of the story is and direct the story to it by the end. When the reader knows what the point is, that should be the conclusion.
  • End the story in a way that readers will remember. It doesn't have to be a neatly-tied-up happily ever after. But the readers should know what the point of the story was or they will be dissatisfied.

Think of a short story as being like a trip across town and a novel like a road trip. In a novel, the readers will become invested in the characters and what happens to them. In a short story, the reader cares about the conflict and the point of the story. It is something to read during one sitting.

So trust the readers to pick up on what's going on without unnecessary flourishes. Grab the readers' attention, get them to the point, and then finish it up.

The Mechanics of the Story

Here are a few more technical things to think about when writing short stories:

  • Pick a tense (typically past or present) and stick with it through the whole story.
  • Use one point of view throughout the story. If you start off inside the character's head, stay there. The same is true if you use third-person point of view. Avoid speaking from multiple characters' points of view in short stories.
  • Outlining or mapping the story can help clarify plot details and better organize the story. This can help if you are having writer's block or are stuck at a plot point.
  • Follow the basic rules of storytelling, at least in the beginning. Having a clear grasp of story crafting is essential. Then down the road you can bend the typical story rules artfully.
  • Proofread and edit the story when you are done. No one likes to see errors. It jolts the reader out of the world of the story.
  • Have someone critique your work. Pick someone who is knowledgeable about storytelling and who will give you good constructive criticism. A writing group or writing workshop are a great idea for aspiring writers. Critters.org is one of the many writing critique and workshop sites available.

Tips on Writing Short Stories

Science Fiction Writing

And now that the general craft of short stories has been addressed, here are some things to consider when writing a science fiction story. First, what makes a story science fiction or fantasy?

  • In science fiction, the imaginary elements are typically based in the scientific realm or can be explained scientifically.
  • In fantasy literature, the imaginary elements are usually explained by magic or other supernatural phenomena.

Writing a unique sci-fi story is all about finding your own voice. There is a saying that there are no new stories, only old ones with different words. So writing a creative science fiction story is more about the way you take the ideas and present them and less about trying to create the weirdest new world you can imagine.

Think about some of your favorite science fiction and fantasy stories. Think about popular science fiction stories. Are they the ones that have the most unfathomable worlds or plots? Not at all. They are the ones that describe the old stories in a new way.

For example, dystopian, post-apocalyptic stories have been around forever. What makes the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins such a good story? She took the concept of an oppressive government (like 1984) and blended it with Greek myths and the idea of gladiatorial games. She put it in a more futuristic setting and added the modern-day voyeuristic, fashion victim themes. So none of the ideas are really new. What makes it unique is how Collins molded the elements together.

To make a believable and appealing science fiction story, follow these essentials:

  • Stick to general descriptions of the world or sci-fi element of the story. Don't get too technical or you are going to alienate too much of your audience. Mainstream readers are not going to be physics experts or really care to know the exact mechanics of how your imaginary world works.
  • Keep the language simple even if the world or the idea is complex. Practice what Terry Bison says, "The more extraordinary the idea, the more ordinary the language." Very few people want to decipher a new alien language or special jargon just to read your story.
  • Don't try to incorporate too many strange and fantastical elements into a story. One or two science fiction or fantasy aspects are plenty for a short story. Readers don't want to feel way out of depth with too much to try to figure out.
  • Have a character that readers can relate to. The character doesn't have to be a human, but readers need a medium to view the world and a character they can identify with offers this. Imagine real people you know for inspiration.

How to Become a Better Writer

It is no coincidence that the best writers are also the best readers. Reading other people's writing can help you improve your own. It can spark new ideas for your own stories. You can see what works well in a story. You can also see what doesn't work in stories.

Think about what you like to read and why you like it. Notice what bothers you when you are reading and avoid those things in your own work. Don't give up if writing is something you really want to do. Not everyone will like your writing. Don't get your heart broken when that happens. Bear in mind that you will be rejected and criticized.

But if you want to be published one day, keep at it. Practicing writing and polishing your work until you get a really great story. Then write more really great stories. And one day you will hopefully discover that someone loves your story. And if you are especially lucky, you will have a lot of people who love your story, or in other words, fans.

Science Fiction Ideas Poll

Comments

Catalina Simona from Romania on May 16, 2020:

Great article.

Ella Wood on March 18, 2020:

Science fiction is one of the most creative genres in literature. Under this genre, you can write about almost anything – from adventures in faraway galaxies to the underwater worlds and everything in between. In science fiction, the otherworldly and sometimes unimaginable things are tackled. This is exactly what author Len Stage loves about science fiction. His recently published book entitled The Brotherhood of the Wone is a fascinating read containing many elements of science fiction.

https://www.lenstagebooks.com/the-pros-of-writing-...

Harshith Kambalapuram on February 25, 2020:

It is really helpful thank you for helping

Milan De Lauren from Wexford on February 18, 2020:

Well written and useful article.

Simple language, complex ideas.

Complex character, simple language.

I think that I'll use this next...

Thanks for the advice. Milan De Lauren

nick gurr on February 04, 2020:

not what im looking for

rah on January 23, 2020:

oh. my. god. that's EXACTLY what i was looking for!!!! thank you extremely much!!

iriza on January 23, 2020:

we are grateful for the information because it has helped as we as students in our assignments

A on January 08, 2020:

thanks for the information

I will definitely using this

El on November 11, 2019:

my story will be about a girl in the future that blows up in a space ship and suvives

El on November 11, 2019:

thanks for the help! i will be using it.

Tanmay on May 18, 2019:

Great tips. I like them very much. I think I can improve my story with your tips.

Elizabeth McPherson on April 28, 2019:

I appreciate your advice ant poll. I am gettin started now. Thanks.

Sierra on March 16, 2019:

It better work

Minnar on October 27, 2018:

Helpful tips and i love it. My story is inspired by the movie Man of Steel. Today the ideas has just been flowing in non stop all of a sudden thats why i've been searching on how to write a story/short story as i have never done it before

Anna on September 22, 2018:

Thank you so much. I love sci fi

Xxxxx

tom on March 20, 2018:

thanks

Rylee Rae on November 29, 2016:

Thank you :) i loooove science fiction more than life

Molly Layton from Alberta on March 08, 2016:

Thanks for these great tips!

Olde Cashmere on July 15, 2015:

I write and self publish my science fiction short stories and this was helpful and eye opening. There is always something to learn and it's important to always be on the lookout for inspiration. Great work :)

Irma Cowthern from Los Angeles,CA on April 25, 2015:

Thank you for this excellent hub.

Sharon Lee Goodhand from Queensland Australia on August 19, 2014:

Thanks! I actually write fantasy... but found this very interesting.

Candace Bacon (author) from Far, far away on October 13, 2012:

Dan Barfield - Thanks! A really good short story can be harder to write in some ways. You are getting into some great writers!

carlossalinas - You can always write a sci fi love story. Thank you!

chika-nicholas - I'm glad you have discovered a tool that will help you in your overall writing. Best of luck and thank you!

Jude-Pius Ibemere from Lagos,Nigeria on September 21, 2012:

Very informative hub! I sure learnt some craft about short-story writing, especially the part of not incorporating too many concepts into a short story. I am a science fiction and fantastical writer just getting my hands into short stories. Currently working on my first novel, I felt something like a creative burn-out. There was a need for a redirection of my creative energy into a new medium. That was when I chanced on, not only short story, but on flash fiction. Telling/showing my story in these two media have helped me in my novel-writing

Thanks for the hub, cocopreme.

carlossalinas from San Antonio, T.X. on September 08, 2012:

Great hub! I write mainly short stories about love, but after your hub, I might try some sci-fi! Thanks again!

Dan Barfield from Gloucestershire, England, UK on September 04, 2012:

Great hub! Succinct and clearly explained. I've only recently started getting into short stories via people like HP Lovecraft, Neil Gaimon and Isac Asimov. I think that is definitely harder to write a good short story than a good novel.

Candace Bacon (author) from Far, far away on June 08, 2012:

eric-carter - I'm glad you have found it helpful. I tried to structure it so that it could be easily skimmed and absorbed. Thank you!

M. T. Dremer - It can be difficult to write satisfying short stories as well as read them. I'm sure you will get the hang of it with more practice. Or maybe you can just write novels instead of short stories (easier said than done, right). :) Good luck with your future writing and thank you!

M. T. Dremer from United States on May 31, 2012:

Personally, I find short stories more difficult to write than novels. As you pointed out, the author needs to convey characters, plot and setting, in a fraction of the time. I still haven't really mastered it. Although, I suppose a lot of that has to do with my own personal interests. I prefer to read a novel over a short story because I find it more satisfying. So it makes sense that, without consistent examples, I wouldn't be very good at writing short stories either. But you've got some good suggestions here. Voted up!

eric-carter from Fulham, UK on May 17, 2012:

cocopreme, thank you for the great hub and mostly for the way you wrote and structured your article. I've read many "How to Write.." articles, but from yours I really understood some basics.

Best regards!

Candace Bacon (author) from Far, far away on May 15, 2012:

KDuBarry03 - You are right. Sci fi and fantasy do expand the mind and enrich the imagination. Reading and becoming familiar with the craft is the best way to become a better writer. Thanks so much!

KDuBarry03 on May 14, 2012:

SciFi and Fantasy writing/readings are definitely a great way to express and expand your imagination and story telling! Yes, it is true that the greatest writers are also the greatest readers: Read what other writers have done to see what you can and can't do and work from those ideas.

Candace Bacon (author) from Far, far away on May 06, 2012:

htodd - Fiction is great. Thanks!

slcockerham - My real life is pretty full of sci fi (and faction). Thank you!

slcockerham from Tallahassee, Florida on May 06, 2012:

Cocopreme, a great hub on writing short stories, life is full of fiction, faction, and sci-fi on many levels.

htodd from United States on May 06, 2012:

Fiction is really a great..and I did many in the past