My Treatments for the Hardships of Writing Science Fiction

Writing science fiction is something I never thought I’d do this “early” in my life.

There was a time when I imagined it to be the most difficult genre to write, because not only do you have to build an entire world with realistic politics, religions, and cultures — you also have to create technology that makes sense in this future world. In college, I would daydream about writing sci-fi as I watched science documentaries and penned maps of fictional planets. But I honestly didn’t think I was anywhere near ready to write sci-fi of my own.

At some point, a few years ago, I decided that was dumb. If I want to write science fiction, I should do it. Who cares how old and experienced I am (or am not)? It’s a learning experience, and I shouldn’t be too hard on myself.

But for me, that’s the most challenging thing about taking a stab at this genre. I probably am too hard on myself. I’m guessing other writers sometimes experience this: It’s easy for me to fall into the trap of over-analyzing my own novel, fearful that nobody else will get it or like it. I’ll spend weeks thinking my ideas are awesome, before spiraling into a mini-depression over how silly everything sounds. My tech is stupid. My aliens are too generic. My story isn’t deep enough, and nobody will believe it anyway.

I have no idea what the cure for all this is, but I know that it’s a contributor to writer’s block which is something no writer should ever get! All I can do is push through it. The doubts resurface every so often, but that’s part of the process. It’s part of being a writer. And luckily I’ve found a few metaphorical band-aids and painkillers and other little treatments to get me through those rough patches!

Here’s what works for me:

Learn More About Characters: My characters are the heart and soul of my story. At times, I get a little intimidated with plotting and overwhelmed with worldbuilding, so returning to my characters helps me feel grounded. Remembering my characters’ motivations and pains makes me want them to express themselves on the page again. Sometimes just thinking up a childhood story or writing a throw-away conversation between lovers can make me believe in them again.

Brainstorm the Details: Recently I had a hard time writing an action scene, because I was struggling to come up with names for my characters’ gear and weapons. It’s really silly. I should have thought of those details much earlier, but they got lost in the worldbuilding shuffle, I guess. So one day, I sat down and came up with a bunch of companies and corporations, along with their specializations in the tech and weapons industries. Before I knew it, I had a nice list of gadgets that each of my characters carried around on missions, which fit their unique personalities. Coming up with all this was a lot of fun, renewed my confidence, and made writing the action scene go so much more smoothly. So much of a story is in the details, it helps to nail them down.

Plot Backwards: Plotting is a bitch. For me, it’s so difficult to arrange scenes, create conflict, escalate drama, and all that. It’s not something I really pay attention to when I’m reading; I guess it just happens in a way that feels natural. But when I try to do it with my own stories, it feels like I’m being too manipulative, or like I’m building some sort of patchwork man. The only way I know how to do it in a way that feels at least okay to me is working backwards. I think of the story in general, then come up with the ending — that explosive action scene, or the plot twist, or how the characters end up together or apart. Then I think of how they get there, step by step, going all the way back to the beginning. In order for this ending to happen, I ask myself what the characters need to know and do first. And what about before that? I’ve read about this method of plotting many times, and it works pretty well for me, especially if I hit a dead end or feel a slump in the middle of a section.

Explore Themes: To really enjoy writing, my novel has to mean something to me. And for that to happen, I need to explore themes. It can’t just be about characters who do something, somewhere. The themes add the significance. Beyond that, they’re also one of the more fun things about the novel. Writing science fiction can feel very distant — mine is set in the future, on fictional worlds, with aliens who don’t exist, etc. But the themes can be very human. That’s why I like to dig into them when I’m feeling lost in my book. If I’m lucky, a new scene will occur to me that expresses a theme in an exciting or emotional way.

Besides that, I find reading really motivating. I’ve heard the saying that in order to write, you have to read a lot — and the more I read, the more I agree with that! I also try to remember why I love the science fiction genre and home in on that. =)

— Ashley

2 thoughts on “My Treatments for the Hardships of Writing Science Fiction”

  1. Sci-fi is hard, for sure. I wouldn’t say it’s the most difficult genre (I’d put it behind comedy and romance in that regard), but it’s definitely very challenging. I certainly can’t handle it. I’ve tried, and I just can’t do it justice. Hence why I focus on fantasy.

    Self-doubt is the plague of any creative person. To some extent it can keep you honest, but it can also stifle your creativity. A balance must be found. I’ve yet to discover a magic bullet solution to the problem, but usually the best answer is to just write anyway. The old “apply butt to chair, write” saying.

    If you haven’t already, I recommend checking out “On Writing” by Stephen King. Doesn’t have as much advice as you might think, but it can be oddly inspirational in own strange way. If he can write bestsellers while so drunk and high he can hardly stand, surely you can do something decent sober, right? And I like his no-nonsense approach to writing.

    Having people to talk things over with (ideally other writers, but just regular friends and loved ones can do) also helps. It’s always good to have a sounding board, and an alternative perspective. I know my lack of options on that front is a contributor to my recent lack of productivity.

    1. I will check out that book, I haven’t read it yet. Thanks! I agree about having someone to talk to as being helpful. It’s kind of a nice way to process your doubts just by saying things out loud, for me anyway.

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