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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Five Things Every Science Fiction Story Should Have

What makes a good science fiction story? What elements do you need? Well, the following list are what I think are necessary elements to every science fiction story, including elements that should be givens for stories in general. Feel free to disagree with me in the comments section of this post. In no particular order:
  • Sympathetic Characters
    Tack onto this characters that your audience can identify with. Science fiction is known for having aliens, robots, and other bizarre things as centerpieces to the story. If one of those oddities happens to be a significant character that you want your readers to be interested in, then you have to make them somehow "human." The readers need to sympathize with those characters, understand their struggles and motives, etc.
  • Technology (or a damn good reason for the lack thereof)
    Science fiction doesn't exist without technology. A story set in 1776 is not science fiction, unless you can make a convincing time travel story (but then, in theory, your story would have started in the future rather than 1776). If you have a complete lack of technology, then you should be able to justify that--dystopias can still be science fiction even if there is little to no technology present.
  • The Future
    Well, duh, right? This requirement is somewhat difficult, though, because for obvious reasons a lot of novels that are science fiction aren't set in a real future. 1984 is technically set in the past, now. So, to amend this, I will say that the future must be the future at the time of publication. Yeah, procedural-ish and annoying, but so be it. Science fiction is about the future, so it must be there.
  • Conflict
    Because what story can exist without some sort of conflict? Okay, so there are stories that have no conflicts, but those stories aren't generally remembered for being good, right? Science fiction stories do well with some sort of conflict. I've never read a successful science fiction story in which nothing happened. Ever.
  • Something Interesting
    This can be a conflict, a character, or maybe a fancy new technological idea. Regardless of the "interesting thing" you choose, it has to coincide with the plot and make us, the readers, interested. Think back to some of your favorite science fiction stories. What made them interesting to you? Cool tech devices? Space travel? Weird aliens? A clever dystopic view of society? Take the good things away from your favorite stories. They were successful for a reason!
There you go. Five Things that every science fiction story should have! What do you think? I may do another list in the future, by the way, so keep a lookout!

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  1. I have to disagree about your 'Technology' requirement, well.. not so much that I disagree that Sci-Fi requires technology (though I still think that's debatable) but that you can't have a story set in 1776 be sci-fi unless there's time travel. Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is a perfect example of a book that is totally Sci-Fi, but just happens to have *older* technology. After all, even the wheel was technology to someone at some time.

  2. Of course, that series also negates your 'Future' requirement. Which seems totally bunk to me - for instance, alternate histories can still be science fiction even if they're not set in *our* future!

  3. Or even alternate realities, Science Fiction can revolve around a "same time period as now" alternate reality that developed faster or differently then ours.

  4. And....what about other planets who may have advanced well before ours and show up in our now or our past for whatever reason, in their space ships....

  5. Mulluane - Check mine and SMD's twitter, he's adamant that if it doesn't take place in the future it isn't sci-fi. I cry bull, personally and can site plenty of novels that are sci-fi and neither technologically advanced nor set in the future.

  6. Mulluane: If the advanced civilization shows up in a past human time, on Earth, then it's alternate history with a scifi element, but not science fiction. It should stay within alternate history. If it's advanced civilization showing up tomorrow, then it's science fiction, because it's set in tomorrow. Even if our tomorrow is still just like today. Nothing wrong with that. But it's speculating upon what could happen tomorrow, and that's what science fiction does.

    And the technology thing was NEVER a definite thing. I put in that bullet that you either have to have technology or a good reason for the lack thereof. Hence why dystopias are scifi, generally speaking.

  7. Loopdiloo,
    Can you please give me examples of sci/fi novels that don't use technology?

    I don't think a good science fiction novel nessicerily needs to be in the future, you always see some "state of the art" or before our time elements of technology.

    Thanks, interesting blog. Writing a paper on the elements of good science fiction paper.