mystyic asked: Do you have any tips for fantasy or science fiction writers?

Yeah, I think I can drudge up some tips for you! How about these?

  1. Read How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. This thin, unassuming how-to book is considered by a lot of writers to be the final word on writing speculative fiction, specifically Science Fiction and Fantasy. There are a ton of great tips and advice in that guide. It’s well-worth having a physical copy to highlight and make notes in. Whatever Card might be in his personal life, when it comes to Science Fiction and Fantasy, the man can write a damn book. 
  2. Learn from other writers who know their stuff. Check out Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by David Gerrold and the Science Fiction Writing Series including books by Stephen L. Gillett, Stanley Albery Schmidt, Ben Bova, and Paul J. Nahin. These books are great resources and starting points, but they should not be the only books you read before you write (see 3 and 4).
  3. Know your genre. Read Science Fiction and Fantasy books. Read Science Fiction and Fantasy books. Learn the different sub-genres and read a few books from each sub-genre to feel out where your interests lie. A sampling of the narrative genres and sub-genres may be found on this post, and we have some book lists that may interest you here:
  4. Do lots and lots of research. And not just because it’s fun. Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy means writing another world, a world very different from our own, but often with aspects that we, the readers, recognize. With that in mind, writers hoping to tell stories within these genres often spend time learning about climate, culture, war, technology, biology, psychology, linguistics, physics, mythology—you name it, Science Fiction and Fantasy authors are researching it, both broadly and in deep, intricate detail. Not only are they learning about our world, they are building on it and warping it and turning it on its head to create their own. When it comes to Science Fiction and Fantasy, the facts of our world are like cold taffy; writers pull and twist and stretch at them then package the result of their efforts in a story. For more on how to do research, check out the posts in our “research" tag.
  5. Consider Symbolism (I know I do). Symbolism plays a huge role in many works of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Symbolism, when it is not heavy-handed (and even when it is) can enrich a work of fiction and make the world the story is written in feel more intricate and complete. It wouldn’t kill you to pick up a dictionary of symbols and just leaf through it. If anything, you might get some cool ideas.
  6. Share your world view. More often than not, Science Fiction and Fantasy stories allude, whether directly or obliquely, to current events. The authors are having opinions about politics and the goings-on in the “real world” through the medium of space ships, dragons, and heroes with a mind to ruffle the status quo. If you’ve got opinions on current events and social issues, a Science Fiction or Fantasy story would be a great place to work them in.
  7. Draw all the things. Doodle your world and your characters. Because so much of writing Science Fiction and Fantasy is coming up with stuff that doesn’t actually exist, visualizing an outfit or terrain or an object might best be achieved by simply drawing it. This is a useful method for creating consistency as well. If you draw it, you have at least a rough idea of what it looks like so you can describe whatever it is the same way each time it comes up. Not only that, you’ve now created it both through words and pictorially—you’re doubly likely to remember details about the thing, place, person, whatever. Also, doodling is effing awesome.
  8. Decide how “big” your story is and make sure you write for a story that size. Science Fiction and Fantasy stories range from epicslife and death on a global, sometimes galactic scaleall the way to very personal stories with a small cast of characters and specific psychological themes. However “big” your story is, however high the stakes are for the safety of the planet or the kingdom or the protagonist’s sanity, remember to write accordingly. Believe me, there’s a huge difference between Star Wars and Moon
  9. Show off your creation. Science Fiction and Fantasy readers want to live in other worlds through the stories they read. They want immersion, and that’s your job. As such, you need to make sure that you are actually showing your readers enough of your story’s world to sate their desire for escapism. It can be difficult, then, to know how much information to include. My preference is to include all of it. Infodump in the first draft then trim the fat later. Show off. Write in exhaustive detail about every little thing, every minute and inconsequential nuance. You can pare down your description in the second draft. That is what revision is for. In your first draft, be expansive. Go off on tangents. Pontificate. Be proud of the world you’ve created for your readers. Don’t hold back.
  10. Troll TVTropes. The Science Fiction and Fantasy genres are fit to burst with tropes, and they both have more than their fair share of cliches. It would be a very good idea to peruse TVTropes to get an idea of what these tropes and cliches are before you write. Here is Fantasy and here’s Science Fiction. Go to town. 
  11. Play a tabletop or online RPG. That’s right. I said it. Play Dungeons & Dragons, World of Warcraft, and/or Everquest. Not enough to get obsessive, maybe, but enough to get an idea of the interplay between different races and strengths of characters. RPGs have been working the Fantasy and Science Fiction angle for a long, long time. You could benefit from their experience if you have the patience to learn their rules.
  12. Steal. In the not-awful sense, of course. If you like a writer’s idea of time-travel or the inclusion of a talking dog or of a female villain protagonist for the protagonist’s best friend, the take that element and mold it and make it yours. Put your own unique stink on it, so to speak, and use it in your story. You do not—I repeat, you do not and you cannot be 100% original 100% of the time. It’s okay to borrow a few small bits or a vague idea here and there from a fellow writer. They won’t mind. They probably “stole” it, too. For more on originality, see this post from us and this one from fuckyourwritinghabits

That’s all you get for now because I can’t think of any more off the top of my head, but I believe a list of twelve tips is sufficient for the present, don’t you? 

Thank you for your question!

-C


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