Learn the art of writing science fiction in this guide and tutorial that will get you started on the path of authorship.

What Is Science Fiction?

Science fiction is a genre that has lasted for generations. But if you’re wondering, “what is sci fi?” that’s understandable. The genre varies widely, ranging from dystopian fantasies to cyberpunk stories to tales of futuristic or intergalactic societies.

In short, science fiction encompasses stories that share a reality that’s different from the one we know.

In general, there are two types of science fiction:

  • Hard science fiction: Includes concrete scientific details, like biology, chemistry, astrology, or physics.
  • Soft science fiction: Deals more with the economic, political, or psychological elements of the story
large bird man
Skillshare instructor and fiction writer Lincoln Michel shares a concept for a fantasy world and explains how to build your own.

Examples of Science Fiction Books and Authors

If you want to learn how to write science fiction, it’s helpful to start by reading science fiction examples.

We’ve compiled a list of science fiction books that range from classics to new releases that are appropriate for both young adults and adults.

  1. “Kindred” by Octavia E. Butler
  2. “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
  3. “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley
  4. “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood
  5. “The Martian” by Andy Weir
  6. “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” by N. K. Jemisin
  7. “Scythe” by Neal Shusterman
  8. “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury
  9. “Children of Blood and Bone” by Tomi Adeyemi
  10. “Six of Crows” by Leigh Bardugo
  11. “War of the Worlds” by H. G. Wells

Steps to Writing Science Fiction

Want to write a science fiction story? Here are six steps to get you started.

1. Brainstorm

You’re not only writing a science fiction story—you’re also drafting an entirely unique storyline in a new setting. That means you have a lot to come up with.

Start by brainstorming your fantasy world, characters, and overall theme. In sci-fi, your story often begins with the simple question: What if?

You can always start with a science fiction writing prompt to get the ideas flowing (don’t worry—we’ll share a few a little later), or you can simply start thinking about elements you’d like to weave into your story.

2. Focus on Characterization

Even if they exist in a fantasy setting, you have to create realistic characters. To get inside your characters’ heads, consider how your experiences overlap with those of the characters you’re creating.

“As writers of science fiction and fantasy, we have to find what I call portals into our characters’ heads,” says Skillshare instructor Lincoln Michel. “One handy exercise I found to do this is to use a Venn diagram in which you have two overlapping circles. On one side, it’s you, the author, and the other side, your character.” This visual tool helps you see what experiences or areas of interest you could have in common with the character you’re creating.

venn diagram
Fiction writer Lincoln Michel shares how to create a Venn diagram between you and your character as you work on characterization.

3. Work on World-Building

World-building doesn’t have to mean creating a whole world—it just refers to creating a different reality than our own.

Michel says to think about the “ripple effect” of making a change to your world.

“Thinking through those ripple effects is how we come up with stories that feel real, that have verisimilitude to them,” he says. “At the same time, world-building is also all about constraint. Because you cannot put everything that you’ve come up with on the page.”

Create Your Own Fantasy Story!

4. Ensure Consistency

When you are writing science fiction, you have to create consistent rules for your universe. Fantasy worlds often include mythological, fairytale, or technological tropes, but they also have to feel distinct.

In the “Harry Potter” series, for example, wizards need to go to magic school and use a wand to perform magic. In “Game of Thrones,” different families have access to different kinds of mythical creatures or advantages, and the story focuses on the political aspects of their world.

If you are writing a trilogy or a fantasy with multiple volumes, you need to make sure that your world-building is consistent across them. Once you’ve set the rules of your world into place, prioritize cohesiveness. Establishing limitations also helps your story from feeling overpowered.

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