Stephen D Covey

Science, Science Fiction & Thriller Writer

What makes a science fiction writer?

  1. Being an avid science fiction reader. This provides a background of the genre, and reveals what you like.  It seems to be very important to write what you like, else motivation and ultimately quality will suffer.
  2. A desire, nay a compulsion to write, to be a storyteller. Without this, the slow pace of measurable results kills all motivation, sending the want-to-be writer into more immediately profitable endeavors.
  3. Imagination: ideas provide the feedstock of stories.  It is possible to write an unoriginal story, based upon characters copied from the world around you, saying nothing new and yet still be a success.  However, that requires a lot of skill in the art of storytelling.  Many SF authors have taken the alternative approach of having great ideas and letting those ideas be the basis of the story instead of the characters.
  4. Voice and/or style: this is the essence that combines the art of storytelling, the writer's imagination, and the presentation of dialog, setting, and action into a unique fingerprint of an individual writer.  Voice can be developed, but it cannot be taught.
  5. Last but not least is the craft, the implementation of the story.  The good news is that this, at least, can be learned, and there are hundreds of books on the subject of "how to write".  The bad news is that writing a great story almost invariably requires writing lots of bad stories first, in order to practice and learn.  I cringe when I remember the first SF story that I wrote.  My more recent early attempts were characterized by good ideas, settings, and dialog, but failed to tell proper stories and failed to have strong endings. I continue to learn.

Another vital resource is support from family, friends, and especially fellow writers. It is difficult, perhaps impossible to learn in a vacuum: one needs editors, people to provide motivation, and perhaps most importantly a teacher or critique group that will help improve your craft, pointing out mistakes, offering alternate approaches.  In science fiction & fantasy, the need for a specialty group is possibly more important than in any other genre because of the unique characteristics of speculative fiction: the setting is often not contemporary or historical, yet must still in some sense be believable; implications of new technologies must be considered; and the use of metaphors should often be avoided, especially in the beginning of a story as the rules of the story's universe are being learned by the reader.

First things first:  all Science Fiction and Fantasy writers should subscribe to LOCUS, our genre journal. Locus is loaded with genre information including reviews, interviews, and lists of newly accepted works (often complete with agents name - a valuable piece of information if you would like to find an agent who works with similar writers).

A MUST READ How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. This book does an excellent job of describing the essential differences between our genre and the rest of the fiction universe.  It also gives great examples of common errors, lists of additional resources, and of course practical advice from a Hugo & Nebula Award winner. How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card


PLOT Conflict, Action & Suspense STRUCTURE

Other useful generic books:

The Writers Block The Elements of Style

Finally, several more books on writing Science Fiction: