A lot of people are scared of writing a novel. But you’re not. Right?
Because you’re here. You’ve got it in your head to write the next great sci-fi novel already, and you’re on the internet to figure out just how to write sci-fi. You’re not scared. you’re excited. You want to learn. You can’t wait to start breaking the keys on your keyboard.
So let me help. I’ve got a decent bit of experience science fiction with a half-dozen novels under my belt. Since I started out writing Birthright, I really do think I’ve learned a few tricks on how to write sci-fi. I’m no Isaac Asimov or John Scalzi, but I’m not total garbage–at least I keep telling myself that!
how to write sci-fi, step 1: pick a sci-fi genre
You’re going to get nowhere if you don’t pick a sci-fi genre. There are just too many out there to say you’re just writing sci-fi. I mean, you have to know who your audience is going to be. Folks who like first contact with aliens may not be interested in your nanotech thriller. You might alienate (haha, puns) readers if you advertise your book as hard sci-fi but instead have lots of handwavium like Star Wars (which is a science-fantasy or space opera, depending on who you ask).
Picking a sci-fi genre to write in is mega important. Each sub-genre has its own conventions, and the better you know them, the more successful you’ll be. After all, there’s a reason formula novels have made Harlequin millions and millions of dollars. People look for specific things in their fiction, and if you’re learning how to write sci-fi, then you’re gonna have to learn how to give them what they want. I learned that lesson the hard way.
step 2: pick the right software
It may not sound like a big deal, but picking the right software can make or break your novel writing. I’ve written and edited full manuscripts in a handful of different programs: Microsoft Word, Pages, Google Docs, and Scrivener.
And time and again, I keep going back to Scrivener. It’s not the cheapest (that would be either Pages or Google Docs, since they’re free), but it’s the most robust. I like how I can keep my manuscripts organized with separate documents for chapters and research, and I can keep folders of notes in a sidebar without doing lots of tabbing in and out to look at them.
But keep in mind, that’s for writing. I draft in Scrivener. When it comes to editing, there’s nothing that beats Microsoft Word. There’s a reason it’s the industry standard. I tried using Google Docs for this, but loading a 100k-word manuscript into a web-based editor is not something I’d suggest you do. Even on my new 2016 Macbook Pro, it bogs down like mad.
Pages might be okay to write and edit in these days, but I haven’t tried in years. I’ll probably give it a shot on my new laptop just to see.
step 3: butt in chair, hands on keyboard
You will never learn how to write sci-fi if you don’t sit down and do it. All your hemming and hawing will be for nothing if you never make the time to write. Steal a few minutes here and there to get words on paper. The only way to get a novel written is to write it. You have to sit down and put some kind of words on paper.
I used to say I treated writing like the job I wanted it to be. And now, I’ve quit my job as a college English teacher, and I work as a freelance writer. I make my living with my words. I get paid to make stuff up. It’s awesome. But I never would have been able to do that if I hadn’t sat myself down in a chair and done it.
So…if you want advice on how to write sci-fi (or just write in general), start writing. Put your butt in a chair and start writing. Sure, pick a genre (but you can always refine your conventions later) and grab whichever word processor you prefer (in the end, they all do the same thing). Then start writing. Let yourself write garbage. But make sure that you’re writing.
There is no magic solution to becoming an author. It’s a craft to me, not an art. Which means that if you if you want to know how to write sci-fi, then the only advice I can give you is this: write sci-fi.