Thursday, May 31, 2012

Writing Science Fiction and Other Genres

A writer asked me: What goes into writing a sci-fi novel if I come from a literary background?

To write science fiction it's probably best that you didn't come from a literary background, since they are very different genres. Literary novels tend to be slow-paced stories about the human condition. Sci-fi focuses more on future worlds, outter space themes, and includes a lot of science explanation (real or made up).

I think the important things to becoming a sci-fi writer would be to read dozens of sci-fi novels and short stories, so your brain picks up (consciously and unconsciously) the elements of a sci-fi story. Study the masters like Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, as well as current best-selling authors. Another way to learn is to start writing and get your first draft written, then get feedback from friends, mentors, or writer's groups. I've learned most of my writing skills through hours and hours of writing. Your writing may be rough at first, but you'll eventually get the hang of it. Writing is a skill that can be learned and developed over years.

No matter what genre you're writing, it's good to read other genres to understand story and characterization. Reading thrillers and action adventure novels teach you how to write at an entertaining pace. Mystery novels teach you how to add an element of mystery and incorporate cliffhangers and plot twists to to keep the reader turning the pages. Horror teaches you how to add suspense, dread, and themes surrounding death and confronting our deepest fears.

Reading literary novels help you create characters who come to life on the page and have more depth and heart so readers care about them. Ultimately, I recommend buying a book on how to write science fiction and one on how to plot out a novel. Once you learn the mechanics of novel writing you can break the rules and add your own style to any genre. Many bestselling books these days mix genres.

When I decided to become a horror author, I read as many horror novels and short stories as I could find, becoming exposed to a number of different styles and themes. Then I read thrillers and mysteries, sci-fi, military novels, romance, historical, and some literary novels. As my writing evolved, I've incorporated elements from many genres into my books. I also have read a number of books and articles on how to write horror, mystery, and thrillers. I continue to read how-to books on writing to sharpen my skills.

Whether you're writing sci-fi or other genres, the best thing to do is just start writing. You can always improve as you go.