A Silly Robot’s Guide to Writing Sci Fi: Part 2 – Planning

I’ll admit it:

I am most definitely a ‘pantster’.

However, that doesn’t always work to my advantage. More often than not, I find myself stuck at some critical juncture in the story. That’s the point where I think, “…hmm…should have planned a little more…”

When I do plan, even just a little, I find that my story moves along smoothly; not to mention ‘stuck’ becomes ‘mildly inconvenienced’. It’s not my favorite thing to do, but planning can seriously up your game on a project. Especially if you’re a Science Fiction writer.

1. Do Your Research

I covered this in a previous post. Researching takes a long time, but in the end it’s worth it. You learn a lot, and it helps you grow as a writer and expert. Remember that there are several aspects of research, and skimping on any of them will hurt your plan.

Particularly in Sci Fi, research will deal with complex scientific systems and budding scientific discoveries. If you plan out how you reveal certain aspects of what you have researched, moving the story along becomes easy. The science can be a major part of the plot, or just a device to make it work.

Whatever you use it for, do the research.

And while you research, keep a log of story ideas. Whether it’s written or on your phone or computer. If you don’t keep track of your ideas, they will leave you and return to the ether.

Research must be recorded.

2. Plan the Ending First

If you have ever written anything, you know that ending a story is the hardest part. I recommend planning how you are going to end a story before you ever begin it.

But Will, that’s crazy!

Is it?

The stories that I have the most trouble with are the ones that I don’t know how to end.

If you’re like most of us who write, you will inevitably be sitting somewhere. Let’s say Whataburger. Or for those of you who aren’t fortunate enough to live in a state with Whataburger, let’s say…ugh…McDonald’s.

And while you’re sitting there enjoying your juicy…

Ok, you know what? I can’t do it. You’re at Whataburger. You’re vacationing in Texas.

And while you’re sitting there enjoying your juicy Patty Melt and gimongous drink (cause you can and it’s always 100 degrees down here. Dec. 18th when I’m writing this and the high temp was 86 today) you get a killer idea for a story.

Your main man is going to do that super awesome thing that puts him in all of these larger than life situations, and at the end of it all…

At the end of it all…

CRAP what happens at the end of the story?

So you jot down your idea (in your handy dandy notebook or iphone or whatever) and when you sit down to write, think about how you want it to end. Happy ending? Sad ending? Open ending? Knowing how the story ends is just as important as the story itself.

But Will, it’s the journey not the destination that really matters!

Well, you can spout Eastern philosophy all you want, but that doesn’t change the fact that all of your reviews are going to say,

“The ending was kind of disappointing. That’s why I only gave it 2 stars.”

3. Character Development

This is going to sound like redundant rhetoric, but character development can make or break your story. I write mostly short fiction, and character development is much more important than story development. The story sort of develops on its own with my characters. (I said sort of. No angry comments.)

This doesn’t mean you have to spend three pages describing Clark Kent’s background, but it does mean you have to reveal his character.

So put him in a situation that does just that.

Character development does not have to be boring. If done well, it can be the driving force in a story. So before you start writing the story, write your character. This deosn’t have to be extensive, but you should have some sort of grasp on your character’s personality. Hero or anti-hero? Shy or charismatic? Strong or weak?

I like to use the analogy of Kirk and Picard.

Yes, I’m that big of a nerd.

Kirk flies by the seat of his pants, and is a metaphor for Humanism and Hedonism. He wants to shoot first and ask questions later. He only plays by the rules when he has to, and all other times he throws the book out the window. Or the airlock rather. You can’t throw stuff out of windows on the Enterprise.

Picard is more reserved; he weighs every option and holds regular meetings for input. He is calm and calculated, without being as stoic as Mr. Spock. He rarely acts without hours of reflection and considerations, all while sipping his Earl Grey and eating scones.

But we don’t have to read that in a paragraph. Here’s what to do:

Have three Romulan Warbirds decloak in front of the Enterprise and let’s see who does what!

4. Outline

Which brings us to our final point.

Having an outline of your story will help keep everything in order, plus it will allow you room to move. What I mean by that is you don’t have to stick to the outline strictly. There will be plenty of room to veer in and out of the defined lines. I.e. the Enterprise is confronted by three decloaked Warbirds and the resolution is a tachyon burst to disrupt their warp engines. However, I did not say how the tachyon burst would be initiated. Perhaps Mr. Data initiates it from the tractor beam dish, or maybe Geordi creates it from the Enterprise’s own warp field.

Or Kirk just fires three photon torpedoes and the phaser array, all while Scotty boosts the warp engines and they outrun the danger.

Either way works. But they all fit the outline.

All in all, planning can make a mediocre Sci Fi story into something that grabs the reader’s attention and doesn’t let go. And who knows? Maybe it will lead to a cherished cult classic in the vein of Asimov and Dick? Use these ideas, mix and match, or ignore them altogether.

But keep writing!

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