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How NOT to Write Science Fiction

Updated on March 2, 2012

Writing a science fiction story? The following are tips NOT to follow. Every cliché was once an interesting and potentially innovative idea, that was the problem. After a few hundred uses they kind of lost their awesome.


Tip #1

Oh my god, Aliens! Who doesn’t love an alien story? Better yet, make the aliens fly giant UFOs and be super sophisticated but have them choose not to contact us so that everyone is wondering if they’re friendly or not. Then, they kill everyone but the strapping good guy and a small group of humans who will be forever grateful!

Tip #2

Remember those aliens from before? It would be even cooler if they were completely invincible except for one super mundane detail. Aside to M. Night Shyamalan: Seriously man? A planet made of 75% water and your aliens can’t get wet? What the hell was going to happen when it rained?

Tip #3

Your story will be easier to understand if the alien races all speak one language, all dress the same, have the same haircut, accent and set of moral values as well as one global government.

Tip #4

You know what’s super awesome? When giant aliens can hide in tiny human bodies and then suddenly be giant again (when it provides the most dramatic effect). Think Men in Black.

Tip #5

All alien species, from every other solar system and galaxy, should have evolved in the exact same way humans have except for minor differences like hair line or eye colour. Why? Because we’re awesome.

Tip #6

Evil aliens are ugly for a reason. Evil is directly proportionate to ugly in every other species in the universe.

Tip #7

To keep things from getting messy make all interspecies mating produce healthy, viable and intelligent offspring.

Good Guys and Bad Guys

Tip #8

Make sure your protagonist is a young white male who has issues with authority and treats women poorly until the heroine wins him over and tames his heart.

Tip #9

You know what all the best protagonists have in common? They are all so headstrong and stubborn that they will agree to go on suicidal missions with little or no explanation.

Tip #10

To make sure the reader hates him enough the antagonist should be completely evil with no redeeming features or reasoning whatsoever.

Tip #11

You know how in real life when one dictator dies another one takes over? Forget that. When your evil dictator dies just go ahead and topple his whole empire without a fight.

The Future of Humanity

Tip #12

Eliminate confusion. In your version of Earth’s future make sure that everyone on Earth is happily ruled by one global, democratic government.

Tip #13

This tip will definitely make your book a bestseller. Make all women in the future beautiful, curvy and have a propensity for skin tight jumpsuits.

Tip #14

In the same vein, there should be no fat or unattractive people in your version of the future.

Tip #15

Want to make the future way more fun? Have everything covered with sparkly lycra and make it all ridiculously bright. No one should wear jeans or toques EVER.

Science and Other Nonsense

Tip #16

You know how Earth has one moon? Wouldn’t it be awesome if every other planet in the entire universe had two?

Tip #17

Your readers aren’t scientists! Make your spaceships look really cool instead of considering the fact that aerodynamics is useless in space since it has no air.

Tip #18

On the same note, don’t worry about there not being any sound in space. Just go ahead and ignore it.

Tip #19

It’s important to make any guard or soldier completely incompetent so that the good guy can get around them.

Tip #20

Just in case you need someone to fall to their death make sure there are no safety protocols regarding guardrails on catwalks.

Tip #21

You know what would be awesome? Ending your science fiction story with, “And then he turned off the virtual reality simulator.”

Here check it out:

“And then she turned of the virtual reality simulator and all the tips above became painfully overused cliches.”

Have a nice day!


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    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Whowas - I"m reading the Hobbit right now and your comment made me laugh! Maybe my article will help deter some of those unfortunate manuscripts? Thanks for stopping by.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Ah yes, all those tired old clichés and do you know poor editors still get hundreds if not thousands of these landing on the desktop every day.

      The funny thing is that it is perfectly possible for a writer to produce this sort of thing and genuinely believe that they have the verbal equivalent of gold dust. You know, as in the old faerie stories when the hero returns home with the treasure stolen fro the Lordly Ones From Under the Hills only to find that it was all glamour and spellcraft and their hands are full of dust and autumnal leaves.

    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Thanks for stopping by Steemjammer. You've made alot of good points here. Allow me to answer them one by one.

      -When Starwars came out the popular knowledge of space was very different. Like Jaws, the movies worked brilliantly at the time but in today's climate of over-saturated knowledge I don't think you get that past audiences. We know there is no air in space just as we know that sharks are not killing machines. That being said, I loved Star Wars and Jaws. I'm not arguing with greats.

      - I think you are greatly undercutting YA readers. They range in age considerably and no matter what their age is if they read avidly they will recognize cliches. Kids are not stupid.

      - I would say that does make your western a little cliched but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Some people pull of cliches brilliantly, as in your own example of JK Rowling. But most of the time they have lost their effect.

      I would say a cliche is something that has been so heavily over-used that it no longer has the desired effect. Today if we put air in space viewers would most likely roll their eyes. It just wouldn't have the effect it once did.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for becoming so invested that you left such a great comment. I'm glad the article stuck with you!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      "Your readers aren’t scientists! Make your spaceships look really cool instead of considering the fact that aerodynamics is useless in space since it has no air."

      The irony is that George Lucas has billions and billions (okay, Carl Sagan mode off - but he is a billionaire) of dollars precisely because he put air and more specifically EXCITING SOUND in space! Had his space combat scenes been silent, I wonder if the first Star Wars movie would have been a hit. Maybe not.

      I don't mean to throw a stink bomb into the room. Cliches are bad. Right. Everyone knows that...except if you're writing YA, does your young audience have any clue these cliches exist? Furthere, there is the "all cowboys use six-shooters" principle. Does that make my western cliched? Or is my cowboy's six-shooter (or horse, or hat, or boots) a FEATURE instead of a cliche? And how can you tell the difference?

      The main argument would be: it's a cliche if it was once really cool but now has no value due to overuse; it's a feature if it's something everyone in the story era has to have or use. That said, when does something that was once a really cool fresh now big deal thing morph into a feature - like goggles in steam punk? Cliche or feature? I don't pretend to know.

      Just want to stire up thought. Don't mean to sound like a jerk. Good hub - cuz presenting a cliche as a big-new-deal wow-flahy-gee-whiz thing when it isn't, that's a fatal error. BUT something that 10 years ago was new - who is to say it can't be used as a feature now (especially if your story doesn't RELY on it's newness to stand out - also, are magic-users on brooms cliched? If so, explain kwidich! (sp) Reprocessed - it's magic users on brooms PLAYING SOCCER (sort of) - voila! New!).

      Anyway, there's lot of angles to this issue - and again, I don't pretend to know answers. Good luck sorting this out!

    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Hey Kris, thanks for coming back!

      In actual fact most people mate with someone of their same ethnicity so we'll probably have diverse races for a while yet. But, I agree that culture and language are likely to melt together as globalization continues to blur borders. For a series that gives ethnic and national difference and loyalties their due check out the Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow series. Card parts considerably from the melting-pot future we so often envision.

    • KrisL profile image


      6 years ago from S. Florida

      Thanks, AR!

      I guess funny, if we have to choose just one ;-)

      When I mentioned no one of non-pale races I was thinking of written SF, which still, weirdly enough, will sometimes posit a not only whitish but Anglo future.

      Personally, I suspect the majority of people in Earth's middle-distant future will look vaguely SE Asian, but many will have curly hair, and most will speak English with an East Indian accent!

    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Sad or funny? May as well go with the positive adjectve. And that's not entirely true. Most human ships or crews had at least one or two token minorities. Vitally important to not looking overtly racist, even if it's always the minorites that die first.

    • KrisL profile image


      6 years ago from S. Florida

      I enjoyed this post. It's sad to think that these same cliches that made the Golden Age of science fiction not-so-golden are still bedeviling us.

      Also note that neither aliens no humans have different races in Cliche-Land.

    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Yes Fuggy, or better yet a black hole. Because taking you from one place to another is how black holes work...they certainly wouldn't crush your molecules into nothing, they're strong enough to bend time and gravity but not people, no way...

    • Fuggy profile image


      6 years ago

      Here is another tip:

      If you can't explain how your protagonist got from point A to point B so fast. Explain it away with a wormhole that always does the trick. Yeah them pesky things just pop out of nowhere.

      Really funny Hub I liked it! :)

    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      That's true hypno but outside of sci-fi parodies like Space Balls when does anyone have to deal with normal bodily functions? Have you ever seen Kirk take a pee break? Thanks for stopping by!

    • CMHypno profile image


      6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      It funny how aliens never seem to have to go to the bathroom or have any of the humdrum and potentially messy/annoying bodily functions that we mere humans have! I mean how exactly did Jabba the Hutt scratch his bum or pick his nose? Very amusing hub and where would sci-fi be without sparkly lycra!

    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      lol, that's quite a list. You're kind of a high maintenance sci-fi reader. lol.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • hot dorkage profile image

      hot dorkage 

      6 years ago from Oregon, USA

      Indeed, the kind of sci fi I enjoy doesn't get written a lot (most people follow YOUR rules). I like sci fi with a female heroine who doesn't get steamrolled by a man, wears old jeans, would die before putting on spandex. If she gets a lover during the story, he is always cowed by her brilliance and occasionally comes in handy. And if there are aliens they look nothing like us and they don't speak our language and they are not after our women. Usually we can't tell straightaway just what they want. And no swashbuckling space battles with photon torpedos.... yawn. Been there done that.

    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.


      It not only used to be about feasible science but about feasible futures for mankind. There certainly are still books that would fit into one or the other of those categories but people are less patient now. The publishers (and sometimes writers) want their books to sell, and the readers want excitement right from the start.

      These trends are effecting all forms of fiction, not just SF. So many people who are considered brilliant today wouldn't have a shot in hell of getting published in this climate. We need some great indie sci-fi writers to remind us what the genre is all about.

      There is a contest held each year by Jim Baen that it meant to commemorate the role that SF has had in the development of real technologies. A worthy cause.

      Thanks for stopping by Krista!

    • kristakubie profile image

      Krista Kubie 

      6 years ago from Kansas

      Voted up-- Hilarious, and so true. My uncle always complains to me how Science Fiction used to be about feasible science. Gotta say, I miss that, too.

    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      htodd, it is definitely an over-saturated plot choice. However, it has been done brilliantly in the recent past. District 9 is a great example of a very well done alien movie.

      Thanks for stopping by :)

    • htodd profile image


      6 years ago from United States

      Thanks for the great post..yes ..We are fed up with Aliens

    • BrokenDreamer profile image

      Jen Christopherson 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma, USA

      Your very welcome. I love the way you did it backwards, like saying "This tip will definitely make your book a bestseller." Then, saying why it is a bad idea.

    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Thanks Broken Dreamer!

    • BrokenDreamer profile image

      Jen Christopherson 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma, USA

      AAWWWWW!!!!! I was gonna use those!!!! Oh, wait... I don't write science fiction.... Okay, never mind!

      Great hub! I loved it! lol

    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Thanks crafty, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

      Sunnie Day, it takes reading a lot of sci-fi to get to know the ins and outs. If you plan on writing more of it I would suggest reading everything you can get your hands on. And thanks for sharing!

      tsmog, that sounds like so much fun! I hope you write that, I would love to read it. Thanks for stopping by!

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 

      6 years ago from Escondido, CA

      you got me laughing. Great hub and the list is awesome. I will keep it in mind or I will borrow it for a short story hub using some or all the wrong things. If I do I will give you the option of a premier opening read :)

      I thought of all the Saturday afternoons in the sixties watching outer space 'B' movies. And, (I'm a military brat) going onto the base for a movie and watching Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon episode before every movie. But, I will never forget 'Forbidden Planet' and the 'Id' creatures. Now that I understand 'Id' and ego it makes more sense.

    • profile image

      Sunnie Day 

      6 years ago

      lol well this certainly gives me some ideas and some big no no's...:)

      I wrote my first science fiction story recently and the wife found herself in her husbands body..I should have read this before It may have been much more exciting..Thanks for sharing...I will do the same..

      Take care,


    • shesacraftymom profile image


      6 years ago

      Really funny! Voted up!


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