'It’s not enough to have a cool idea—an ingenious new technology, an interesting new way of organising society or gender or wealth, whatever. A premise is inert until you make a story out of it, and to do that you need to identify the conflict within the concept,' (Adam Roberts)


Developing the Idea (the 'Novum')

Does the concept need further research? Can you make yourself believe it, as a working hypothesis?  


Planning vs Improvisation

Should you write a synopsis or will the possibilities of the concept emerge as you improvise it in a first draft? Many writers will plan in detail e.g Adrian Tchaikovsky: ‘Most of my books to date have started with a chapter-by-chapter, beat-by-beat breakdown that I’ve mostly followed all the way through. The one thing I don’t generally set is the very end of the book, trusting to the trajectory and momentum of the narrative to show me what the most satisfying ending should be.’ But outlines often mutate into something totally unexpected and some writers prefer to explore terra incognita from the start.


Finding the  Form  

Is the concept the focus of  a short story? Or it could be developed as a novel, with multiple   narrative strands?  What narrative POV (Point of View) will you use?  Third person, first person? Wiil you use multiple POV? What's the right  narrative structure? Will the story structure follow the underlying chronology of the plot? Will it follow generic narrative arcs?



Defining the work in a particular genre can be helpful. It raises certain expectations in the reader. However over reliance on generic tropes limits the possibilities of  the work. Genres can morph and overlap to produce new hybrids.


'Most of what I do is science fiction. Some of the things I do are fantasy. I don't like the labels, they're marketing tools, and I certainly don't worry about them when I'm writing. They are also inhibiting factors; you wind up not getting read by certain people, or not getting sold to certain people because they think they know what you write. You say science fiction and everybody thinks Star Wars or Star Trek.' (Octavia E. Butler)



What does the character desire/need/fear?  How do they engage with the concept/world you are creating?  How does it affect them? Are they in conflict with it? With others? With themselves?  


How do these inter-actions change them over the course of the narrative?

( 'character arc' or 'journey')  Are you basing your characters on archetypes e.g

Hero; Lover; Magician; Outlaw;Helper; Mentor; Ruler; Jester etc?


When do archetypes become cliches? Are these useful templates for the C21 experience? Under the influence of Joseph Campbell, via George Lucas and Star Wars, the character arc of the so-called 'Hero's Journey' has come to dominate popular science fiction and fantasy but it is not the only route you can take.


'Our lives today are not conducted in linear terms. They are much more quantified; a stream of random events is taking place.'  (J.G Ballard)


Characters reveal themselves through what they say (or don't say),  from the perceptions and words of others, and through action, especially in crisis.


'True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure - the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character's essential nature.'  (Robert McKee)


'Whose story is this? Is the viewpoint character/narrator the same as the protagonist?' (Orson Scott Card)


Point of View - Reliable or Unreliable Narrator?

Whether you use a single  POV  or multiple points of view will depend on the overall pattern of your story and the interaction of your characters. The story arc can be portrayed through multiple POVs, as in Veniss Underground by Jeff VanderMeer, which is told in three parts, each from a different point of view: Nicholas - first person, Nicola - second person, and Shadrach - third person. 

First person POV 

Past Tense: used in works as different as The War of Worlds (H.G.Wells). The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Robert Heinlein) Running Down (M.John Harrson) and The Atrocity Archives (Charles Stross)

Present Tense: immediate and immersive. Sometimes effective as 'stream of consciousness' or 'journal' e.g Level Seven (Mordecai Roshwald) Camp Concentration (Thomas  M. Disch)

Second Person POV:  

more difficult to sustain in longer works but can be even more immersive e.g The Broken Earth by N.K Jemison 

Third Person Omniscient POV 

Past tense: Last and First Men (Olaf Stapledon) Childhood's End (Arthur C. Clarke)

Present Tense: The Eye of the Lens (Langdon Jones)

Third Person Limited POV

Past Tense: Farenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury) A Game of Thrones ( George R Martin)
Present tense: Meteor (John Wyndham)

Worldbuilding and Exposition

Some science fiction writers, especially those that veer towards fantasy, stress the  importance of world building. You might need to create a coherent world with its own creatures, language, technology, social structures, landscapes, ecology et cetera. However you don't need to lumber  a narrative with excessive exposition.


Worldbuilding is the Great Clomping Foot of Nerdism...Whatever the term worldbuilding implies, it isn’t deftness or economy. A world can be built in a sentence, but epic fantasy doesn’t want that. .. It wants to get away from a world. This one.'  (M.John Harrison)


'I wanted science fiction to be more naturalistic. There had been a poverty of description in much of it. The technology depicted was so slick and clean that it was practically invisible. I wanted to see dirt in the corners.' (William Gibson)

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©Paul Green 2017