How to write compelling sci-fi short stories

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This is a guest post by Angelita Williams

There’s a (not so secret) secret to writing great short science fiction that new writers should know about: less is more. When writing science fiction, you don’t necessarily have to possess the intellectual ambition to create an alternate universe or dream up a new alien race. Particularly if you’re writing a sci-fi short story, you won’t have the time to flesh out lengthy exposition about the emergence of a mutant race or how an army of robots came to establish dominance over the earth. Short fiction doesn’t grant the luxury of major plot development.

Writing samples: Parker 75 by churl, CC 2.0 license Instead, great sci-fi authors who write short fiction do the same thing that all great short story authors do: make the most of the little space they have. Short fiction is meant to take a brief snapshot of some intriguing moment in the human (or nonhuman) experience, and that rule pertains to every genre of short fiction. The medium works when authors use brevity to their advantage; they write short stories to merely touch upon or suggest much bigger and deeper themes.

Think of the short works of Philip K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft, two iconic science fiction writers with infallible contributions to science fiction writing. Neither goes to great lengths to prepare their readers for the surreal landscapes that they depict. They dive straight into their material without any exposition, trusting their audience to catch on as they read. Writers without much experience could learn much from their example of fearless storytelling.

Great science fiction short stories, for lack of a better term, are somewhat magical. In a few thousand words they transport the reader into a realm where the impossible is possible. Lesser works of science fiction might make it hard for readers to suspend their disbelief: certain scientific aspects of the story might not add up, or perhaps the author created a world so outlandish that it’s not even worth imagining. You won’t run into these problems if you keep the main story compelling and universal in its theme. If you can tell a good story, the logistics and details won’t matter.

What do I mean? A moving short story of betrayal works in any genre, whether it’s between an alien and an explorer or a scientist and his creation. If you have the talent, you can turn a story about the apocalypse into a comedic fable. You don’t have to explain anything that happened in great detail—it’s your story. But once you establish a fantastical premise, be sure that you can back it up with an equally fantastical narrative.


This guest post is contributed by Angelita Williams, who writes on the topics of online courses.  She welcomes your comments at her email Id: angelita.williams7

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