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Top 5 Science Fiction Mistakes Writers Make

Today’s post is from William R. Leibowitz, author of the bestselling science fiction series, Miracle Man. Whether you’re writing a novel or screenplay, there’s some great tips here on what NOT to do with your science fiction story. Enjoy!

On Writing Science Fiction

So, you want to try your hand at writing science fiction? Readers of science fiction are generally sophisticated. They tend to have real standards which they’ve developed by reading the great writers who developed the genre. They’ve also watched countless good quality science fiction movies and television programmes.

Here are some of the things that I think most first-time writers of science fiction should be conscious of before taking the plunge … My top 5 Mistakes Science Fiction Writers Make!

1) Falling into the fantasy trap too deep

When I wrote my medical/psychological/conspiracy thrillers Miracle Man and The Austin Paradox, I was confronted with quite a few issues.  The protagonist in both novels, Robert James Austin, is the greatest scientific genius in human history.  But I couldn’t just ask the reader to believe this. I had to demonstrate to the reader that Austin did have these remarkable talents from a very young age. When Austin proceeded to cure one disease after another, I had to make his discoveries believable.

This required me to spend a great deal of time doing extensive research in two areas:

  • the nature of human intelligence (particularly genius) and
  • diseases, treatments, attempted cures, as well as the medical/scientific methodology relevant to formulating cures

I didn’t want the plot to become fantastical; I would lose the reader. The above research helped get my target audience on board. MORE: 8 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Sci Fi Screenplay DEAD

2) Losing the balance of good storytelling and credible science

Simply put, if the science  appears to be amateurish or “junk science”, then the author will lose the reader.  Readers who enjoy science fiction books want fiction and good storytelling, it’s true. But they also want science that is credible and that allows them to be swept away into the story.

Good science makes for good science fiction!

3) The science itself is OTT, or implausible

Bad quality science fiction is painfully obvious even to the casual reader.  If a work of science fiction is to be believable and engrossing, the science in it must be plausible. What’s more, the science must be understandable to the reader.

It’s a difficult balancing act. Too much detail easily becomes boring and makes the reader think he or she is back in school.  Too little detail and the author is asking the reader to take giant “leaps of faith”. This undermines the credibility of a science fiction story.

As an example, I researched the lives of actual geniuses. This was so I could understand how genius manifests itself at various ages, plus the behaviors that often goes with genius.  Robert James Austin has an intelligence that is unique in human history (i.e. 10 X that of Einstein), so I  “pumped up” various things about Austin  to reflect his extraordinary abilities.

So, while I magnified elements of Austin’s behaviour and thought processes, they are still grounded in documented realities. This makes his genius credible. In fact, no reader or reviewer ever made a negative comment regarding the “believability” of Austin’s genius. MORE: Top 9 Influential Female Characters In Sci Fi 

4) The story is not realistic

The wonderful thing about science fiction writing is that if the author does the required work on the science, the resultant novels will transcend the fiction aspect. The science element of the story will imbue the books with realism. In turn this will heighten the reader’s immersion in the novel. Put simply, even though it’s science fiction, it FEELS REAL, or possible.

Example: In my books, I knew there had to be sound scientific foundations for the ways in which Austin invented cures and the way that his cures worked.  I didn’t want to bore the reader … But I couldn’t just declare, “And then he cured this disease and then he cured that disease”.  Austin’s cures had too be creative AND plausible. So I was delighted when I received numerous letters from readers who were medical doctors and disease research scientists. They told me that they found these “cures” to be so interesting as to wonder if they would work in the real world!

5) Not Knowing Enough! 

If you think science fiction authors use their creativity to fashion “science” solely from imagination, then do yourself and your reader a favour … Write write a different type of fiction!

Not knowing as much as you can about the mechanics of the topic you might be challenging in your work is an issue. Both Miracle Man and The Austin Paradox are highly critical of Big Pharma. The latter views Austin is its worst nightmare because he seeks to cure diseases rather than merely treat symptoms.  Austin’s discoveries kill off many of Big Pharma’s most profitable “cash cow” treatments. Pharma then devises various draconian plans to destroy Austin.

To paint a realistic picture of this dynamic conflict between Big Pharma and Austin, I had to do a lot of research. This included the actual documented workings of the pharmaceutical industry, both in terms of science and also the industry’s political manoeuvering with powerful governmental forces.

This attention to detail brings this aspect of the story to life. Readers of science fiction appreciate the “reality” that science brings to fiction. MORE: Top 5 Tips For Writing Sci-Fi

Good Luck!  

BIO: William Leibowitz is the author of The Miracle Man Series. He practices law internationally and leads a somewhat peripatetic existence, preferring not to spend too much time in any one place. Check his blog out here for more tips and insights on the writing process.

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