A Guide to Writing Science Fiction
How can you write an exciting story full of action? One with a great opening? What are some cliche storylines to avoid? The topics on this page address these and many other plot-related questions.
In every story, something happens. These events form the structure of your tale.
When telling a story, you’ve got to have conflict in it. If there’s no conflict, you have a wooden story that starts nowhere, leads nowhere and ends nowhere.
Man vs. nature
One of the most basic of them is man vs. nature. In this conflict, the characters find their goals jeopardized by the natural forces of the universe: the cold of an ice age, dangerous plants and animals in an alien jungle, or the vacuum of space.
Man vs. man
One of the most basic conflicts is man vs. man, which is when a character finds his goals jeopardized by another individual.
Man vs. society
When the main character or small group of characters take on the greater culture – who usually are represented by a group of authority figures or “upstanding” citizens – the author is using a man vs. society conflict.
Man vs. God(s)
One type of conflict your characters could engage in is against God or the gods. In this conflict, the main character opposes a supernatural being that claims to be (or even is) the creator of everything.
Man vs. himself
Perhaps the most profound conflict a character can face is when he is at odds with himself.
The way action unfolds in most stories can be divided into distinct parts. Being aware of these parts can help you better develop a story.
A vital part of your story is the opening lines, also known as the inciting incident. In this section of your story, we learn who the main character is, the central problem facing him and a little about the setting.
Among the most important words in your story are the ones that begin it. Those words should get the reader to ask, “What’s going on here?” so he keeps reading.
One sign of a good opener is that it makes the reader want to continue with the story. Using a fishing metaphor, a good opener “hooks” the reader.
Often the opening of a story involves some incident that upsets the status quo. In doing so, the main character faces the challenge of restoring order in the world.
Not all stories are about restoring order in the universe or overcoming some personal conflict. Sometimes the plot revolves around the search for an item that will elevate the main character’s position in the world or will prevent an evil force from gaining the upper hand.
Often a story is not about defending the world from some outside menace or about obtaining some item but is about overcoming some internal, man vs. himself struggle.
In a sense, every story is a race against time. The main character ultimately must reach a point where the situation he finds himself in is unbearable, where a turning point or a final decision must be reached.
Your main character must fail
During the rising action, the main character must attempt to resolve his central problem yet always fail. There are several ways a failure can occur.
Guidelines for rising action
When developing the rising action section of your story, there a few simple guidelines to follow. Ensuring these guidelines aren’t violated will help keep the story moving forward and increase the dramatic tension.
Many science fiction and action-adventure tales give their main character a finite amount of time to solve a problem. The ever-accelerating starship has only so many minutes before its structural integrity will fail. The terrorists’ nuclear bomb will explode in so many hours. Only a few days remain before the asteroid strikes the Earth. These time limits are called “ticking clocks.”
The plot of a story is more interesting and exciting if the characters have something to gain or lose.
In every story, there comes a turning point or an ultimate moment in which the situation has become so intolerable that the main character must take a decisive step and emerge victorious. This scene is known as the climax.
Though your story may have reached its climax, the tale isn’t over yet. The author also should briefly describe the effects that the climax has on the characters. This section of the story is known as the “falling action.”
During the denouement – which usually is only a few paragraphs and sometimes as short as a single sentence long – the loose ends of the story are tied up.
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