Inventing Reality: A Guide to Writing Science Fiction
How can you create tension and good pacing in your story? How do you avoid writing in passive voice or using cliches? The topics on this page address these and many other style-related questions.
What is style?
Every author writes in a certain "style." Style is the choice of vocabulary and phrasing to create an effect that runs through the entire story.
Ever notice how you can identify some authors by the way they write? That’s because they have a distinct voice.
Ever read story before bed and find it so gripping that you stay up far later than you should just to find out what is going to happen? If so, you’ve been a “victim” of narrative drive.
Any story you tell by definition has a plot, characters, setting point of view and theme. But to really make a story pop, an author has to interweave and play these elements against one another so that the story has tension.
A sign of true craftsmanship for a writer is when he selects the right words and arranges them in an evocative way. After all, the most interesting character facing a significant moral decision in a fast-paced plot and exotic setting will sound flat if the words used are wrong.
Creating tension involves controlling the story’s pace. Pace is the timing by which the major events in the plot unfold and in which the big scenes are shown.
A common mistake among novice writers is shifting within their story so that events are occurring in the now but then in the next paragraph are happening in the past. This is a sign that the writer is changing verb tenses.
Show vs. tell
Perhaps the most common mistake among novice writers is that tell rather show.
Active vs. passive voice
So you’ve written a scene jam packed with action, ripe with conflict and filled with tension – but every time you read it, the writing feels flat. The problem may be that you’re writing in passive rather than active voice.
A quick way to strengthen your writing is to replace (or just avoid altogether) overused expressions and phrases.
Sometimes the only purpose of a story’s sentence is to say that nothing happened.
Tight writing is using the minimum number of words necessary to convey an idea or to describe an event. Writing tightly allows your text to be punchier and for the plot to move more quickly.
One of the quickest ways to ruin a story’s texture is to repeat the same word between sentences and paragraphs.
You don’t want your characters to always refer back to one another with the exact same word throughout your story, particularly in a novel.
What is 'it'?
Avoid starting a paragraph - and especially a story - with “It”.
Sometimes the real pleasure of writing – and reading - isn’t about a well-crafted tale with a fast-moving plot involving intriguing characters set in a well-described landscape.
Coming up with a title
Selecting a title marks one of the most important decisions you’ll make about your story. The title blares across a novel’s cover and is listed in a magazine’s table of contents. For science fiction readers, those few words hint at the story’s meme (or subgenre, such as alien invasion, space exploration, time travel); some readers prefer certain memes over others and will pass over a story (or give it a try) simply because of the meme your title suggests.
Some words are frequently used incorrectly - that is, the wrong definition is assigned to the word. Misuse of such words can wreck a reader’s suspension of disbelief by jarring them out of the story.
To prevent your piece from having a competitive disadvantage, you’ll want to ensure it is as publishable as possible when the editor picks it up. That includes enduring your piece follows all of those punctuation and capitalization rules that back in grammar school that led us to many a daydream about being on an exotic alien world or hunting dinosaurs in the Jurassic.