Why Science Fiction Short Stories
Are Really Hard to Write

By Linda Nagata
(cross-posted from Hahví.net)

Your assignment: write a science fiction short story set off Earth, in another time.

Your story should do the following:

(1) Present to the reader an unfamiliar storyworld that is internally consistent and coherent, including an implied past and future.

(2) Present to the reader a specific setting within this storyworld, making sure it includes unfamiliar yet reasonably plausible technology.

(3) Utilize two or three unique and interesting characters. If not human, describe both the general and specific appearance of these characters, as well as their origin and biology. Please avoid caricature! If human, you need only describe your characters’ specific appearance, relying on the reader’s knowledge for general principles. In either case, communicate your characters’ motives and personalities in a manner relevant to the mood and tone of the story.

(4) Develop a fast-paced, action-packed story arc suited to the motives and personalities of your well-developed characters and utilizing the story’s plausible technology as an essential element. Be sure there is an external plot: something must happen. Equally important, include an internal plot: your primary character should have an issue or two to overcome!

(5) Include a theme that adds layers of meaning to your story.

Your assignment should be accomplished in 3000 words or less. Bonus points are awarded for stories achieving levels of “cool,” “awesome,” or “mind-blowing.”

Linda Nagata is the Locus and Nebula award winning author of The Bohr Maker, Vast, and Memory, all available at Book View Cafe. Her latest book The Dread Hammer, is a fast-paced mythic fantasy of love, war, murder, marriage, and fate.




Why Science Fiction Short Stories
Are Really Hard to Write

  1. One must also cook dinner while changing a colicky baby and writing the story on a 2 hour deadline because this is the future. E-books appear instantaneously, fully edited with cover art and award quality stores at the snap of a finger.

  2. Pingback: SF Tidbits for 1/9/12 - SF Signal – A Speculative Fiction Blog