The Art of Writing Great Science Fiction | Jeanne Cavelos

Some time ago Tim and I started listening to podcasts. Suddenly our eyes opened to the amazing reality that we no longer had to listen to the inanity of the radio when driving to and from work and on other trips. As with our music, we could choose what we wanted to listen to, and when.

AISFPOne of my top podcasts is Adventures in SciFi Publishing. Episode #281 featured Professor Jeanne Cavelos, a professor from my alma mater, Saint Anselm College. Jeanne is known for her love of science fiction and among other works, her book The Science of Star Wars. Today she leads and coaches writing courses, the Odyssey Writing Workshop and does amazing stuff for science fiction writing.

Anyway, in this particular podcast episode, she talked about several key points that she felt would make writing better. As I write Galaxy, I review these notes (and several others) often to make sure I’m writing something I will enjoy and I took notes while listening to the podcast and I summarized them here to share with you. Enjoy!

(SciFi) Writing Tips from Jeanne Cavelos

The Main Characters

  • A main character has to have a goal that he is struggling to achieve. Maybe he will achieve it, maybe he will not, that creates suspense, and that keeps readers caring and hooked.

Scene Structure

  • Each scene should show a change of significance between the beginning and the end of the scene; something at the beginning of the scene should change by the end of the scene.
  • Establish the setting, the point of view, character’s emotions.
  • Scene vs sequel; something happens in scene 1 that the character reacts to in scene 2, but you don’t want to do this a lot because it doesn’t move the story ahead much. Often this is reduced to a few sentences in a scene, or it’s skipped over and we learn about the change in a following scene.

Showing and Telling

  • Showing and telling are on two ends of spectrum of how you describe things.
  • Showing uses sensory details – allows a reader to experience them vividly, feel like we’re there, brings the settings to life, makes the characters more vivid and immediate, puts the reader in the middle of the action, can emphasize the most important ideas and moments,slows things down and makes things more intense, can convey powerful emotions.
  • Telling using abstractions and judgements – when things are not so important – when you are not in the middle of big action or character scene and you want to hurry up and get to the next interesting part because it’s not worth filling up a page about the details of what’s less important.

What Readers Want

  • Young people are reading more than ever before, more than older people.
  • People still want great stories, be transported, have adventures, read stories that are deeply meaningful and convey internal journeys that resound with their own experiences and make them feel like they are not alone; these things are still important to people.
  • The story must instill a sense of wonder that someone could take home and play with the toys with forever (like Star Wars).