The Hardest Kind of Writing

alien with swordI may be biased — since I write science fiction exclusively — but I honestly believe sci-fi is the hardest type of fiction to write.

The reason say this is because in sci-fi nearly everything one writes about needs to be created from scratch. Sure, in some stories you can place normal humans in a very normal setting and throw in some aliens. But in the sci-fi I write, where the humans are far away in space and living within alien societies, I have to make up almost everything. This ranges from languages, to buildings, to construction methods, to food, to mannerisms, to physical descriptions … and so much more.

Let’s do a comparison. Imagine you have to write a scene that takes place in Paris, and the main character needs to walk down so-and-so street, go into this particular restaurant and order a special food dish. If you haven’t already been there, it’s very easy to pull up a walking tour of Paris on the internet and describe, down to the smallest detail, the exact scene. And even if it’s not exact, then any fictional restaurant serving a fictional steak dinner wouldn’t be very difficult to conjure up.

Now put the character on an alien planet. First of all, it has to be alien, so it can’t be too familiar. In addition, it can’t be overly alien either, where the reader stops and says, “What?” So there is a balancing act you go through when creating your alien street, alien restaurant and alien cuisine.

And now you’re writing; you have to make up a street scene with alien architecture, alien atmosphere and alien smells. You need to create a public eating establishment that makes sense, even on an alien world. Then you have to develop a menu that can accommodate human palates while also allowing the main character’s alien companion to feast upon the local specialties … which are what? You have to make this up, too.

The reason I’m telling you this is that sci-fi is often thought of as the easiest to write. After all, you can just make everything up! You don’t have to have intimate knowledge of foreign cities or the operating manual for an M1-A4 assault rifle. What you don’t know in sci-fi, you just make up. Easy. Right?

For some of us the creative process does come easy. I don’t find this kind of writing particularly difficult, just time-consuming. I can sit for three hours straight working on my current WIP (Work-in-Progress) and find that I’ve only completed 1,500 words. This is because I’ve had to continually stop and create while writing. Constructing the most-readable sentences in the story-telling process is a time-consuming endeavor in and of itself. Now add to that the fact that 90% of what you’re describing has to be created from your imagination alone. It really bogs things down.

I know when I’m writing just normal fiction, containing everyday items found here on Earth, I can crank out 1,500 words or so per hour. Not so with sci-fi, no matter how into the story I am. In an effort to always make things fresh, exciting and unique, I have to utilize every ounce of creative juice I have, which after three hours straight of making stuff up, can be mentally draining.

Of course, this is both the bane and the lure of writing sci-fi. It’s a challenge to see how unique a universe one can create out of thin air while not going overboard. It’s a test of one’s vision and insight, along with all the creepy-crawly things one can imagine.

Here’s a tip for those who do write sci-fi and fantasy. It’s not original, but it makes all the sense in the world.

Don’t make the names — of your characters, their titles and their worlds — unpronounceable. There is no greater story-killer than having your readers stop every few sentences to try and figure out how something is pronounced. It’s not necessary to jumble a bunch of mismatched letters together thinking this will make the names sound more exotic. Julicmon’cree L’on’minn, Liknormic-high of the Dormmonwed clan, pulled his omploosni sword from its sheath and …. What? See what I mean? Completely stops the flow dead it its tracks. Keep it simple. It will improve the pace of your story and keep the reader engaged. Don’t do anything that will cause the reader to break concentration and get frustrated.

Until next time … Write On!

T.R (Tom) Harris  

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