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How to Write a Futuristic Novel?


Writing a futuristic novel is difficult for one simple reason – the enormity of choices. When we think about the future, we think of a number of different possibilities. Generally, we like to have choices in storytelling. However, writing a futuristic novel significantly increases the number of paths a writer can choose.

In short, more choices = more confusion = more room for failure.

Whether it’s writing characters in a dystopian novel or attributes of an-all powerful cyber god, challenges lie everywhere.

What do writers working on a futuristic novel need? Most of all, a guiding hand.

In this guide, you will learn how to approach writing a futuristic novel. More than writing tips, this guide will help layout a process. Writing a futuristic novel, or any novel for that matter is like climbing a mountain. A plan, or atleast something resembling one, can help optimize the process if not guarantee its success.

Step One – Search for a Reference Point

Why do we write? At its heart, writing is an act of expression. If you have something to say but simply saying it won’t do justice, you write.

Another reason we are drawn to writing is inspiration. Most writers are avid readers too. Reading work of other writers inspires them to start telling their own story.

Thus, when setting out to write a futuristic novel, you need to ask yourself where you’re drawing inspiration from.

Which existing book, movie, or television series resembles your own futuristic story? There is no restriction to the type of book or movie you can use as a reference point.

For example, when I started writing my futuristic novel, my reference point was a Game of Thrones-style story set in the twenty-second century. Even though Game of Thrones is not a dystopian sci-fi thriller, its style of storytelling can be transported to a futuristic setting.

Setting up a reference point is important and can always help shape every other part of the storytelling process. Once you decide your reference point, you can start seeing characters, something resembling a plot, and a world to set both of them in.

Our writing is driven by our inspirations in more ways than one. In setting up a reference point, you find a way to organize the places where you draw ideas and inspiration from.

You can choose more than one book or movie as a reference point. However, it is best if you don’t go beyond three.

Step Two – Narrowing Down Futuristic Story Ideas

Remember we talked about the problem with too many options in writing a futuristic novel. Here’s a simple way to understand something fundamental about your story.

What type of future do you want to show in your futuristic novel?

The future you show in your story can be of three types –

  • Better than the present
  • Worse than the present
  • Largely similar to the present.

When thinking about these three scenarios, think about the type of story you want to tell. Don’t think about specific characters because their view of the future could adulterate your view.

Think about the world your story will be set in. Does it feel better than our own? If yes, what makes it better? Better technology? Equitable society?

This exercise helps to accomplish many things. Firstly, it narrows the many options in front of you. Generally, writers tend to think about sci-fi concepts and abstract world-building themes when pondering upon futuristic story ideas.

This is not a good idea and a trip down the rabbit hole. In the beginning, it’s best if you stick to core fundamental questions.

Think about it. With the weight of fifty different ideas on your shoulders, how will you sit down and write the first 300 words of your novel? You will crumble or wander aimlessly.

Another benefit of choosing one of the three options is that you can start feeling the tone and tenor of your story. For instance, if the future is better than our present, you start thinking a different type of plot and character ensemble. The opposite happens if you choose to go with a bleak future.

If you’re not sure about this part, skip to step three but come back here after that. This is an essential part of where you want to go.

Step Three – Write Two Chapters for Checking Viability

Usually, most guides you find online will tell you to map out the plot and characters.

Here’s the thing – writing is not an exact science. I am talking from personal experience here, so if you don’t agree with every point, give me time.

I have mapped out plots and character arcs before writing a single page of the actual story a lot of times. Every time I have done so, I have ripped up the plot, characters, and ultimately the story.

Why? Well, writing a story while trying to follow a pre-determined plot and character arc is, simply put, boring. Part of the excitement of writing an intense scene is that you as a writer don’t know how things are going to turn out.

It’s like discovering new paths and changing architecture in a dream.

So here’s what you should do. Instead of thinking about who your protagonist is, start writing. Write whatever comes to your mind. You already know your reference point and ‘type of future’. These things are enough information to start writing something.

You don’t have to be cautious while writing. Remember, this exercise is solely to get something on paper.

How does this help?

How will this process help? First of all, you write. Instead of thinking about characters and plots for days, you give yourself time to put your thoughts down. The best part is you don’t have the pressure of too much information on your shoulders. You are free to go wherever you wish with your futuristic story.

At the end of this process, you will learn the following things –

  • A reason to set the story in the future
  • The potential of the story with the reference point and ‘type of future’ you choose
  • The mistakes you should avoid in terms of choice of character, plot, reference point, and so on
  • Who should or shouldn’t be your protagonist
  • What should or shouldn’t be your plot
  • The theme and tone of your story
  • The viability of writing a futuristic novel with the information available

Perhaps the most important thing you will learn is point one. Why do you want to set your story in the future? If it’s because you want to show off some cool sci-fi gadgets, great. There can be many reasons why a story in the future is appealing. However, it is important for you to learn exactly why your story should be in the future.

Note the word ‘exact’.

Once you know why you need a futuristic setting for your novel, you will find the nucleus of your story. This information is enough to set the ball rolling.

Step Four – Protagonist and Antagonist

You don’t need to write character arcs for ten characters besides the protagonist. The most effective way to waste time while writing a novel is obsessing over every character.

To start a futuristic novel, you need to know two characters, the protagonist and the antagonist.

What do you need to know about these two characters specifically? Here is some info I like to chart out.

You can take this. Its free!

Of course, you can be very imaginative in your story and create multiple antagonists. John Truby’s Four Corner Opposition technique is a very effective way to create characters and plot.  

In any case, the kind of info covered in the image above must give you a good idea about the two driving forces of your story.

Remember, the attributes of the antagonist must become a challenge for the protagonist. If there’s no challenge, your futuristic novel will crumble under monotony and fall.

Step Five – Writing and Plotting a Futuristic Novel

Again, I would not recommend charting out the entire plot in the beginning. You can have certain elements of the plot in your head. For instance, I always have the image of the climax in my head. This helps the other parts fall in line and take me there.

However, you don’t need to know the ending of your story. Part of writing is discovery. If you don’t know how your story ends, the same characteristic will come up in your writing and leave the readers is suspense as well.  

If you are someone who writes a lot, you would know how certain plot points automatically start falling in line. This is because as you write more and think about what you’re writing, the story starts becoming an organism in itself.

In this step, you have to keep writing and thinking about what you’re going to write next. Since this is a futuristic novel, you can introduce different sci-fi concepts at different points in the story.

Step Six – World Building

I am not a big fan of world building. Whenever people ask how to write science fiction or fantasy, they mostly want to know about world building.

The truth is this – the only world building aspects you need to care about while writing is what affects your story or improves it.

Most of the world building you do will come instinctively. When you write, you will naturally come up with back stories and new concepts which help make the characters and plot more engaging.

In short, don’t worry about world building. Once you finish your manuscript, a big publishing house picks it up, and you become rich and famous, write a special edition book discussing world building elements in detail.

Step Seven – Ending a Futuristic Novel

Endings are difficult to nail. It is difficult to create a general rule of writing good endings, whether it’s for a futuristic book or a screen play.

Here’s a general thumb rule you can follow. A good ending is one where the plot and the character arc both end.

For example, the Lord of the Rings could have ended when Frodo dropped the ring in Mount Doom. Why? That action was the end of the plot. The ring was destroyed and the objective was complete.

However, Frodo’s arc was not over. He left the Shire as an innocent boy and returned as a grizzled war-torn man. The end of his arc was his departure to the Land of the Undying. This was the final scene of the book series and the film trilogy and a fitting end.

When you end your novel, try to make sure you bring an end to the plot and the character. Sometimes, a single scene in the end is enough to end both the plot and character. In other instances, you may need a more elaborate plan to end.

Final Words – Writing a Futuristic Novel

What is the meaning of a futuristic story? We all think about the future. Some fear it. Some are excited by it.

A writer tries to write it.

Ultimately, all examples of futuristic writing are based on different interpretations. Ridley Scott saw one version of the future and he made Blade Runner. Kubrick saw another and made 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Our literature and cinema is full of different ideas of the future. When you write a futuristic story, make sure above all else that you present an honest view.  

Also read: What is Speculative Fiction?
Also read: Ten Speculative Books You Should’ve Already Read

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