Science fiction, by definition, has science weaved within the story, but as a science fiction writer, I often get asked where my inspiration comes from. Where do I learn about science? Do I have a science background? How does one get started when pursuing science fiction? All great questions!
There are many ways to find inspiration when tackling science fiction. First and foremost, you’re going to want to figure out whether you’re writing hard sci-fi or soft sci-fi. As the name suggests, hard science fiction typically requires more rigorous research; the science has to make sense and have strict, believable rules, whereas soft science fiction is a bit more lenient. After that, you’re going to want to study sub-genres, such as space opera—like Star Wars (though you could make the argument Star Wars is fantasy, not science fiction)—or cli-fi (climate-centered science fiction, such as The Day After Tomorrow).
Decisions aside, science will come into play, so where do you start?
Many get science fiction inspiration from, well, reading and watching science fiction. And that’s totally valid. But aside from reading the latest science fiction books, or watching that hit near-future TV show, there are more resources out there—and you’re going to want to expand your knowledge if you want your story to stand out from what’s already out there.
Magazines & Newsletters
I’m lucky enough to work in a library, but I’m especially lucky that my library provides free magazines. Subscriptions can get expensive; even the online versions can cost money. But I can pile up a collection of science journals and magazines on my desk every month for free. (Here is my plug, asking you—yes, you—to go get a library card.) I love flipping through magazines like Wired, Scientific American, and Discover, not to mention magazines covering topics I’m not so great at, i.e. fashion. (I mean, clothes have to exist in the future too, right? But I digress.)
If you don’t have access to magazines, there’s always the online sphere. One of my favorites is Futurism. Articles cover quick, trending topics, as well as some obscure, bizarre news. You will absolutely feel inspired by all the weird, possible, amazing tech out in the world. And who knows? Maybe you’ll dream up your own.
Podcasts & Audiobooks
There are some awesome science podcasts out there, and most of them are free. Some also have Patreons where they offer additional content. My favorite is Flash Forward, a podcast that explores future tech as if it already existed. They start with a “play” in the time of the tech, and then talk to experts about all the nitty gritty details that go into it. An episode I recently enjoyed was CRIME: Moon Court. There’s also the Ologies podcast, a comedic science podcast that explores all the different “-ologists” of the world. Did you know there are experts in procrastination for instance? Listen to this episode of Volitional Psychology, and maybe you’ll find ways to stop procrastinating on your scientific research. 😉
Similar to podcasts, there are always nonfiction audiobooks. Last year, I enjoyed Astrophysics for People on the Go by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs: A New History of Their Lost World by Steve Brusatte. Two starkly different topics. And yet, I learned so much—all while doing the laundry and dishes.
Channel your inner three-year-old: Ask why, why, why, why
Let’s pretend for a minute that audiobooks, magazines, and podcasts don’t exist. Do you know what you still have? The world! Science is happening all around you every day. I mean, how does your coffee pot heat up? How do those lights at work know when to turn on when you enter the building? Why do those clouds look purple and bumpy today?
Ask yourself why and how about anything and everything—and then, look it up. Read everything you can on it. Or dream up your own world’s explanation.
Science is often found in the little everyday things all around you.
Discover truths. Discover possibilities. Discover the future.
P.S. Sandra Proudman and I started a new weekly hashtag on Twitter called #LiftABookUp. We announce themes on Tuesday and spend Wednesdays lifting up books we love. I hope you’ll join us to chat about science fiction books on March 11! Find Sandra Proudman @SandraProudman and I’m @AuthorSAT
You might also notice that I have a new headshot. I recently chopped off seven inches of hair. (YES, SEVEN INCHES.) So, I figured it was time. I managed to get my favorites in the pic: coffee, cats, and world domination (for cats).
If you’re new around here, I post a new article on the first Saturday of every month. Let me know what you want to hear about next in the comments below, then check back in on April 4. If I choose your idea, you get credit!