Can you envision a future dramatically changed by technology, environmental catastrophe, or a new social order? This month, transport us to your distorted world. We want to hear tales of artificial life, extraterrestrial encounters, telekinesis, and more. In a short story or novel excerpt, conjure a reality that no one else has dreamed of, and transform our vision of tomorrow’s world.
What exactly is science fiction? Unlike the genre of fantasy, with its unbounded arena of dragons and dementors, science fiction unfolds from the premise of possibility
. As the Australian writer Nicola Alter puts it, sci-fi “shows us something that might
be possible, through advances in science or technology, or the occurrence of certain events, but isn’t currently a reality.” It might not be likely
that humans will move to underwater cities to escape a warming climate, but we don’t have to exit our universe or ignore natural laws to imagine this scenario. A useful way to think about this genre is to consider our world in its current state, and then ask, “What If”?
- What if everyone had a tracking device planted in their pinky finger?
- What if all of Earth warmed to the point of inhabitability, except the tops of mountain peaks?
- What if only left-handed people could rule nations?
- What if social media infected the brains of children to the point of muteness in real life?
All of these scenarios are endlessly fascinating to conjure and develop. And all are thought experiments that stretch our understanding of social order, the environment, and/or technology. In this way, science fiction is not only entertaining, but it can also serve to make a political statement about current events and where we may head if we don’t change our ways—what George Orwell did with 1984
, for example, or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World
. The American sci-fi writer Pamela Sargent referred to this genre as “the literature of ideas.” What happens when humans encounter change? And what bearing might this fiction have on our species as we continue to spin into the future?
FIND YOUR PREMISE. A great sci-fi story springs from a new take on the “What if?” question. Let your mind wander in order to find fresh territory. Rather than writing about the first topic that comes to mind (alien invasion!), try writing a list of ten “What if?” scenarios, and then dive into the one that feels most compelling to you. And remember, although science fiction can be dystopian, it doesn't have to be. We'd love to see new narrative ideas at play!
DREAM UP YOUR SETTING: As your narrative takes shape, you’ll likely find yourself looking at the world through a new lens. How does your premise shape physical reality? Make the setting of your piece as real for your readers as it is for you. What does this altered reality look like? What sounds does your protagonist hear as she falls asleep at night? Are there seasons? Weather? Remember that setting has three elements: time, place, and mood. Consider the geography, certainly, but also think about what time in the future this story takes place, and how details of setting can create a sense of mood for the reader.
DO YOUR RESEARCH: After you’ve decided on a premise and a setting, dig into a little research to make your imagined world as realistic as possible. If the narrator of your dystopian tale no longer has access to cooking fuel, how might he light a fire in the forest? If the remaining humans post apocalypse must migrate to the sea to survive, how long would it take to walk from Johannesburg or New Delhi to the closest coastline?
KNOW YOUR CHARACTERS: As with any piece of fiction, sci-fi narratives hinge on well-developed characters. All the rest of it—the plot, the setting, the language—mean little if the reader doesn’t experience the fictional world through a character that feels real and relatable. Here are three quick tips to help you develop your main characters:
- Strive for three-dimensionality. Real people have both flaws and gifts, so give your characters both. And remember that sometimes they’re one in the same! Perhaps your protagonist’s optimistic nature, for example, also makes her overly trusting.
- Give your characters idiosyncrasies. Does your protagonist have a habit of telling jokes in the tensest of moments, or does she go taciturn? Does he do his best thinking when he’s up in a tree, or down in the basement? Particular details reveal personality and bring a character to life.
- Reveal internal and external worlds. Sometimes, particularly if the events in the narrative are exciting, it’s easy to forget that what’s happening outside of the character is only half the story. The inner world can be just as rich and just as telling, if not more so. What is your character thinking? Imagining? Feeling? What are they worried about? Preoccupied by? What do they wish for?
For more ideas, check out the "Character Study", "Essential Elements of a Story", and the interview with Ursula Le Guin, all under "Resources".
Who is Eligible?
Young writers ages 13-18
600 – 1,000 words
Best Entry: $100 (winning piece + author interview will be featured on Write the World’s
website and blog)
Runner up: $50
Best Peer Review: $50 (reviewer interview will be featured on Write the World’s
website and blog)
What’s Different about Write the World Competitions?
Prizes: The winning entrant(s) will receive $100, and the best peer-reviewer will receive $50.
Professional Recognition: The winning entry, plus the runner-up and best peer review, will be featured on our blog, with commentary from our guest judge.
Expert Review: Submit your draft by Monday June 11th and get feedback from our team of experts—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals.
June 4: Competition Opens
June 11: Submit draft for Expert Review (Optional. We will review the first 100 drafts submitted.)
June 15: Reviews returned to Writers
June 19: Final Submissions Due
June 29: Winners Announced
Our Travel Writing Competition opens Monday, July 2nd.
Stay tuned for more details!