Can you envision a future dramatically changed by technology, the environment, or a new social order? This month, transport us to your distorted world. You might write about artificial life, unexpected encounters, novel societies, or cli-fi (climate fiction) utopian or dystopian futures. In a short story, 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?
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 or social 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:
Who is Eligible?
- 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?
Young writers ages 13-18
600 – 1,000 words
Amie Kaufman is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of young adult fiction. Her multi-award winning work has been described as “a game-changer” (Shelf Awareness), “stylistically mesmerising” (Publishers Weekly) and “out-of-this-world awesome” (Kirkus). Her series include The Illuminae Files, The Aurora Cycle, the Other Side of the Sky duology, The Starbound Trilogy, the Unearthed duology
and The Elementals Trilogy.
Her work is in development for film and TV, and has taken home multiple Aurealis Awards, an ABIA, a Gold Inky, made multiple best-of lists and been shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. Raised in Australia and occasionally Ireland, Amie has degrees in history, literature, law and conflict resolution, and is currently undertaking a PhD in Creative Writing.
What’s Different about Write the World Competitions?
- Best Entry: $100 (Our guest judge’s commentary on the winning piece, and an interview with the author will be featured on Write the World’s blog)
- Runner up: $50 (Our guest judge’s commentary on the piece will be featured on Write the World’s blog)
- Best Peer Review: $50 (Our guest judge’s commentary on the best peer review and an interview with the reviewer will be featured on Write the World’s blog)
- Prizes: The winning entrant will receive $100, and the runner-up and 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 14, and get feedback from our team of experts—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals.
WtW Camps and Workshops!
- June 7: Competition Opens
- June 14: Submit draft for Expert Review (Optional. We will review the first 100 drafts submitted.)
- June 18: Reviews returned to Writers
- June 22: Final Submissions Due
- July 2: Winners Announced
Eager to dive deeper into science fiction and fantasy writing, or perhaps flash fiction? This July and August, take your writing skills to the next level by participating in Write the World's virtual writing camps taught by professional authors, editors, and educators—including former Guest Judges! Learn more and register here.
Our Sports Writing Competition opens Monday, July 5th.
Stay tuned for more details!
Is previously published work eligible?
Our monthly competitions are designed to get you writing across a range of genres throughout the year, so we encourage you to write a new work for each competition, but we will also accept work that has been previously shared with a small, local audience (for instance, a piece that was published in a school journal).
How to Enter
- If you haven’t yet, sign up for a free account for Write the World as a young writer here
- Hit the “Start Writing” button above!
- Draft your entry! Hit “Save” to return to it later.
- The first 100 people to submit a draft will receive an in-depth review from one of our Expert Reviewers—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals—that you can use to revise your final entry. The “Submit for Expert Review” button will be clickable if slots are still available—click it to have your draft reviewed. (Note: you can still enter the competition if you haven’t received or don’t want to receive an Expert Review!)
- When you are ready to submit your entry, hit the "Submit as Final" button (You can revise, re-publish, and mark any version as your "final submission" until the deadline.)
- Only one entry per person, please.
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