Science fiction is complicated to write. You have to create a believable world that is rich and full of detail with no breaks in logic in a limited pagecount, hit the genre conventions and then write a smart story on top of that. Also, it can’t be something we’ve seen before – it has to be fresh, feel new and updated. This means the writer needs to be aware of what sci-fi is in the market, know their material and still be creative.
In my opinion, sci-fi is perhaps the most difficult genre to write for the reasons mentioned above. Every element within the script needs to be executed in a way as to not create any confusion in the mind of the reader, so one must be familiar enough with sci-fi precedent but then in addition create wonderful heroes and weave a fresh world generally with incredibly detailed and complicated plotting. It is very difficult.
Also, sci-fi is hard because they are usually very expensive to make and thus very hard to sell or even get optioned. A writer friend of mine had an absolutely fantastic sci-fi with a networked optical implant twist that he sent out years ago now – at the time, this idea was current with the trend. However, every studio in town already had something along these lines in development, and so even though it was a really strong script, it didn’t do anything for the writers. Studios tend to be more reluctant with very big budget projects and if they have anything similar in development already, you might be sorry you spent to much time on that project that won’t get you anything. It’s a big risk as a younger writer to invest that time with maybe no payoff.
Most sci-fi scripts I read are incredibly confusing and convoluted. Localize. Make the world specific and contained. Any confusing element is an element that needs to either be made abundantly clear or taken out. There is no room for confusion.
If you’re going to write a scifi, know what’s current, watch, read, and do your homework. Know what’s out there, know what the trend is now, the upcoming trends, and then do better.
DO NOT try to rewrite Star Wars and think you’re writing the next Star Wars. You’re not.
I’ve written about this before in other articles here, but I’ll revisit the topic because it’s important. Many people fancy themselves sci-fi fans. But, real sci-fi fans actually have an acute awareness of everything produced in the market. They can teach you the underlying technology behind a warp drive and know a smattering of Klingon they can bust out at parties. They can go into great detail about all of the plots on all of the shows – not just one. I have a handful of friends whom I would consider real sci-fi fans. For this reason I call myself a sci-fi “enthusiast” – not a true fan. I love a couple of shows and have a pretty good grasp what’s out there, but I’ll be honest when I say I don’t know exactly how a warp drive works and I don’t care all that much to know.
Self-proclaimed sci-fi “fans” tend to be the most combative about their not needing to be up on what’s in the market. I have been pitched many ideas that are 100% derivative of shows already produced in the market but not as good and not as complete. Those produced shows took a fresh take on an idea, whereas these ideas, after the fact, are not fresh at all. They’re done. They don’t offer anything to the marketplace.
I’ve had many writers argue with me that just because another (better) idea was produced, their idea is still valid and they would go ahead and work on it. That is a complete waste of time. Do not write a poor man’s “Heroes” and think that is going to break your writing career. It won’t. Be smart about how you’re investing your writing time.
Remember that with film, many times we’re writing years ahead of the curve. If you’re writing something now and spending a year on something that’s already in the market, that idea was probably conceived many years ago. So, your “new” idea is already maybe 10 years behind the market curve.
This is especially true with sci-fi where scientific technology is at the heart of the subject matter. The concepts should be in anticipation of the new technology – not behind that curve.