Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

Why Science Fiction Short Stories
Are Really Hard to Write

October 20th, 2011

Your assignment: write a science fiction short story set off Earth, in another time.

Your story should do the following:

(1) Present to the reader an unfamiliar storyworld that is internally consistent and coherent, including an implied past and future.

(2) Present to the reader a specific setting within this storyworld, making sure it includes unfamiliar yet reasonably plausible technology.

(3) Utilize two or three unique and interesting characters. If not human, describe both the general and specific appearance of these characters, as well as their origin and biology. Please avoid caricature! If human, you need only describe your characters’ specific appearance, relying on the reader’s knowledge for general principles. In either case, communicate your characters’ motives and personalities in a manner relevant to the mood and tone of the story.

(4) Develop a fast-paced, action-packed story arc suited to the motives and personalities of your well-developed characters and utilizing the story’s plausible technology as an essential element. Be sure there is an external plot: something must happen. Equally important, include an internal plot: your primary character should have an issue or two to overcome!

(5) Include a theme that adds layers of meaning to your story.

Your assignment should be accomplished in 3000 words or less. Bonus points are awarded for stories achieving levels of “cool,” “awesome,” or “mind-blowing.”

Posted on: Thursday, October 20th, 2011 at 7:40 pm
Categories: Writing.
Tags: , ,

2 Responses to “Why Science Fiction Short Stories
Are Really Hard to Write”

  1. Jeffrey Gershom Says:

    Wow! That seems simple enough. 😛

    Seriously, it’s a very tall order that takes a lot of thinking and planning. I can see why you don’t tackle short stories too often.

    Like many writers say, “There’s not enough rewards (pay) for that much work. If you do that much work, then do novels.” I’m sure I paraphrased this thought, but I’m sure it’s close. Yet, many writers do write short stories using the criteria you mentioned. The secret is that their stories remain in the universe they created…Why re-invent the wheel, if you already have one? Being able to produce shorts and novels using the same information can save a lot of time. Larry Niven is the one author that really comes to mind about this concept, with his Known Universe theme. SF isn’t the only genre that does this.

    If you had to steadily write short story after short story, with all new characters, world building, physical laws, etc… you would go nuts! And, you only get a SMALL number of stories in the market.

    I have one confession to make though, I’ve gotten a bit more confident in writing a short story because I have learned the economy of words…through Twitter. If you have a set amount of characters to write, 140, you better use the ones you need…wisely.

    I hope you don’t give up on short stories; if anything, it’s a way to keep your name out there.

  2. Linda Says:

    Oh yes–conservation of ideas and characters definitely makes things easier. That’s why last month I wrote my first “new” short story using a character from THE BOHR MAKER ( Existing character, existing setting! That story was a lot of fun to write. Now I’m just challenging myself to do something different/new. And new short story worlds might eventually develop into new novels. You never know. It happened with In the Tide (

    Anyway, I have no skill with word economy, so I’ll be practicing that.

    Did I imply that I had already given up on shorts? Not at all! I’m just darkly amused at the requirements.