How To Write Sci Fi - A Beginner's Guide To Sci Fi Sub-Genres

'How to write sci fi?'

Every writer remotely interested in science has asked themselves this. And we all love a good sci fi story, but the how when it comes to writing sci fi is what makes the genre so good. I am talking about what to include, why to include it, when to include it. It is no mystery that there are dozens of stories out there with a sci fi twist, but the genre is as varied as it is entertaining.

So, to begin this deep delve article series, we need to distil the genre down into its primary sub-genres before we can go any further, and that is what this article is all about.

how to write sci fi

The Main Sub-Genres Of Sci Fi

Now this is by no means an all inclusive list, but it is a good starting point:
  • Sci Fi Post Apocalyptic; the kind of science fiction that is set in a world after an apocalyptic event. This type of science fiction revolves around either; why the world is doomed or trying to fix a doomed world. Some stories, like The Walking Dead, focus on surviving this new world.
  • Sci Fi Dystopia; this kind of science fiction is closely related to the post apocalyptic sub-genre of sci fi with the key difference being that the world is already a lost cause. A dystopia doesn't need to be apocalyptic, but rather, a very dreary and drab world with questionable societal and cultural implications.
  • Alien Invasion Sci Fi; this is the 'common' type of science fiction. The alien invasion story is as old as the genre and is the bread and butter of science fiction. Be it classic like H.G. Wells' War Of The Worlds, or a more contemporary story like B.K. Bass' What Once Was Home, this sub-genre is loved by writers and readers alike.
  • Sci Fi Horror; this sub-genre is closely related with the dystopias and apocalypse sub-genres, but has a clear distinction in it's horror undertones. The two sub-genres often blend but don't always need to. Think of things like Cosmic Horror (Lovecraftian Horror), or huge dinosaurs brought back from eons ago to bring havoc to our world.
  • Hard Sci Fi; this is a very interesting type of science fiction. This is the kind of sci fi that incorporates a sense of realism, with a blend of the unique. It tends to focus on more plausible scientific fiction, grounded in actual science but projecting it to what the writer thinks it will be like in 100 or 1000 years. Think of writers such as Iain M. Banks with his Culture series, or militaristic story franchises like Halo.
  • Soft Sci Fi; this one is quite the opposite and can often be described as 'near future sci fi' for the similarities it has with our current world. This sub-genre is characterised by technology that is slightly more advanced than we have right now, but not so advanced that society and culture has shifted with it. Common themes in this genre include the sociological and cultural impacts of tech, and tend to focus on these aspects. Think Black Mirror (Nosedive in particular), or the film Logan.
  • Sci Fi Fantasy; this could be big enough to be a whole genre by itself, but fundamentally boils down to being a sub-genre. This genre of sci fi focuses on the mystical, or on advanced technologies that we can only dream of. Star Wars is a good example of sci fi fantasy. Not only does it persist with sci fi elements like advanced technology, but also incorporates themes more consistent with fantasy; i.e. the force. Doctor Who is another good example of Sci Fi Fantasy.

Why Picking A Sub-Genre Matters

Now a lot of writers and authors out there may be hesitant to pick a sub-genre and write within the tropes or 'informal guidelines' commonly attributed to this sub-genre. But it is crucial to do so when starting out, or when forging your sci fi worlds.

Too often do authors (even experienced authors) try to cross genres and genre conventions. This can work fine in certain circumstances but genre conventions have surfaced as the norm for a reason; they work. It can be very jarring for a reader if you are writing a Soft Sci Fi story that suddenly escalates into a full blown alien invasion.

There will always be exceptions to the rules, but you must learn these rules, commit to them, write with them, and fully grasp them before you can know where, when, why, and how to bend them for optimal storytelling.

Genre conventions are a good way to mould a story, for example, and good for leading readers into managing their expectations for the story. If written well, this can provide ample opportunity to develop suspense and drive an engaging story.

Do Remember;

To stick to what works, and abandon 'being original' because, in reality, there are no original ideas anymore. That being said, your take on an idea, or expression of an idea, can certainly be unique. That is what readers are looking for and, most of the time, what will set you apart from other authors.

About The Author

how to write sci fi by stewart storrar
Stewart Storrar is a Scottish writer and filmmaker, originally from the Clyde Valley in Scotland. He works as a professional content writer, and loves to develop scripts, stories, poetry, and novels in his own time.

His favourite works are from the Scottish Sci Fi writer Iain M. Banks, and particularly enjoys The Player of Games. Aside from Lore Publication and writing, Stewart runs a YouTube channel about skating and filmmaking.

how to write sci fi sub genres

Edit history: 
Updated 16th September 2021 to more accurately define Soft and Hard Sci Fi Sub-Genres.