Sign up to the newsletter

Becoming A Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer

In this extract from the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook, Aliette de Bodard offers her experience in the special art of science fiction and fantasy writing...

I fell into writing much like how I fell into reading: at one point, browsing through the library, I found a How to Write Book, and realised that there was a method to it. There are many such books available. Many apply broadly, the basic building blocks of a story being the same, regardless of genre. But the noes I find myself coming back to are the ones with some sensitivity to writing science fiction and fantasy; some tips and tricks are specific.

The one important thing I learnt from those books is how to manage exposition, which is a problem specific to science fiction and fantasy; when the setting differs a lot from today’s world, there is a lot of extra information to get across. The trick, I found, is to remember that the reader has only a few spaces in their mind at a given time for those differences; you don’t want to launch into a big, paragraph-long lecture, especially near the beginning, or you will lose them. Rather, you have to do this slowly and in steady trickles. You must build your world gradually, in small touches.

The other thing I learnt is how to do world-building. World-building is the basis of science-fiction and fantasy; it’s the differences between the real world and your imagined ones, and the impact they have on characters, their lives, the plot… Inspirations for this are numerous; I use history and mythology a lot, because there is so much to be mined there. My novel The House of Shattered Wings had fallen angels in a post-apocalyptic belle époque Paris. One thing I’ve found that helps is that having only one modification (or ‘big idea’) will often result in a setting that rings hollow. I’ve had good results by throwing together two or more totally unrelated ideas and finding with ways to make them mesh.

Recommended writing books and resources from Aliette de Bodard

- Beginnings, Middle and Ends, Nancy Kress (F+W Media 1993)

- Steering the Craft, Ursula K Le Guin (Eight Mountain Press 1998; rev. edn Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2015)

- Storyteller, Kate Wilhelm (Small Beer Press 2005)

- Wonderbook: the Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, Jeff VanderMeer, Jeremy Zerfoss et al. (Abrams Image 2013)

- Worldbuilding Wednesdays, Kate Elliot et al. (www.imakeupworlds.com/index.php/category/worldbuilding-wednesday)

Aliette de Bodard is a multi-award winning writer of fantasy and science fiction. In 2016 she became the first writer to win two BSFA awards in the same year for Best Novel and Best Short Fiction. Her novel The House of Shattered Wings won the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Her Aztec mystery-fantasies, Servant of the Underworld, Harbinger of the storm, and Master of the House have been reissued by JABberwocky, and her ongoing Xuya universe series includes the short novels The Tea Master and the Detective and the Citadel of Weeping Pearls.

The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook 2019 publishes July 26th. Buy your copy now