Jennifer Ridyard's top tips for creating sci-fi worlds

Ask yourself questions

Ask yourself the six vital questions about the fictional place you’re creating – who, what, where, when, how, why – and then work from there. You may need to adapt the questions somewhat, but if you don’t know the answers, then your readers aren’t going to know either.

Use your senses

Look at your five senses, and even your sixth sense.

  • What does your imaginary world look like? What does it smell like? Sound like? Taste like? Feel like?
  • And what sort of sense does it give you deep inside: does it create joy or disquiet, foreboding or amusement?
  • Of course, you don’t need to tell the reader all of this directly: these are the smells, tastes, feelings and so forth that will be experienced by your characters. But you, as the writer, do need to know.

Remember, your aim is to tantalise your reader and to allow their imagination to fill in the gaps

Don't be too descriptive

Remember, your aim is to tantalise your reader and to allow their imagination to fill in the gaps, so don’t get caught up with reams of description - it can actually be very limiting. For instance, something as simple as “a planet of hot yellow sand” or “a city carved from ice” are often all that you need.

Naturally, the same is true of characters. We all understand what a “leggy blonde” is without being told her eye colour or hairstyle. Avoid being too prescriptive.

Imagination beats details

There’s no need to give mathematical measurements and dry architectural detail either. “The size of a large dog” or “tall as a skyscraper” are far more evocative than “about three foot high” or “300 metres tall”.  And I’m pretty sure “it was cold enough to freeze mercury” would trump “it was minus 38.72 degrees Celsius” every time.

People, not places

Your world needs to be accessible and believable, however gloriously impossible. But never lose sight of the truth that ultimately stories are told by the characters, not the geography. Whatever the wonders of your fictional world, it’s the “human” angle that matters, for your readers will discover it through your characters’ experiences of that world.

It is the people (or animals, or aliens, or ugly little fairy folk, or talking cupcakes) that the readers connect with every time.

Check out some more tips for creating sci-fi worlds in this blog by John Connolly, co-author of Conquest. 

For more inspiration read about exploring writing through science or visit our writing section for tips, support and resources.

Jennifer Ridyard

Jennifer Ridyard's first book, Conquest, is out now. The novel is the first in Chronicles of the Invaders, a new series for teens. The novel was co-written by John Connolly.