Writing a Science Fiction Novel

As I hope you know, I’m in the process of writing my C.A.T. novel. There is an interesting story why I ended up writing this novel the way I did, which I hope will act as a useful tip to other budding novelists.

I was writing a straightforward space adventure novel. Nothing out of the ordinary or special as measured by science fiction standards. One of the four main characters was doing all the expected things he needed to do and nothing more, no character, no internal conflict because of the situation he found himself in and no behavioural tick that would make him do even a little something unusual to add to the story. So in order to give him some colour, I gave him a robo-cat. It was literally a walk-on and walk-off part.

A few chapters later, I found another use for the that robo-cat. I thought good. It moved the plot on very nicely.

Within a few more chapters that damned robo-cat was appearing in nearly every chapter. Worse, I had friends, who read and commented on my drafts, that they wanted to know more about the robo-cat. So I had to have a discussion with it. It could have its own story if it left my novel alone.

What kind of story could I give it? Well, the obvious one was how it came into existence. That story was Agents of Repair, which was published in Issue 29 of the Jupiter Magazine (the issue was entitled Thyone, which is the 29th moon of the planet Jupiter). I went back to my novel.

Then I realised I had a gap in my knowledge about the robo-cat. How did it come from where I had left it in Agents of Repair to hook up with my character? Well, I couldn’t write that into my novel as I had started the novel with them already together. So I ended up writing about how they got together. This story was to form my portfolio for my application to do an MA Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, for which I was accepted. During that course, I subbed the story to TWB Press and it was accepted for a stand-alone e-publication, simply entitled C.A.T.

Good, I thought, I now had the background to carry on my novel. At this point I got distracted from the novel on my Creative Writing course to start a completely different novel, which as it turns out follows a similar development arc to this novel (more about that novel in another post).

But I couldn’t leave C.A.T alone. Two sequel e-publications followed, Neptune’s Angel and Guard Cat. In the process of all this, though I had not realised it at the time, I was enriching background world of this novel.

Finally the resistance to C.A.T. taking over the novel was futile. I changed him (notice C.A.T. has gone from it to him by this stage) to be the main point of view protagonist and did an overarching story arc for him to follow. But at least I had the background world-building fixed.

I started the novel further back in time than my original draft because there was an unexplained event in one of the main characters. That turned into the chapter called Space Blind. It was of a length that could be sent into the Writers of the Future short story (word limit 17,000 words), so I did. I had also worked out that a good way to keep me on schedule with writing the C.A.T.-novel was to send new chapters in to the competition on regular basis. I knew it would help me through what I call the doldrums part of writing the first draft. This is the 50% to 75% section where you’ve done most of the creative world-building, characterisation and plot development, and you know you have still got a long way to go to reach the end of the novel. Once over this doldrum part you are so close to the finish, you get really excited about finishing it, which carries you through to the end.

To my utter surprise and delight, the Writers of the Future gave me an honourable mention for Space Blind. It was a remarkable achievement because one fault from a short story point of view was there were a loose ends in it, which would be dealt with in subsequent chapters, and count against it in the judging. So I grinned, framed the certificate and continued writing the novel.

The next two main chapters followed the story arc of the original novel, with the second story Eternal Vigilance also gaining an Honourable Mention. I settled down to write the middle third of the novel, hoping that my plan would get me through the doldrums.

Then something weird happened in chapter 4, Dust in his Eyes. I found myself coming up with more background world building, admittedly in the details rather than the big picture. But they were important to the story line. It was only a detail here and another there. But I found the character of C.A.T. developing as a result. Guess what? Another Honourable Mention. I thought I had to be doing something right.

The inventiveness got worse in chapter 5, Hope Mosaic (which also received an Honourable Mention), and even crazier in chapter 6, Instinct of Logic. By this stage, C.A.T. had taken on a life of his own, and it felt like he was dictating the novel. He was now actually helping to change the space-scape with his story. I kept on thinking, I can’t put that into this novel and yep, it went in.

I have now reached chapter 7, entitled Unknown Unknowns. As nine chapters are planned, this is the 66% to 77% section. Finish this chapter and I would be truly out of the doldrum part. So far, it’s absolutely zinging with new-scape. I finish writing my current section, go off do other normal human things and then come back with a new thing to include in the story.

So what lessons can we learn from this experience:

  1. The ‘wisdom’ of saying that most of the creative development part of novel writing is over by the time you reach the halfway mark is total rubbish for science fiction.
  2. In the original version novel I had instinctively chosen my point of view character as the one who was learning about the world. Whilst useful in itself from a world-building view, it is very likely not the best option for bringing out the best in the novel. By all means write the earlier version until the point you are happy about the world-building, but be prepared to start the novel again from the point of view of the most interesting character in the novel. (This also happened in my MA Creative Writing novel.)
  3. Find ways of sticking to a reasonable timetable for writing a novel. I did this by insisting I had to put my chapters into the Writers of the Future contest. Other methods may work for other people. I suspect in the case of the more professional writers, contract deadlines act as a wonderful focus. But for those of us starting out on our novel writing careers, having something to help us keep up the momentum is not only useful, but almost a must.

Once I’ve found succinct summarised phrases for the above, I’ll put them in a separate post. But for now, the fuller explanation will, I hope, help other budding novelists. If there is only one conclusion you want to take away from this post its:

The process of writing science fiction novels is different from writing other types of novels.

The simple character of C.A.T. in the prequel stories has long since developed. But if you want to read about it / him in those early days, click on the images below to take you to Amazon UK.




Guard Cat Full Detail


8 thoughts on “Writing a Science Fiction Novel

  1. You are right… in science fiction, there are all sorts of ideas bubbling along with your storyline that from time to time won’t behave and sit down quietly:). Congratulations with your success so far and all the best with cotinuing with the story to its conclusion.

    1. Many thanks for your kind thoughts, Sarah. So far, despite the shambles of last year, the novel has remained on schedule. After all this effort, I hope I can finish the main first draft by the end of this year!

  2. I too found that developmental new ideas inveigled themselves in long past halfway. Often characters by then are so real they’d take over. Also as imaginative writers we are not in a post-start-a-novel vacuum, we continue to allow the cauldron of ideas to simmer away and spit out plot nuances. I don’t feel I need the pressure of deadlines though. Once I’ve plunged into the swimming pool of a novel or trilogy, I keep on swimming, sometimes resting on a float to consolidate then dive in again. Having said that, I used the BSFA novel critique Orbiters group so a certain amount of words had to flow to meet those deadlines.

    1. Many thanks for you insight, Geoff.

      Sounds like the BSFA Orbiters fulfils the function I use the Writers of the Future contest for.

      As for the bubbling forth of ideas, I think I’m a wreck! The latest idea took my breath away. I keep on saying to myself, you can;t put that in, no you can;t, absolutely not… it’s gone in. (C.A.T. insisted! Ahem…)

  3. I think what you describe is just what happens when you set out to write a novel for the first time. To make sense of what you’ve written up to now you have to go back and put in all the things necessary to see how your characters got to that point.
    And, by the way, it’s a behavioural tic, not tick.

    1. Hello Jack. Welcome to my small blog.

      Oh absolutely. The consistency checks, polishing and editing are to come. However, another advantage of entering competitions is that each chapter receives consistency checking, polishing and editing before it’s entered. So when I start the whole novel consistency checking, polishing and editing, it won’t be as bad as if starting from scratch. This also has the advantage of catching some inconsistencies before they before too embedded. A big plus to this way of writing.

      Hm… I have a tic about tick… or is it tick about tic?

  4. That’s a great idea about entering competitions, if your chapters work that way. I’m working on the third of a trilogy. The final version of the first book has very little of the first draft. Of course, along the way I changed it from third person to first person. Now even if I try to write in third somewhere I slip into first without even noticing it.

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