… I believe that continuity is the most difficult aspect of writing a complex science fiction story.
Imagining is easy. Just take a few topical elements of today, extrapolate (and not necessarily along personally-held political or religious lines), exaggerate and then add a character who can make sense of it for the reader.
Plotting can be tricky. It takes time to explain a new universe, but it can’t be done in the first few chapters, not without losing your audience. So, once the imagining is done, use the conclusions you arrived at to create some exciting, character-forming scenarios. String these scenarios together in their most logical sequence, and use the really stupid stuff to provide the book with some humour. Mind, the universe should have explained itself before you hit the first major twist. Twists are only twists if your readers feel they are already on a ‘predictable’ path. (I love twists. Just love ’em.)
It is also worth creating a deeper meaning, but that’s not too hard. Back to the imagining. Is the overarching backdrop full of ideas and conflicts that resonate in today’s world, as good sci-fi is supposed to, or is it merely an excuse for a 300 page shoot ’em up. Personally, I’m for scifi provoking a gut reaction that converts into a searching question, completely divorced from the politics of the day. This is the reason I picked scifi as my medium. I doubt the left and right will exist in quite the same way and with their values in tact some two hundred years from now. Just think English Whigs and slave-owning Democrats.
You are writing fiction, but it must be plausible. This can be achieved by doing your research. (Research the future? I hear you ask yourself. OK, I admit, that’s a stretch unless you like highly technical things and want to dazzle the reader with near-science-made-sexy.) But if you aren’t good at wading through scientific papers, don’t worry. If your story is set far enough out, and you say spaceships are powered by flux-drives, no one can call you out. At least, not for a long while.
Pay attention to your reviews. Reviewers are your most passionate readers, whether you have hit their sweet spot or just their nerves. Sometimes, something in a story is of greater significance to the reader than it was the writer. Do you want to capitalise on that? Believe me when I say your readers’ reviews can contribute to your next story.
Back to the continuity. Crap! Is this one hard or what? Not only must writers of scifi watch out for all the usual traps, such as having a character whose blue eyes turn green a few chapters further on, or a broken nose that miraculously fixes itself inside of a chapter and a gun that still has a fully charged magazine after a frenzied fire-fight, but we’ve to be consistent with an entirely new universe (possibly two, depending on how ambitious the story). This is easily screwed up. Will red or brown hair affect the story? Probably not. But in space, certain aspects of continuity do matter. If it took ten days to get to planet X, remember it. Your readers will. The journey cannot be done in two days sometime later in the book–not without an explanation, and no matter how important it is for the story that it does.
One of my reviewers has said that she particularly likes the way I didn’t use a ‘bat utility belt’ to get out of jail free (Birdie Down). Another has said my story was ‘robust’ (Scat). I put this down to my focus on continuity. I spend around half of my editing time on this aspect of my writing. Most of my personal reviewing of a story is spent looking for the mismatches, pre-positioning elements that will or could come up later, and making sure the characters use their noggins if they want to rescue, escape, seek revenge, or save the world.
So that’s the hardest thing. Continuity. It made Army of Souls a nightmare to plot, write and edit. There are different dimensions, galaxies and species. There are different belief systems in both galaxies–all made up. There are competing and conflicting motivations–again in both galaxies– all of which must be resolved. As I said, it was a nightmare, but hopefully, with Scatkiewicz simplifying everything for himself (and for you), readers will find it a fun read.
BTW, the first in the Scat’s Universe series is free, as is the first in the Rebellion series, so there’s never a need to put your USD2.99 at risk when looking at my ‘stuff’–Not until you know for sure that you like what you read, or you just gotta know what happens next:-)