Writing Technobabble: K is for Killing Machines and Weapons

Welcome to my guide on how to write technobabble! Every post will start with one letter of the alphabet, from A to Z, and cover tips and ideas for all you writers of sci-fi. Whether you’re writing about near-future science fiction, far-flung alien worlds, or historical steampunk adventures filled with advanced technology that never was – these posts are designed to help you write convincing and unique tech for your story! 

K is for Killing Machines and Weapons 

Fantastical, and often violent, weapons are frequent staples of the sci-fi genres. Even stories that are not specifically about war (like Star Trek: The Next Generation, for example, which focused primarily on discovery and exploration) feature weapons both large and small. Not every story has to have weapons, of course—for example, the science-heavy story The Martian doesn’t feature weapons at all, since the antagonist is not something that can be thwarted with a gun or a bomb (it’s more of a man-versus-nature story, or perhaps man-versus-bureaucratic red tape).

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Writing Technobabble: E is for Explanation (or Not)

Welcome to my guide on how to write technobabble! Every post will start with one letter of the alphabet, from A to Z, and cover tips and ideas for all you writers of sci-fi. Whether you’re writing about near-future science fiction, far-flung alien worlds, or historical steampunk adventures filled with advanced technology that never was – these posts are designed to help you write convincing and unique tech for your story! 

E is for Explanation

One of the fun things about designing futuristic tech or cool otherworldly gadgets is explaining how they work. To the super-nerds among us, explaining in a realistic and believable manner how every single piece of tech works is the best part of writing. And there are plenty of readers who love all those nerdy explanations.

It’s easy to explain too much, though. I’ll cover “infodumps” in a later post, and too much detailed explanation of how tech works would fall into the infodump category. Some stories, though, lend themselves to more or less explanation of the tech. 

For example, let’s compare the stories in the Star Trek universe versus the stories of the Star Wars universe. Both feature space ships, alien technology, and assorted cool gadgets that don’t exist in real life. But there’s a big difference in how the information about the tech is delivered.

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5 Tips for Writing Convincing Technobabble

One of my most popular posts on this blog lately has been this post about how to write technobabble. Apparently there are a lot of writers and creators out there who need tips and ideas on how to come up with convincing scientific or technological jargon that sounds real but isn’t.

So here are five tips to help you invent convincing technobabble words and concepts:

Do Some Scientific Research

The best technobabble has an element of truth or at least believability to it. If you’re writing an outer space adventure, then you should probably familiarize yourself with real astronomical terms and have a passing understanding of basic physics. If your spaceships are powered by cosmic strings, a lot of sci-fi readers will have a hard time buying the plausibility of that, despite your glowing technobabble terms. Continue reading

Worldbuilding Tips: Where to Get Ideas

Many people ask me where I get my ideas. That’s always a tough question to answer, but today I’ll share some tips on where I get ideas for worldbuilding. I hope these help you to create alien creatures, futuristic technology, magic spells, new cultures, and all the trappings of building a world.

Build on Common Tropes

I wrote this post a while back about being unoriginal when creating fantasy creatures. There’s a reason that so many fantasy stories feature dragons and dwarves and goblins. And yet, the dragons and dwarves and goblins are different in every story, every world, every sub-genre. There are as many ways to add unique elements to the old standby of “large fire-breathing dragon” as there are people to write the stories. Don’t discount the old traditional classics as a great jumping-off point for original ideas.

Build on Real Things

In this post, I discuss two examples of stories that use real animals as fantasy races. Like the previous point, there’s a lot of value in starting with something familiar and then adding your own creativity to it. Whether you’re creating a race of armor-wearing polar bears, or a dystopian sci-fi world where dolphin and whales have advanced beyond humans, there’s a ton of inspiration in the real world all around. Continue reading

5 Things Watching Sci-Fi has Taught Me about Writing

It’s no great secret that my favorite genres to read and watch are fantasy and science fiction. I’ve actually watched a lot more sci-fi than I’ve read (unless you count comic books). But anyway, I’m doing this post as a follow-up to last week’s post about things that Star Trek has taught me about writing.

For this post, I’ll branch out, and draw examples from some of my favorite sci-fi TV shows ever: Babylon 5, Stargate (all the series, but mostly SG1), and Star Trek (all the series, but mostly TNG). And don’t worry if you haven’t seen all or any of these – my point is to illustrate how good writing is good writing, regardless.

Consistency in world-building is vital to believability

This is the most important thing that I’ve learned about writing. Whether you’re writing sci-fi or a YA contemporary romance, a short story or a 10-novel series, you must be consistent within the world of your story. Consistency helps create credibility and believability, even with a fantastical subject matter. In Star Trek, regardless of which series you’re watching, the ships always fly with a warp drive. This is one thing (of many) that the audience can always expect from any story set in the Star Trek world.

Characters are what truly make the story

Citizen G'Kar of Babylon 5 may be an exotic-looking alien, but he's also a deeply complex, and surprisingly human, character.

Citizen G’Kar of Babylon 5 may be an exotic-looking alien, but he’s also a deeply complex, and surprisingly human, character.

Of course people watch sci-fi for all the special effects, the exotic aliens, and the epic space battles. And in books – sci-fi and otherwise – the adventures, snappy action, and rich settings are important. But without fully-developed characters, all you really have is a cool travel brochure of the world you’ve created. For a story, you need plot and characters. Readers and viewers need people they can connect with.

The three sci-fi shows I mentioned – Star Trek, Babylon 5, and Stargate – have no shortage of characters. What makes an engaging story is the relationships between the characters – their friendships, the different ways they handle challenges, their enemies, their likes and dislikes. In Babylon 5, the overarching plot is war encroaching on peace. But what makes the audience keep coming back for the next episode is not just the dramatic space battles and the epic story of the Army of Light versus the Shadows. It’s the characters who make up that Army of Light, the characters who have hopes and dreams and a reason to keep fighting. If the audience didn’t care about the characters, they wouldn’t care who won the war. Continue reading

5 Things Star Trek has Taught Me about Writing

While I could write about this subject at most any time, I thought it would be appropriate now, while we’re still celebrating the 50 year anniversary of Star Trek. I’ve posted many times about the writing tips and techniques that I’ve learned from the sci-fi show Babylon 5, but since Star Trek was my first science fiction love, I thought it was high time I give it its due.

So here are five things, in no particular order, that Star Trek (mostly TNG, but really, all the series) has taught me about writing and storytelling:

The importance of supporting characters

Everybody loves the heroes of the story, but supporting and minor characters help round out the world. Whether your story has an ensemble main cast (like Star Trek) or just one main protagonist, you need other characters to serve specific roles and to provide more opportunities for interaction and character growth for your main characters. With a longer work (like a novel, a series of novels, or a TV show), you have the opportunity to expand on the minor characters that come and go, and turn some of them into recurring characters. Continue reading