Writing Prompts,  Writing Tips

Imagining the Future: Tips and Prompts for Writing Science Fiction

One of the most common settings for science fiction novels and short stories is the future. Who doesn’t want to imagine what the future will be like? As a writer you have the power to make the future a bright happy place where the problems of today are only a distant memory. Or you can make a dark future where everything has compounded into apocalyptic proportions.

But where do you start? There are so many pieces of our world to imagine that it can seem overwhelming when you want to craft your very own future. I have outlined some of the major elements to consider when imagining a future world. I have also given some prompts under each section to spark your creativity.

In thinking about the categories below think of the extremes of each. What is the worst case and what is the best case? What other issues arrive from being at the extreme end? What would need to happen in other sectors of society in order for an extreme to be reached in another?

When deciding what your future looks like, try to think about what will impact your story the most. What choices would make things harder for your characters or provide them with opportunities to use their skills? Don’t create a world in a vacuum, connect that world to your characters and your story and it will be a very rich place full of potential and will draw the readers in and keep them wanting more.

Technology

This is often a starting point for futuristic science fiction stories. So many aspects of our daily lives are being taken over by technology that it is easy to see why. There is an abundance of inspiration all around us. I even wrote an entire article on writing a technology based story. Try imagining what parts of your life could be easier with a new technology. Or choose a technology that hasn’t changed in a while and try to think of a way it could be better. You can also look at science news and journals to see what discoveries are being made and then imagine the consequences of those advances.

Prompts

  1. A popular technology to imagine is the future of cars. There have been discussions of flying cars since cars were invented, and even one involving a horse cart. But that doesn’t have to be the angle you take. There have been many advancements in electric cars and self-driving technology in recent years. What other vehicle-related technology can you come up with?
  2. Mobile phones have gone through a marvelous transformation, from the bag phones of the late ’80s to today’s sleek designs. The tech for the batteries alone has changed immensely. There are all sorts of ideas about the future of the phone, especially the “smart” features. I’ve seen glass tablets, like in The Expanse, and brain implants controlled with eye movements, like in “Forest of Memory” by Mary Robinette Kowal. What do you really think the future of the smart phone looks like and what impact will that have on humanity?
  3. Medicine is a large category but advances are being made all the time. Every day we get closer to finding a cure for cancer. Imaging technologies get better, pharmacology is constantly finding new applications. Will we someday actually have a tricorder? Aside from the benefits of such discoveries, there are consequences. Futureman is a comedy that explores the consequences of actions. The event that sets the whole thing off is a cure for herpes which is turned into a super cure. The war between those who receive it and those who don’t sparks the events of the show. Try imagining what some of our medical technology could bring about in the future outside of health benefits.
  4. This is the one that I’d be willing to bet encompasses the majority of future science fiction: Space Travel. Another huge category encompassing everything from FTL drives to the space elevator to colonization and first contact, space travel is rich with story potential. Take a look at some of the newest theories on space travel and see what ideas you can come up with. Mars has long been a topic of interest to science fiction writers but now that there are actual plans in place to send people there, there are bound to be even more stories about it. Look into the SpaceX progress and see what they have coming up. What could go wrong? What could happen if it goes right?

Social

Writing about the future gives you the chance to imagine a world where many of the social injustices we see today are fixed. Or maybe they aren’t. Perhaps our current social issues are replaced with new ones. What methods being employed now to fix some of these issues could work, or backfire, to lead to a new state of things in the future?

Prompts

  1. How do you think gender will look in the future? Will people still be persecuted for identifying outside of the cisnormative structure? Is it possible that people will be able to live their lives the way they want without having to hide or face adversity at every turn? What would that look like? What could make that possible? Is there some argument that will change people’s minds or convince them to just be nice to people? Or will something radical have to happen?
  2. The same goes for race. As the world becomes more accessible, how will racial divisions fare? Will the world just embrace the change and learn to accept everyone? Will a new global culture emerge that either blends together all the cultures of the world or creates a wholly new one? Or will everyone cling more tightly to their roots fighting back against the Other in a shortsighted attempt to preserve tradition? The list could go on. This is an issue that isn’t going away any more than gender inequality. Is there a way for future generations to just accept that being different isn’t a bad thing (especially when the differences aren’t as big as they seem)?
  3. Economic disparity is commonly tied to other social divisions, often race. If the gender and racial inequalities could be solved, what would happen with the rich/poor divide? Dystopic futures are often depicted with an even wider gap between the two, frequently on some new basis of currency. In the movie In Time the currency is time and the rich and poor are extremely divided. In Elysium the rich move right off the planet and have access to incredible medical advances. In the Hunger Games, the economic status of a district is tied to its product and the people have no way of changing that. What other advances in technology could divide the rich and poor further? Or will we be able to reach an equilibrium somehow? What sort of economy could begin to close that gap?

Environment

It’s hard to get through the day without facing some aspect of environmental change. From deforestation to landfills to climate change, there is a lot happening to the Earth that will have a great impact on the future. It would be unrealistic to write a story that takes place even a decade from now where the world is in the same state you see today.

Prompts

  1. First consider how much nature is left? Have we replanted forests or let them all die off? Is the world completely paved and filled with high-rises with the only nature existing in small preserves? Decide how much green space is left on the planet and how that impacts the inhabitants, human or otherwise.
  2. What have we done with all the trash? Are we dealing with a WAll-E sort of situation with trash piled high and filling space? Have we found a more efficient way to get rid of it? Sanitation issues could be the whole basis for a story or simply add color, and smells, to your future world.
  3. Climate change is unavoidable in discussions of the future. You’ll have to decide what stage of climate change is taking place during your story. Is the planet hotter or colder? Are the icecaps gone? Do we still have polar bears?! Check out some of the models that predict climate change and see what is going on when you plan to set your story.

Daily Life

Try to imagine how your life could be different in the future. That’s a pretty vague statement, but really try to pick apart the things you do and think about any other ways they could be done. Will we keep progressing or are there things you can see reverting back in some flux of nostalgia to an older method? You see that in a lot of the handmade products being made now. What sort of routine changes would impact society at large?

Prompts

  1. How do you see work, normal go-to-the-office work, changing in the future? Will we still have cubicle farms? Will they be bigger? I worked in a cubicle farm once. The company seemed to be struggling with the need to make us more like robots, but also provide a human touch through customer service. It was a balance they were still struggling to achieve when I left. Or maybe people will work from home more. So many jobs involve no more than a computer and internet connection that it’s becoming a feasible way to work in many industries. Is that scenario better or worse than the cubicle farm? It would allow everyone to be more relaxed in their own environment, but would limit face-to-face contact with other human beings. What other implications could changes to the work force entail? (Hint, I didn’t even touch on automation.)
  2. Can you imagine a day when you don’t need to go to the store? We can buy groceries from home now. There are very few things we can’t have delivered to our doors. When you develop your future world and your story, try to imagine a population that isn’t accustomed to leaving their homes for anything as inconvenient as obtaining basic sustenance.
  3. Speaking of sustenance, what do you think the future of food will be like? I recently read a story, “Beyond the El,” that hinted at some possibly magic food-crafting. But more basically, where will our food come from? Will it come from labs? Will we eat it in pill form? Will we all have to eat at Taco Bell day after day like in Demolition Man? Food is such a large part of our lives but it is frequently left out of stories. Adding a hint of how food has changed will flesh out your world and make it feel real.

Corporations

Another common theme among future stories is the role of corporations. When they are included, they have usually taken over. I admit it’s hard to find a scenario in which corporate control of the world is positive. But there are other ways that corporations influence the world that don’t include domination.

Prompts

  1. When I first saw Blade Runner, many years ago, I thought to myself, That’s ridiculous, we’d never let ads get so out of control. I laugh myself silly when I think about that now. One of my favorite lines from Ready Player One is when they say, “Our studies show that we can fill up to 80% of someone’s visual field before we induce a seizure.” This is comically accurate. The Netflix show Maniac uses the out of control nature of ads perfectly. If someone can’t pay for something they can get an Ad Buddy, a person who walks around with you reading ads until you’ve listened to enough to pay for whatever it was. So, will we face such inundation, and soon? Or will someone decide we’ve had enough and start putting bans on ads?
  2. Even if a corporation doesn’t rule the world, or even a country, in the future, chances are they will still have a lot of control if they continue to gather our information. Everyone from Facebook to Google to iRobot and their Roombas gather information about us and we don’t always know what they use it for. Clearly something nefarious. What will the future look like if this information gathering continues. Every time we click “Agree” without reading, or even after reading and deciding we don’t care, we are giving something away. Will it eventually come back to haunt us?

Politics

An unavoidable aspect of the future is politics. It is hard to imagine a world without politicians. Someone has to run things, after all. But who is running things and how they are doing it could be different. I’m not surprised, however, that most science fiction about future political situations are dystopias.

Prompts

  1. First, what will political parties look like? Will the party system survive? What could be its alternative? In The Beam, there are two parties and they are divided to the extreme and joining one controls how you live your entire life. Consolidation of power is a popular theme in future stories, a president who isn’t really elected but just rules like a monarch. Or perhaps someone figures out how to make a more pure democracy work. The way the government is run will inform many other aspects of life so it is important to think about it.
  2. Will the world be more fractured or unified? You see a lot of science fiction where the Earth astronauts meet an alien race who is completely unified, no racial or governmental divisions; they forge into space as one. I always thought this seemed overly simplified and a bit naive. What would have to happen for a global government to rise up? The world is a very large place and so it would have to be divided somehow. Would all the divisions be equal? Unlikely. In The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu, it is proposed that first contact will be more divisive than unifying for the world as everyone vies for control over the situation. Consider what method of government, and there are many to choose from, is likely to be employed in the future.

Tropes

Finally, I want you to examine the tropes of science fiction. It is easy to start a story and not realize you are using tropes. They make things easier and they aren’t forbidden by any means, but if you are going to use one, you should know that you are so you can make it meaningful. I’ve already mentioned some but here are more examples. Try to see how each of these makes the concept unique and think for a moment about how you could make it different yet.

  1. The evil corporation that runs the world, or just a city, or whatever. Robocop, Terminator, WALL-E, Elysium, and more use the evil corporation trope.
  2. Robot/AI takes over or causes some problem. I left robotics out of the technology section but it’s a biggie. There will likely be robots of some kind in people’s homes someday. Think carefully about how you treat them in your story. iRobot (book and movie – they’re very different), 2001:Space Odyssey, Westworld, and  Robopocalypse use some form of AI overthrow.
  3. Aliens are a fascinating concept. There are so many scenarios to imagine in which humans and aliens meet. Alien invasion is a trope though. Independence Day, Three Body Problem, Ender’s Game, Starship Troopers, Childhood’s End, War of the Worlds, Mars Attacks, Oblivion, Arrival. Many of these titles have both books and movies showing how popular it is.

When you write your science fiction book or story set in the future, you don’t need to include all of these things. The more you can include, naturally, the more realistic your world will seem though. The story doesn’t have to be about climate change for you to mention it. Including such aspects shows that you are a thoughtful writer who questions everything and explores the implications of their world.

When deciding what your future looks like, try to think about what will impact your story the most. What choices would make things harder for your characters or provide them with opportunities to use their skills? Don’t create a world in a vacuum, connect that world to your characters and your story and it will be a very rich place full of potential and will draw the readers in and keep them wanting more.

If you liked this post, Like it or Share with your friends:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *