Creating a Believable Science-Fiction Environment by Dellani Oakes

When introducing a new planet, the author needs to keep several things in mind:

What’s the scale?

Is it bigger than Earth?
Smaller than Mercury?

What is the climate like?

Temperature, rainfall, etc.
What sort of atmosphere has it got?
Will they need survival suits, oxygen, etc?
Is it a verdant, lovely place, hot and dry or cold and unrelenting?

How many moons or suns?

Distance from the sun?

Is it capable of sustaining human life?

Is it completely hostile to humans?

What is the indigenous population like?

Are they sentient?
Ignorant of outer space?
Are they humanoid?
Do they look like giant cats, bugs or leeches?
What is their home environment?
Can they vocalize or are they telepathic?

How do your characters get from Point A to Point B?

What sort of vehicles are there?
Do they have to travel by horse (or planet’s equivalent)?
Must they walk?
Are there well maintained roads?
Do the vehicles need roads?
What’s the terrain like?

What is your level of technology? Not all futuristic worlds are the same. One need only watch TV shows or movies to see the vast differences in approach.

Is yours a post apocalyptic world (Resident Evil, Book of Eli,    Planet of the Apes)?
Are machines in charge (Terminator)?
Is it a more utopian society (Star Trek)?
Is it highly technical or more rustic (Firefly, Farscape)?
Are the characters at war (Battlestar Galactica)?

Social strata:

Is there slavery?
Are all inhabitants given equal rights?
How does the indigenous population regard humans?
Are there classes or casts? Is it possible to advance?
Is it a monarchy? Democracy? Dictatorship? Communist society? Anarchy? Religious fanatic? Autocracy? Something completely different and unique to them?

Not all of these characteristics need to be mentioned in your story to make it believable. The author must know what kind of environment the characters are in. How they react to their environment or how it acts upon them can make a huge difference in a story. Characters will not behave the same way in a jungle that they will in the frozen wasteland. If the space is confined, that makes a difference too.

Place rules and adhere to them. If you say the sky is purple, the grass is blue and water is pink, then don’t violate that later. If you’re going to get this off kilter, though, have a ready explanation for it. Some readers will question when the setting is too bizarre. Your readers must be willing to suspend their disbelief and embrace their new environment. Don’t make the mistake of creating a setting so odd that it makes the readers focus on that instead of the action.


This article is anthoNovel Writing Tips and Techniqueslogized in the Second Wind Publishing book: NOVEL WRITING TIPS AND TECHNIQUES FROM AUTHORS OF SECOND WIND PUBLISHING, which was the 100th book released by Second Wind.

“As someone who constantly evaluates novels for publication, I was astonished at the breadth and clarity of the wonderful advice contained in this handbook. It addresses concerns as grand as plot development and as simple but essential as formatting your submission. It offers crucial advice on literary topics ranging from character development to the description of action. Virtually every subject that is of great concern to publishers — and therefore to authors — is covered in this clear, humorous and enormously useful guide.” –Mike Simpson, Chief Editor of Second Wind Publishing


(Dellani Oakes is the author of Lone Wolf and Shakazhan. Both science fiction novels are published by Second Wind Publishing).

1 Comment

Filed under Excerpts, How To, writing

One response to “Creating a Believable Science-Fiction Environment by Dellani Oakes

  1. Star Trek fans are well known for finding lapses or inconsistencies in storylines over the course of the various series and films. This alone tells me that if I were to write SciFi, I would have to be very careful about tracking the things on your list. To some extent, I think the readers are attracted to the authors’ worldbuilding–that’s probably one “high” they get out of the book. It’s unfair and confusing when we don’t take care with it and make sure its consistent and well planned. Nice list.


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