Tag Archive for: science fiction

Welcome writers, readers, and inspiration chasers! Join me as I dip into my prompt resources and select something to explore and share. These prompts are all about inspiration—what they inspire for me and what they inspire for you.

If you’re inspired by the prompt, whether that’s by creating something epic or just warming up for your creative day, I hope you’ll share your creation.

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This prompt comes from The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan. The words defined in The Lover’s Dictionary create a story, and just as Levithan uses those definitions to construct a novel, so too can you take a word and definition and retool it for your own creative purposes.

Feel free to go wherever the prompt takes you!

ersatz (adj)

Sometimes we’d go to a party and I’d feel like an artificial boyfriend…

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Where I started:

The word “ersatz” is forever linked in my memory to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick, so this prompt immediately brought to mind replicants and androids.

The rest of the prompt—an artificial boyfriend—reminded me of an idea cultivated by my writing group. We wanted to put together an anthology of stories based around the people who rent artificial friends. These android friends can fill any need, the person in the friend group who takes all the pictures, the best friend of a shy individual, or an impressive date to a high school reunion… which is the direction I took the prompt for this snippet.

A high school reunion is a place where a person wants to be seen as visibly successful. Short of being crowned during the proceedings, that typically translates to an enviable physical appearance and a stable romantic partner. Many other rom-coms have already trod the path of bringing a fake date to a high school reunion, I just put more emphasis on the “fake” part of the scenario, giving dear Kay her own artificial boyfriend.

(One day I am putting together this anthology—mark my words.)

Originally posted for the Story Kernels Patreon Oct 7, 2022.

What I wrote:

Kay smiled broadly as she stepped under the balloon archway. Welcome Back Sycamore High Class of ’99 screamed from nearly every wall of the hotel ballroom. Clint’s arm kept her upright as they approached the check-in table.

This was such a bad idea.

“Everything’s fine,” Clint whispered. His voice modulated perfectly so only Kay could hear him. “We’ll stay an hour, make sure to be seen by the right people, and I’ll sing all your praises.”

Kay clutched his hand, which suddenly felt smoother and less lifelike than it had when she’d picked him up at the Fast Friends facility. “You know not literally, right? Like, don’t sing.”

Clint chuckled softly, his smile pleasant and perfect, and exactly the kind of man Kay’s high school friends had expected her to marry. “It’s an expression, Kay. I promise, FF’s programming is flawless.”

No one near them reacted, everyone lost in their own conversations as the line inched forward. Still. “Don’t say the p-word,” Kay muttered.

“Then don’t question my p-word.”

The man in front of them turned around abruptly, eyes wide, and Kay laughed through her intense blush. She could only imagine what p-word he thought they meant.

Now it’s your turn:

What might be fake in your scenario? Who is the artificial boyfriend and how are they artificial? Is the artificial feeling a constant or situational?


If you enjoyed this prompt and would like another, the June prompt on Patreon inspired a story about a woman silencing the petty man who had imprisoned her.

Welcome writers, readers, and inspiration chasers! Join me as I dip into my prompt resources and select something to explore and share. These prompts are all about inspiration—what they inspire for me and what they inspire for you.

If you’re inspired by the prompt, whether that’s by creating something epic or just warming up for your creative day, I hope you’ll share your creation.

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This prompt comes from Rory’s Story Cubes distributed by Zygomatic studios. The simple pictures are meant to inspire a story. How you use each image (or connect them together) is up to you. The dice I’ve used today are a mix of the Classic, Voyages, and Actions Sets.

Feel free to go wherever the prompt takes you!

Five of Rory's Story Cubes displaying pictures of a clock, a skull and crossbones, an object falling beside a person, a dinosaur skeleton, and a rainbow.

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Where I started:

Clock + Dinosaur = Time Travel!

(Really, did you expect my brain to go anywhere else?)

With time travel as a starting point, I had to consider what was happening in the other images and how to interpret them. The bottom left cube with the falling object made me think of a crash, so potentially a crash-landing in a time machine. The skull and cross bones might not be pirates (maybe) and could just indicate danger, and the rainbow for me meant that things would ultimately be well. Maybe even funny. (I like funny, we’re going funny.)

So, what time travelers could be in danger, crash, but ultimately be okay? I decided to use my already established time-traveling trio from a novel-in-planning. Robin and Griffin have been partnered for years, but Henry is new to their crew, swiped from another timeline in which he and Robin have the same parents, though neither of them has a sibling….

Originally posted for the Story Kernels Patreon Nov 17, 2022.

What I wrote:

They rematerialize in the timeline with an inefficient clunk that rocks Henry against the safety restraints—apparently there is a reason they have an outdated harness in this thing.

Before he can ask any questions, Robin’s down the ramp, cycling open the hatch. Verdant, damp, mossy air floods the cockpit. As many different times as he’s visited, he’s never smelled something so… untouched.

“Griffin?” Robin’s muffled voice drifts forward from the exit ramp. “Remember when I said, ‘I don’t care where we go, just get us out of here?'”

Griffin’s cheeks shade pink, eyes sliding to Henry in the co-pilot’s seat, a vaguely guilty look pursing his lips. His voice is steady when he replies, “Yes, dear. I seem to recall that.”

The monitors in front of him are as outdated as the restraints, and Henry can’t make heads or tails of the readings to get a grasp on the date or place. He releases his harness, half rising from his seat to see what his other self is looking at and what has Griffin looking so guilty.

Robin comes back up the ramp to hang over the back of the passenger seat. “I changed my mind, Griff, I care. There’s a goddamn dinosaur out there.”

Now it’s your turn:

What do the images mean to you? Does the clock indicate time travel or just a specific time (maybe a countdown)? Is the dinosaur skeleton representing something alive or dead? What’s the rainbow hanging over your story? How do multiple images come together to inspire you?



If you enjoyed this prompt and would like another, the April prompt on Patreon is a different bit of Robin’s history, exploring the first time she time traveled back home and discovered her whole world had changed.

Near the end of the month, I attended a virtual workshop with the Orange County Library called Putting the Sci in Sci-Fi, led by author and scientist Premee Mohamed. The workshop was an in-depth exploration of moving from sci-fi inspiration to story, but one of the things that stuck with me was something Premee said about what makes a science fiction story:

If the science fiction element can be removed without changing the story, the story isn’t science fiction.

Premee gave a story example to explain what she meant: the story premise is a couple splitting up. In the scene, the woman drinks from her cyber cup. If the only mention of the cyber cup is that it holds her coffee, there’s nothing science fiction about the story. You can remove the cup and the story is just about a couple splitting up. But if the woman is leaving because her cyber cup recorded the details of her partner’s affair, suddenly the cyber cup is integral to the premise and plot—now it’s science fiction.

That’s probably obvious to most readers of science fiction, but I think it’s an important element to interrogate whenever we’re writing. What makes your story science fiction? What makes your story fantasy? What makes it steampunk? What makes it romance? Is your story matching the expectations of the genre?

In one of my MFA workshops, a fellow student asked of my steampunk story if I was being limited by the constraints of the genre. Six years later and I’m still a little stymied by that question because I feel like it’s missing the point of genre conventions.

Two shelves of books divided by science fiction and steampunkGenres exist primarily as organizational and marketing tools and are one way for readers to find stories they’ll like and for stories to find an audience. (If you like this story about a robot, here’s where to find more stories about robots.) If the main task of a sci-fi story is to ensure the sci-fi element is integral to the plot, I wouldn’t call that a constraint, but it is a necessary element of the story.

All stories tend to share universal elements—plot, character, setting, theme—and they’re written using words, sentences, and punctuation. But once stories are separated by genre, unique elements are introduced, such as magic, robots, time travel, romance as the driving plot, monsters, a mystery—and those elements are what define the genre. Meeting those genre expectations means a story can be classified and marketed, and more easily find readers, which means that identifying the genre elements and making sure they’re integral to the story is essential to the writing process.

For many writers, you probably don’t need to make this genre check, but if something feels off in your fiction, it might be a good place to start your search.



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Summer is convention season, which means that just a couple weeks after the OCLS Book Festival, I was driving over to Maitland for a weekend at OASIS, the Orlando Area Science Fiction Society’s annual convention. They were celebrating OASIS 30, but this was my first time in attendance. It’s kind of amazing what can be growing under your nose if you just haven’t looked around to find it.

While OASIS isn’t strictly a writer convention, its focus is on sci-fi and fantasy books, so there were a lot of authors to talk to and plenty of panel discussions geared toward writing. (And some that were geared more toward science, which were fantastic for inspiration and research.)

One of my favorite panels of the weekend was Brainstorming the Science in Your Science Fiction. A panel of experts in several scientific fields—everything from biologists to rocket scientists—were available to answer writers’ questions about their fictional science. I’ve been struggling with some details about what a character is doing outside of her spaceship when disaster strikes, and they had some fantastic suggestions for various things she could be fixing (and what would put the ship in the most peril).

I also had several great one-on-one conversations with authors about how they run their Patreon campaigns, experiences they’ve had in both traditional and self-publishing, and I received an actionable suggestion for how I might condense my ideas for short fiction and actually write a short story! Overall, it was a very useful convention and I’m so glad that I finally stumbled across their group.

(And thanks to the gentleman who asked before putting bunny ears on KL. Classic joke performed with class.)


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When I decided to get an MFA, I knew that writing genre could be a challenge. As an undergrad I was discouraged from writing science fiction, enough so that I took more nonfiction workshops than fiction and didn’t write for a year following graduation. (My realistic contemporary fiction was uninspired, but I wasn’t “supposed” to write science fiction—mentally rectifying that disconnect took some time.) I didn’t want a repeat of that experience, but also in the eleven years between my degrees I had learned a lot about fighting for myself.

After I was accepted to the MFA program—following an application that was basically plastered in warnings that I would be writing science fiction—I still thought I might have a battle. After all, even I, future science fiction writer, had left my undergraduate days brainwashed that science fiction didn’t belong in an MFA program. Even if the faculty accepted me, I could still face challenges from the students.

In my first workshop, I was surprised by the overwhelming support I received. There were a handful of dismissive critiques, but the majority of my classmates treated me like a peer and not like I was an inferior sci-fi writer. One memorable critique recommended that I not be “constrained by the genre” while another student restrained his urge to critique my story using the rigorous standards he would apply to literary fiction (that is a paraphrase, but is fairly close to the actual quote that appeared in his critique). These were the comments I had prepared for and the attitude I thought I’d have to fight. I had thought I would have to demand to be taken seriously, to argue that I was in the MFA program to make myself a better writer—which meant developing the craft of writing as it applied to characterization, description, narrative, world building, and plot. “Literary” is a just word that defines the quality of the writing, not the content, I would argue. It applies to work by Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, and Nnendi Okorafor, just the same as it does to David Foster Wallace, Junot Díaz, and Donna Tartt. I was ready for this fight!

But it never came. The handful of dismissive and confused critiques in my first workshop were the main confrontation. My classmates were curious and supportive. At a party, a student pulled me aside and quizzed me for an hour about steampunk and alternate history, just because he’d never heard of it before. Basically, my MFA classmates blew away my expectations and set a tone of acceptance not only for me, but for other students who wanted to try their hand at workshopping science fiction and fantasy.

I knew I wanted to approach the MFA on my own terms, and that I would have to work to get what I needed from it. I am lucky that the professors not only welcomed me into the program, but encouraged me to forge my own path. I still read a lot of realistic contemporary fiction for class assignments, but if I was willing to put in extra work, they were willing to let me write papers exploring point of view from robot narrators and examine the differences in structure between Victorian and Neo-Victorian literature. I always say “you get out what you put in,” and that was very much the case for me in the MFA program.

Before the MFA, I was concerned that the divide between literary fiction and genre fiction was too great. I felt like only my echo chamber understood the overlap, but the students and faculty in my program helped me see that we’ve come a long way and that when it comes to accepting science fiction as literature, I am not alone.

Punk sub-genres still seem like something the cool kids are doing, but I feel like a lot of people I talk to don’t understand what makes a genre “punk” as opposed to all the other ways that you can describe a genre—alternate history, science fiction, speculative fiction, urban fantasy, gaslamp fantasy, etc. So why do we keep throwing “punk” on the ends of other descriptors?

Punk movements started primarily in the 1970s as counterculture movements, growing out of the music scene. In the UK, unemployment rates were high, the economy was crap, and the youth were angry and had something to say about it. For the purposes of how punk relates to fiction, many punk genres embrace that same DIY ethic and are anti-establishment with an emphasis on individual freedom; in short, the authors are angry and have something to say about it.

So the punk element of steampunk, for example, is not that an author has thrown in anachronistic technology, thrust petticoats into a steam-powered future, or pasted gears and goggles on a top hat. The punk element is what the author has to say about social and political movements that are counterculture to the time period or to their contemporary society. In the realm of steampunk and Victorian culture it might be a story that is concerned with classism or feminism. In the same time period, but set in New York City, a story might focus on Unions or factory work. In Japan it might have something to say about isolationism or feudalism. Or set in Australia or New Zealand it might focus on the treatment of aborigines and be anti-colonialism. What topic is tackled doesn’t matter so much as the fact that a topic is tackled, and that it is a topic that aligns to problems of that time period and culture.

All punk-genres have this counterculture element in mind, so no matter if the story is alternate history and rewriting the 1940s with diselpunk, exploring the 1500s with clockpunk, or if it’s catapulting into the future and commenting on contemporary society through cyberpunk or biopunk, a punk story will have a social commentary that is counterculture to the society presented in the story.

New punk genres are popping up all the time, so now that you know the crucial element, what sort of new punking do you want to see?