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Science Fiction Skeleton

Last week, we examined Science Fiction subgenres. This week, we examine the story building blocks for Science Fiction.

The overall story problem pits good against cosmic evil.

The reader asks: Will the hero, find, change, or stop something in time?

These stories explore the boundaries beyond what is known, therefore anything can happen. There is usually a protagonist on a quest to find, change or stop something. Something happens to threaten the existence of a place, humanity or a group of beings. Science Fiction stories, by definition, have some element of plausibility.

They can be set in space, on earth, in the future, or an alternative version of the past or an alternate version of the present. The stakes are high. The villains can be mad scientists, aliens, earth-like tribes, viruses, evil rulers, robots, androids or bands of intergalactic bad guys bent on conquering the planet. 

The conflicts involve how the characters deal with this cosmic problem. They often explore the effect of science on civilization, especially science gone wrong.  It can be about exploring the galaxy or atoms. They sometimes feature aliens but don’t have to. The Planet of the Apes is an example of exploring the earth in a different way.

You must have a well-developed story world with rules of what can and cannot happen in it. You must stick to those rules or you lose your  audience. You cannot change them mid-story. Audiences will go with you anywhere in the Sci-Fi realm as long as you make the cause and effect tight and logical. These stories allow us to explore themes from our own world: wars, famine, disease, genetic tinkering, technology, space exploration, industrialization, and genocide. Setting these stories in a different world removes the need to be politically correct and themes can challenge our current beliefs.

In Science Fiction stories, the protagonist is the star ship captain, the head Klingon, the research scientist, or astronaut. It is the person responsible for attempting to restore cosmic or scientific balance.

The antagonist is the source of the threat. This is the lead Klingon, the mad scientist, the out of control space captain, or the leader of the Planet of the Apes. It can be a virus, but if there is a team investigating the virus, someone in that team needs to offer some resistance.

External Conflict scenes focus on the central conflict between cosmic good and evil. The star captain leads the charge against the aliens, the arctic station is attacked by giant insects or the Klingons invade the star ship. Scientists make an important discovery. A spaceship wrecks on a distant planet. Everyone is involved in this cosmic fight. These are the battle scenes, the interplanetary council meetings, and the smaller battles leading up to the final battle. These are scenes where the entire planet awaits the streaking asteroid, the Klingons fire on the Vulcan ship, or the Men in Black face the giant cockroach. 

Antagonist Conflict scenes are where the opposing sides face off. If you follow the antagonist’s POV, these are scenes that show him hatching his lethal plans. The head Klingon and Captain cross swords or verbally spar. The giant insect rallies his troops. If the antagonist has a strong belief system, this is where he can argue his side of the thematic question to his henchmen. He actively works to achieve his goal. You can explore the antagonist’s personal dilemma in these scenes too. 

Interpersonal Conflict scenes focus on those helping and hindering the protagonist and/or antagonist and those involved in the subplots. The captain and his lieutenant disagree about how to handle the attack. The astronauts plan a way off the planet behind the captain’s back. Some will urge the hero to take the right action, some will stand in his way. He may be distracted by the beautiful young emissary from planet Zircon. His girlfriend might want him to give up alien hunting to settle down on Venus. These scenes can follow the friends and foes and reveal their true motives.

Internal Conflict scenes show the captain wrestling with his obligation to save the world. He debates his sanity or worries about his dying mother. He struggles with his addiction to Vesuvian wine or his past obsession with winning at any cost. This is the demon that drives him, the character flaw that trips him up. He reveals his innermost thoughts about the conflict or debates whether his sacrifice is for the greater good. 

For more information on building the Science Fiction story, check out the newly released Science Fiction Build A Plot workbook, available in print and e-book.

Next week, we examine the Team Victory skeleton.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

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