Monday, December 21, 2015


A while back I wrote a short story called "Aquarius" and a bunch of it takes place on a spaceship.

My mom, who usually hates science fiction, read the story and told me it should be a whole book.

To be honest, I don't think I could write such a book. Because it would be pretty obvious that I don't know enough about space stuff, space travel, engineering, astronaut stuff, or technical junk to make it convincing. And if I did a whole bunch of research and got more knowledgeable people to read it for me and advise me on making it realistic, I think it would still show.

The short story I wrote was focused primarily on the relationship between the characters, the politics surrounding their story, and the emotional implications of knowingly leaving Earth forever. I didn't have to go into a huge amount of detail to make the slice of life that the story was about. Just the basic idea was enough to write a short story. I don't think the same is true for making it feel real for a novel.

That's not to say worldbuilding isn't important in short stories. The opposite is true. I think your world should still be able to feel full and comprehensively built. But in a short story, I felt like I could "get away with" not knowing very much about spaceships and whatnot because you wouldn't be spending enough time with the characters to see where I didn't have the knowledge to make it feel authentic. In a novel, I think I would want to know more about everything--sleeping arrangements on a spaceship, what they wear, what food they eat, the everyday lives of astronauts, what the different areas of the ship look like, all that stuff. But in a short story, all I had to do was hint at it and let the reader fill in the blanks to their satisfaction.

I think my limitations would make it impossible to tell this story in a novel format. I think presenting it in a short story was the best choice. It was honestly my only option if I didn't want to have a co-author, I think. This is probably why I'm better at fantasy. The science I did mention makes sense--like, you know, how far away a star is--but I hand-waved a lot of it with "um . . . aliens?" In fantasy you can make a comprehensive world built on fantastical magic laws that don't actually adhere to science, but should still make sense internally. In science fiction, the rules are different. So I had to add a level of distance from the material that prevents the actual scientific explanations from being vital to the story's playing out, and you presumably can accept that the characters know what they're talking about and know what they're doing even if the author does not.

I wouldn't feel comfortable writing a novel knowing as little as I know about space science. But I felt comfortable enough visiting it with a short story. 


  1. I shot myself in the foot when I wrote a sci-fi novel with a group of scientists making up most of the cast. I am so not looking forward to revisions and redoing a ton of research.

    This post kinda made me consider the fact that a ton of readers probably don't know (or care about) the amount of research that goes into stories. Short or otherwise. Especially since a ton of that research sometimes isn't even used within the text.

    Also, is it just random guessing, or do you get the "this should be a novel!" comments a lot in your short stories? Or at least, more so than to other writers :P Tis kind of interesting. Probably a testament of how much we like your characters; we end up wanting more of them.

    1. I appreciate your comment! Nice to know some other folks are dealing with the same thing. It's hard to write a group of scientists if you're not a scientist, and probably most people wouldn't notice the problems but actual scientists would, while everyone else would say it isn't a big deal to get it right. Of course, they don't mind if you get scientists wrong. Heh.

      Yeah, readers definitely don't think about research--or they just assume we're writing from our own experience if we write something technical or specialized, as if we don't have to research THAT too. I mean, for my nonfic book, I'm considered a super-knowledgeable person about asexuality and I sure still had to do TONS of research. I had over a HUNDRED test readers!!

      I don't know how often other writers get "this should be a novel!" but I do get it a lot. I'm glad people enjoy my characters and want to know more about them. That's certainly where a bunch of my novels have come from. Ace of Arts, Stupid Questions, and Bad Fairy were all short stories first.