Science fiction, a core genre under the speculative fiction umbrella, is swarming with story possibilities. Whether you write hard science fiction, space operas, military sci-fi, or steampunk, there are plenty of concepts to explore. So if you're light on ideas or just want to practice your sci-fi writing skills, we've got a list of sci-fi story ideas for you.
- Tips for writing a good science fiction story.
- A list of sci-fi writing prompts to choose from.
- How to vet your story idea for sales and success.
Table of contents
- How to Write a Good Sci-Fi Story
- Sci-Fi Creative Writing Prompts
- Position Your Sci-Fi Novel for Success
How to Write a Good Sci-Fi Story
There are many pitfalls to avoid when writing science fiction. But writing a good sci-fi story isn't just about avoiding the bad, it's also about including the good. Read on to find out more.
Start With An Overarching Idea
If you're an “idea” writer already, then you have a leg up on this one. Some writers start with a scene, a character, or even a line of dialogue. But in science fiction, it's a good idea to have the overarching idea in place before you start writing. This is because the idea will determine the subgenre and the tropes you'll need to include. If you're writing for the purpose of gaining a wide readership after the story is done, this is essential.
Of course, you can always go back through and make changes once you discover the idea. This will just add more writing time to your project.
Usually, the idea is a “what if?” question. What if Earth exploded, and we had to survive in space? What if humans developed telepathic abilities? What if aliens came knocking, but we had no way of communicating with them? These are all pretty basic ones that have already been done, but you get the idea. When you know what your overall question is, you can pose it at the beginning of the story and answer it in full by the end of the short story, novel, or novella.
The creative writing prompts below are designed to get you thinking about these what-if questions. Some of them pose these questions outright, but you can tweak them to your liking or use them for inspiration.
Drip-Feed the Reader
One major drawback of speculative fiction (especially sci-fi and fantasy) is the tendency of writers to info dump. Sometimes called an exposition dump, this is where the author unloads about the history of the society and delves into worldbuilding. This is the very definition of telling instead of showing. Avoid it to craft a compelling story.
Instead of the dreaded info dump, you can provide exposition through implication. You don't have to explain every detail about the way on-ship food processors work. After all, everyone has seen Star Trek. You can simply have a character order a meal from one of the processors and get on with your story.
Of course, if you have something that needs to be explained, do it piecemeal and only when the reader's understanding is essential to the plot.
While it's true that many readers pick up science fiction stories for the ideas they explore, this doesn't mean that the idea takes a backseat to character and plot. Readers of all genres want multifaceted and compelling characters to explore the world and ideas with. The same goes for plot. Readers want to be taken on an adventure, which means paying attention to plot, pacing, and story structure. A good science fiction writer combines all this together to provide the best possible experience for the reader.
Of course, the best way to learn how to write a good science fiction novel or short story is to read how other authors do it. Check out science fiction novels from masters like:
- Isaac Asimov
- Jules Verne
- Arthur C Clarke
- Andy Weir
- Michael Crichton
- Octavia E. Butler
- Ursula K. Le Guin
Sci-Fi Creative Writing Prompts
Choose a prompt or two below for inspiration or use them as-is. No two writers will come up with the exact same story based on the same creative writing prompt. Make it your own by writing the story you'd like to read!
Space Travel Writing Prompts
1. Write a story about a ship with cryosleep pods traveling to a habitable planet several hundred years away. The ship is kept running by a crew of androids that achieve sentience about halfway through the trip.
2. Two colony ships have disappeared on their journey into outer space. Your main character is the captain of a military ship. Their mission is to find out what has happened to the two colony ships.
3. A ship traveling outside the bounds of our galaxy runs into an invisible barrier, destroying the ship and killing almost everyone on board. Your character and a few others must survive and learn what it was they hit.
4. After a generation ship gets to its destination only to learn that the planet is no longer habitable, two factions emerge on the ship. One faction wants to turn around and go back to their home planet. The other wants to continue on in search of another planet. A struggle for control of the ship ensues.
5. While on a cargo mission from Jupiter, a spaceship encounters a strange cloud that their ship's sensors can't identify. They pass through the cloud, and then strange mutations start happening among the crew.
6. The first major space cruise to Mars goes terribly wrong after religious extremists sabotage the ship. Suddenly, what was supposed to be a pleasure cruise turns into a fight for survival.
7. A spaceship crash lands on a barely habitable planet. Many of those on board die, but some survive. After years of trying to reach Earth, they finally get a signal. But what they learn is more horrifying than their predicament.
8. A crew tasked with harvesting water from Ganymede finds a strange artifact under the moon’s icy surface. Soon, they all start having strange and terrifying visions that have to do with the artifact. One by one, they start going crazy.
9. A group of colonists lands on their new home planet only to find that what they were told about the place was wrong. It’s not a paradise. It’s a living hell.
10. Space exploration is controlled by the global government. They say where people can and can’t go. But when a group of smugglers heads to a forbidden planet in search of riches, they find something that the global government wants to keep hidden at all costs.
Alien Story Ideas
11. An alien race that can alter human memories invades Earth, making us think they've always been here. But your protagonist is somehow immune to this process. She remembers what life was like before the human race was enslaved. And she's determined to stop the aliens.
12. We put an artificial intelligence program in charge of communicating with an alien species upon first contact. Soon, the AI and the aliens join forces to eliminate the human race.
13. A peaceful alien race approaches our struggling Mars colony and offers technology to help humanity thrive in space. But in return, the aliens need help eliminating a violent threat to their existence.
14. A conspiracy theory stating that all world leaders are aliens turns out to be true.
15. After landing on an alien planet, a group of explorers attempts to make contact, only to learn that they start hallucinating as soon as they step off the ship—even in full protective gear.
16. In a world where aliens and humans have been coexisting for decades, two detectives are tasked with solving a strange murder case. At a glance, it looks like an alien has committed the crime, but the detectives aren’t so sure. And it turns out there’s much more to it than meets the eye.
17. First contact with an alien race in deep space seems to be going well. The aliens are more than willing to share their technology. They’re friendly and welcoming. But there’s something going on under the surface. Or is it just human paranoia rearing its ugly head . . . ?
18. Humans have discovered a way to access parallel dimensions through virtual-reality-like headsets that make comprehension of these dimensions possible for human minds. But when a few dimension-explorers stumble upon a strange intelligence, they come back changed, and not for the better.
19. When Earth is threatened by a massive asteroid, advanced aliens that have been living deep in the ocean begin to evacuate the planet. They offer to bring some humans with them, but they only have room for a few thousand. Who gets to go?
20. Fifty years after first contact with aliens, humans agree to send their prisoners to live in space as slaves for the alien race. Not only is this barbaric and inhumane, but it causes a system to sprout up in which police have to arrest a certain amount of people every month—whether they’ve done anything wrong or not.
Space Opera Story Prompts
21. A crew of smugglers is tasked with infiltrating the heavily guarded galactic empire's headquarters. If they don't, one of their crew will be killed.
22. Mining in space is hard. But it's even harder when someone's trying to sabotage your protagonist's mining equipment. Why would someone want him to stop mining? It's time to find out.
23. As a member of the security detail for the human delegation, your job is to protect the Earth ambassador while on a mission to discuss trade with an alien race. But it turns out someone's trying to kill the Ambassador.
24. Your job is to catalog new star systems. You have a tight crew on a small but efficient ship. Things go sideways when your ship is captured by a notorious band of space pirates who want to use your crew as hostages to get what they want.
25. Write about a scientist whose task is to make sure a planet is habitable. She has all the tools and equipment and colleagues, but there's a nasty surprise waiting for her down on the planet.
26. Presumed dead as a child, your protagonist is the only heir to the galactic empire’s throne. Once she realizes that it’s her duty to bring peace back to the galaxy, she enlists the help of a few friends to get it done.
27. A rough-and-tumble mercenary takes a contract to locate a powerful weapon that was supposedly lost during a bloody war between space-faring nations. But as he follows the clues to the weapon, he learns more about his client and starts to think the weapon would be better off destroyed forever.
28. Something is destroying planets in a matter of days. And whatever it is gets closer to Earth each day. If a group of heroes can’t find out what it is and gather the materials needed to stop it, life as we know it will end.
29. A group of violent extremists is planning on blowing up the president’s ship as it travels back from Mars. Your protagonist’s job is to prevent the attack from happening. The only problem is, no one knows when or how they’re going to do it.
30. After a strange cosmic event destroys an ancient and powerful alien civilization, humans are worried it could happen to them. Your protagonists are tasked with finding out what happened and how to prevent it. But while working to figure it out, they find that it may already be too late.
Time Travel Science Fiction Stories
31. In the not-too-distant future, a scientist cracks the secret to time travel. But there’s a catch: only clones can travel back in time safely. But when the clones come back, they’ve been changed . . .
32. A crew on their way to a distant planet encounters a ship identical to their own. And when the captain of the ship sends a video message request, they find that the crew of the other ship is exactly the same, only a year older.
33. Time travel is outlawed, but criminals still do it from time to time. There’s a whole black market for time travel devices and supplies. Your protagonist is a time cop whose job is to stop a sophisticated criminal organization from performing a massive heist five years in the past.
34. Years of time travel have created different timelines that people travel to for fun or work. Write a steampunk story about a timeline that is a mashup of the Wild West with futuristic technology.
35. Write about a protagonist who is on the verge of cracking time travel when shadowy government agents try to assassinate her. In the chaos, she accidentally sends herself into the future—but she’s pursued by the assassins.
Military Science Fiction Prompts
36. All your character knows is war. He’s been modified and brainwashed to be a killing machine. But when it comes time for the latest mission, which involves eradicating a colony of strange but peaceful aliens, he decides he’s had enough of killing. But the powers that be won’t let him go so easily.
37. In a future where corporations are constantly at war with each other, your protagonist is an assassin who works for corporate overlords. She shows up at the job site only to learn that it’s an ambush. She must fight her way out and discover who betrayed her.
38. In a world where certain people are born with telepathic powers, the military recruits these people for their obvious skills. The thing is, most telepaths have weak bodies and don’t make good soldiers. But they can communicate with elite soldiers, giving them a tactical advantage over the enemy. Your two protagonists are a telepath and a soldier, trying to make this new system work.
39. Your protagonist is a soldier in the middle of a war with a brutal alien race bent on world domination. Soldiers have to wear special equipment and take special drugs to prevent the aliens from invading their thoughts. But as it turns out, these drugs have some unusual side effects that just may help humans win the war . . .
40. Your characters are members of a specialized quick-response team. They get called in to deal with a riot on the prison planet Mars. They must get inside the prison, save the guards, and kill or corral the prisoners. But this is more than just a run-of-the-mill riot. There’s something much more sinister at play . . .
41. A group of weary soldiers returns home after years away at war. They want nothing more than to live a quiet life on Earth. But when a new threat emerges, they must band together one last time to protect the ones they love from destruction.
42. Genetically engineered super soldiers need a certain drug to deal with the tremendous strain of having their bodies drastically altered. This drug is also how they’re controlled, allowing their creators to command them to do anything they want. But when one soldier decides he’s had enough, it could spell the end for these ruthless masters.
43. Two Navy commanders on opposite sides match wits in a massive space battle. Meanwhile, under-the-table peace negotiations are fraught with danger. Someone doesn’t want peace, and one delegation member is determined to figure out why.
44. An enhanced military operative has gone rogue. Your protagonist is tasked with hunting the operative down, even though they’ve known each other for years.
45. It’s man against machine when an alien race sends millions of artificial intelligence robots to invade Earth.
Misc. Sci-Fi Prompts
46. A massive solar flare destroys all electronics on Earth, plunging the planet into chaos. A group of survivors must band together to navigate the dystopian landscape.
47. As the next step in human evolution begins to present itself, the world government implants newborns with biomechanical modifications to tamp down their new abilities. The penalty for not reporting a birth is death, but your protagonist is determined to keep her daughter’s birth from authorities.
48. An object crashes on Earth in a barren landscape decimated by years of overproduction and deforestation. But around the object, strange plants begin to grow—quickly. While this seems like a breakthrough at first, there’s something more sinister at work. A group of scientists must work fast to keep these fast-growing plants and strange organisms from taking over the world.
49. In a dystopian society, everyone’s dreams are recorded and analyzed for dissent. Rumors are it’s the first step in being able to record and analyze people’s thoughts in real-time. But a small rebellion uses a special drug to scramble their dreams. Meanwhile, they have to find a way to topple the tyrannical government before thought control is put into place.
50. Teleportation is the primary means of transportation. But when an outside force interferes with the teleportation system one day, thousands of people are sent to mysterious dimensions. It’s up to a small group of technicians and scientists to figure out what went wrong and how to get these people back.
We have by no means covered every sci-fi subgenre out there. But if you prefer a particular subgenre or trope, you can always tweak a prompt to make it fit the story that you’d like to write. We hope you’ve found some inspiration from the sci-fi story ideas above!
Position Your Sci-Fi Novel for Success
While strengthening your writing skills with these prompts is certainly a worthy time investment, you may have come away from these prompts with an idea for a full-length novel. If so, it's best to do a bit of research to ensure that the idea is commercially viable. And the easiest way to do this is with Publisher Rocket.
You can think of the information you get from Publisher Rocket as the foundation for your writing career. You get insights directly from Amazon on:
- Keywords – Metadata to position your book on Amazon.
- Competition – Allowing you to see what's selling and how stiff the competition is.
- Categories – So you know where people who are looking for books like yours go to find them.
- Amazon Ads – Helps you quickly configure a list of profitable keywords for running ads.
Check out Publisher Rocket here to get started.