Rules for writing great Science Fiction scripts

Friday January 17th, 2020

I think any genre succeeds from a few of these recommendations. But, a good rule of thumb, constraints are good. Typical creative constraints make you squint your eyes and see the world differently. Think of them as adding or subtracting weight resistance like at the gym. Only instead of working out your body, you’re exercising your brain! Here’s the first tweet in the thread:

Adrian Bowyer is a retired Mechanical Engineering professor from University of Bath. A careered researcher in computational geometry, geometric modeling, and Biomimetics. According to his website, he is the founder of the RepRap Project, “humanity’s first general-purpose self-replicating manufacturing machine.” Pretty awesome! Sounds like he has some insights we should all hear out.

Here’s the entire thread (saved from Thread Reader here) in a bullet-list for posterity:

  • The overriding rule, never to be forgotten, is: “Coincidence is a failure of art.” – Tom Stoppard
  • It is easy to blow something up. It is hard to have a character say something original, insightful and clever. But writers are dirt cheap. The ratio of explosions to wit should be 1:10 or less.
  • If at any point a reasonably scientifically informed audience is going to say, “But… PHYSICS?!” do it another way. The same goes for not following Darwinian evolution.
  • If the action is set in the future or the past, go through the script and remove every contemporary informal idiom of speech, where “contemporary” means at least the last fifty years. Replace EVERY cliche with a newly-coined metaphor or phrase.
  • The good guys should not beat the bad guys (if they do) because the bad guys have a system with a single point of failure.
  • Human culture has much more continuity than saltation. Have characters in the future occasionally do something from the past as a hobby – making bread, riding a horse, painting in oils; that sort of thing.
  • Spend money on set dressing. They won’t have oil drums in the future, nor will ship’s containers make it to other worlds.
  • Constraints make things more, not less, interesting. In particular, if something is powerful it should be difficult to use. For example, if someone is capable of telekinesis, then, when they use it, it should cost them a few days bed rest. And so on.
  • The Universe runs on conservation laws (Lagrangian symmetries). To make them more convincing new phenomena should also exhibit conservation laws.
  • Arthur C. Clarke’s “indistinguishable from magic” law is true. But that’s not an excuse to put in any old glowing-orb nonsense when the plot needs a deus ex machina. Go back and rewrite the plot so the deus ex machina isn’t needed.
  •  Faster than light travel makes everything parochial, and therefore less interesting.
  • Bipedal life will be very rare in the universe, as it is on Earth.
  • Artificial gravity is less captivating (!) and less probable than weightlessness.
  • “Go with your gut,” will be just as terrible advice in the future as it is here and now. Plots should reflect this immutable fact.
  • Brainstorm a number of un-commented-on technical innovations and put one in the background of each scene for the audience to notice, or not.

Give Adrian (@adrianbowyer) a follow on Twitter here.


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