7-day sci-fi story starter  

challenge
 

If you’re interested in creative writing and want to write a short story, graphic novel (comic book) spoken word, rap or poem, getting started can be one of the hardest parts!  

 

Our 7-day sci-fi story starter challenge will help you find your way to an interesting and exciting story that you can enter in our competition.

 

Here you’ll learn all about the world of writing science fiction.

How to use these resources

Each challenge is designed to be explored and completed in 30 - 40 minutes.

Step by step, we’ll take you through the key elements you’ll need to think about to develop your entry. 

You’ll find a daily creative writing prompt that will help you to let loose in your writing. Feel free to use any writing style you like - prose, poetry, rap, spoken word, a graphic-novel! 

 

You can explore these activities alone or work with your friends and family to help you to build otherworldly characters and technologies along the way.

 

Already got an idea? You can use our story starter or poetry starter worksheets to plan your entry. You can always go back and explore the relevant writing prompts and resources if you get stuck.

 

All you’ll need is a pen, a piece of paper, and your imagination to get started!

 

Happy writing!

Day 1:  What is Science Fiction? 

Science fiction is one of the most creative genres in literature. You can take readers on adventures set in space or be about new technologies like robots and teleportation devices. The important thing, though, is to remember that science fiction is filled with unreal things that could be real (because of science) in the future.

 

The future and world might be built in many different ways:

 

The very near future: Usually about our world but with a few technological changes, like in Marvel Comics such as Spiderman or The Avengers.

 

After the catastrophe: A post-apocalyptic world, where there has been a huge planet altering event like a virus wiping out most of humankind or a nuclear holocaust.

 

The very far future: Time travel 30,000 million years into the future and see what is happening there.

 

Earth-like other worlds: Set on a different planet, think Star Wars! 

 

Alternative histories: This is the ‘what if?’ world where history takes a different route, like Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses.

 

Lots of people have written about the future in all kinds of mediums.

 

Do you recognise these song lyrics?

 

“This is major Tom to ground control, I'm stepping through the door

And I'm floating in a most peculiar way

And the stars look very different today

Here am I floatin' 'round my tin can far above the world

Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do”

 

Brixton’s very own David Bowie wrote the most famous Science Fiction song ‘Space Oddity’ about being lost in space.

 

Writing prompt   

Ask a family member or adult you know what the world looked like in 1970 or when they were growing up. 

 

What kind of technology did they have back then? Maybe there were phones but no mobile phones or internet?

 

I know my parents wrote letters and sent photos to communicate to family still living in their country they had migrated from because it was too expensive to call and the phone lines were terrible! Those letters took ages to arrive and sometimes never did! Crazy huh?

 

So what's the thing that's going to be the major difference in your story?

 

Jot down or doodle an object, technology or invention that you think could be real in the future that might change how you live.

 

Maybe it’s something you’d love to see happen or something you’re afraid of. Either way, describe it in detail.

 

What does it do? What does it look and feel like? Does it have a name? Who uses it and how?

Be as specific and descriptive as you can.

Tip: Keep it personal; your writing will be more interesting if you make the experience relate to your daily life.

Day 2:  A world of possibilities 

There is nothing more exciting than a story that transports you to a place or a situation that is beyond our current understanding. Sci-fi can help us to explore what our future will be like or what we’d like it to be like, like in this film called 2040

 

Some sci-fi stories might imagine a world where everything is perfect and where everyone gets along. This is called a ‘utopia’.

 

Other stories might imagine a bad place, where there is great injustice, and terrible things happen. This is called a ‘dystopia.

 

Some stories might start in a utopia and end in a dystopia, or vice versa. Depending on our hopes or fears, one person’s utopia might be another person’s dystopia! Can you imagine an instance where that might happen?

 

Commonly though, sci-fi can be used to examine different outcomes that might happen or explore what might go wrong with particular inventions, tools or actions. (Think: What if a technology to make someone immortal gets into the wrong person’s hands?!)

 

In building a world of possibilities, Science Fiction might be used to predict the future or used to question important things that might have happened in our past or that we are concerned about now.

 

Some Sci-fi stories exaggerate these issues or problems to comment on our world today.

 

Here are some sci-fi films you might be familiar with:

Can you figure out whether they are based in a utopia or dystopia?

 

Maybe the story seems like it could be both?  

 

What clues are there in the scene?

 

Is it the landscape or something somebody says?

 

What was the technology used in the film?

 

Do you think any of these technologies have or will come to pass?

 

Wakanda in Black Panther, set in the present day, is a dazzling, technological utopia in Africa free from inequality. But it protects itself against a dystopic world of colonial violence, racism and injustice.

 

In Back to the Future 2, we’re taken to Hill Valley in 2015 which looks like a utopia with cool flying cars, that unfortunately haven’t happened yet! Later in the film you realise it isn't the great place it seems to be. 

 

Wall-E is a lonely robot that lives in a post-apocalyptic Earth destroyed by climate change. In certain parts of the world like Japan, robots like Wall-E are now a normal part of life and don't seem so strange.

 

Writing prompt   

Imagine you’re a news reporter interviewing the object or invention you wrote down or drew yesterday.

 

Describe in words or images what it tells you about how it will change the world in the future. You might want to use dialogue for fun!

 

When in the future is it from? Who created it? Who has access to it or can buy it? Will the world be a more fun, hopeful, scary, or lonely place?  Is it being used for good or bad? How does it change the relationships between people? What does it tell you about what is happening in the world more generally? Could it be used to have more than one outcome, for example solve climate change and somehow make it worse?

 

Day 3:  Building blocks of a story 

 

You now know what makes Science Fiction story Sci-Fi, but what does a story need?

 

There are 5 elements to a story:

 

1. Characters – it might be a person, a place, an animal, an object, or even time itself like in this poem by Tom Denbigh!

2. Setting – the time, location and place of your story.

3. Plot – what actually happens in the story.

4. Conflict – the main challenge or struggle characters have to confront to achieve their goals. The conflict should be motivated by something the character really wants or is afraid of. 

5. Resolution – when the main problem has been resolved and usually where the story ends.

 

All stories need a beginning, middle and an end. But without conflict, there is no character development, and most importantly no story! 

Even if you’re writing a poem, rap or a spoken word piece, character, setting and conflict are all important components to get your message across.

Watch the video below for some great and trusted advice from the Pixar team about story structures that work every single time!

If you’re interested in poetry or spoken word, watch this video and read the examples about form – the physical structure and pattern of a poem that influences what and how the reader thinks about the poem. 

 

Song lyrics often feel like poems. Don't you think? 

In fact, singer and songwriter Janelle Monáe used her album The ArchAndroid to tell a science-fiction and Afrofuturist story, exploring how androids are used as stand-ins for marginalised and oppressed people. Pretty cool!

Writing prompt   

This is an exercise to get you thinking about what you need to create a story. It’s easy to gather the different elements that can seem really random or even farfetched. But the events can easily be used to make up a plot that tells a structured story.

 

Write down the first thing that comes to mind (you can be as silly and absurd as you like – a robot or clone of a famous Youtuber or rapper?  Set in a boxing ring on Mars or inside a government computer? All good!):

 

  • 2 Characters

  • 1 Location or setting

  • 3 Actions or events

If you have friends or family around, ask them to help and come up with a character, location or action each!

 

Now, including your object or invention in your story, see if you can put together these elements together using the actions or events to construct a plot. 

 

If you’re writing a poem, you might want to experiment with form. The length of it, whether it rhymes or has a rhythm, will all be a part of what you want the reader to think about when reading or hearing your poem.

Tip: It’s always great to dive into the action or suspense to grab the audience's attention as soon as possible!

 

 

Day 4:  The setting 

As we’ve learnt, setting is really important in Science Fiction to help create a world that readers can visualise and experience.

 

The time, place and the social environment, form the background of the story or scene. They will set up the mood, influence the way characters behave, affect the dialogue, reflect the society in which the characters live in, and invoke emotional responses in the reader.

Read the following extract from George Orwell’s 1984.

Using detailed description, Orwell quickly builds a world ruled by a totalitarian government. Utilizing all our senses, sight, sound, taste and smell, sets up a mood of despair and monotony.

 

Does any of this feel familiar now?

 

What about in this scene from the comic Watchmen?

Eerie and dark, we get an atmosphere of paranoia, fear, and a sense of despair as there seems to be no hero to save the world. The dirty, narrow alleyway and the rain pouring down help to create a mood in which this is a city that is filled with injustice and suffering. 

Writing prompt   

Think about a familiar landscape – a building, school, street, community centre, maybe somewhere you’ve visited on holiday. Perhaps it’s attached to a memory.

 

For the next 10 minutes, write down the details you remember about this place and what you were doing there.

 

Use all your senses and put in as much detail as you can.

 

Now relocate your setting to 2070. It might be in this world or on another planet. Alter it so that the details are set against more unusual settings. 

 

For example, if you were riding the bus to school. How has the bus and the view from the bus changed in 2070? Is the bus still a bus? Do the buildings look different? What are people wearing or eating? Is there a mosque, church or synagogue you pass by?

Write this in bullet points or note form but keep it for day 6!

 

Tip: A great name for a world, city or place can convey its mood. Give your relocated setting a new name to suit how you want readers to feel about it. It could be the same place you visit now but wish you could rename!

 

Day 5:   Whose story is it?

Point of view is what the character or narrator telling the story can see. Depending on who the narrator is, they will see the action from particular point of view.

 

Point of view is important because it helps the reader understand the characters’ feelings and actions.

 

Many stories have the protagonist telling the story, while in others, the narrator might be someone an outsider looking in. Don’t forget characters can also be places, times, objects and settings!

 

There are different points of view you can choose to tell your story or poem in.

 

First person: These stories speak from the first-person using ‘I’, meaning that we are seeing events unfold through the eyes of the character telling the story.

 

Second person: In second person, the narrator is speaking to ‘you’. The narrator is talking to the reader personally and this is common in poems.

 

Third person: With the third-person point of view, the narrator is describing what they are seeing as an observer or spectator. If the narrator is one of the characters in the story, we are reading what he or she observes as the story unfolds. The narrator can then give insight into multiple perspectives depending on the character that the scene is focused on.

Read this excerpt from Octavia Butler’s novel ‘Dawn’.

 

This story is told from Lilith Iyapo’s point of view, as she’s called by an alien to revive mankind after Earth’s apocalypse. Even though it’s in third person, we see the world and the other characters entirely from her perspective.

 

Listen to Kareem Parkins-Brown’s spoken word poem ‘Did You Pack Your Own Bags?’

He uses first person and his own experience to talk about the impact of social media technology now and in the future. It feels really relatable and personal, something we might all feel.

 

Writing prompt   

Spend five minutes describing how you brush your teeth in the morning, from picking up your toothbrush to turning the tap off.

 

Try and remember all the small steps you take till your breath is minty fresh!

 

Now ask a family member or friend to describe their routine and note down the answer. Are there any differences in their routine? Do they use different words or adjectives to describe the same experience or action?

 

Like your family, each of your characters is an individual. What the character does, says (and how they say it), thinks or feels will be particular to them. These small details in your description can help to make your characters more believable and interesting even if the story is set on Mars or in a world of flying cars!

 

Tip: Don’t be afraid to use slang words, expressions, or words from other languages if it fits with who your character is!

 

Day 6:  The inciting incident 

 

As our competition judge and Sci-fi writer Stephen Oram reminds us, the earlier the better for your inciting incident”.

 

An inciting incident is the event that hooks the reader into the story. This event interrupts a character’s normal life and gets them to do something they wouldn’t usually do.

 

Watch this clip from The Hunger Games.  

The inciting incident in this story is when Katniss Everdeen’s sister’s name is drawn, and she decides to take her place. Her life will never be the same!

Read Margaret Wack's poem ‘Enthusiasts of Ruin’. 

 

She starts her poem immediately with the destruction and decay caused by the end of the world. We’ve learnt the world is over and we want to know how it’s impacted her.

 

Inciting incidents usually happen early on in the story, sometimes in the first few sentences or couple of scenes.

 

But without it, the story won’t move forward and it’ll just become a series of events, which as we saw in the Pixar video on day 3 – become boring for the reader or audience!

Writing prompt   

Using the altered setting you created on day four, you’re now going to write an inciting incident or dramatic moment into this scene.

 

Write a paragraph, stanza (grouped set of lines in a poem), a verse (if it's rap or a song) or a few images with narration if you are doing a graphic novel.

 

For example, your character is riding the bus to school as usual, but something happens that day that’s different. An accident? An alien invasion? Maybe they miss the bus altogether and have to run to school, witnessing something very strange or exciting along the way. What do they have to do?

 

Don’t forget to think about or include your object or invention too in this scene.

 

Tip: Think of a dramatic moment you have lived through. It might have happened in the place you’ve written of or at a different time in your life. Using it to spark an idea or an emotion can really help you set up this scene in a way that draws the reader in, especially as it’ll help make the scene feel real even in a very unfamiliar world.

 

Day 7:  The internal conflict

Every story or poem has its origins in an initial spark of an idea. It might be the technology or invention, it might be an event, place or setting, or a particular social issue as we’ve seen in the films, poems and novels throughout this 7-day journey.

 

But don’t forget every story has a conflict to resolve.

 

The plot is centred on this conflict and the ways in which the characters attempt to resolve the problem. And it’s usually based on something the character really wants or is struggling with.

Watch this scene from Noughts And Crosses Below

Sephy and Callum are fuelled by their love for one another and desire to be together in a world filled with racial injustice and exclusion. They want to be together and a brutally racist world means they might not be able to be. In fact, they are willing to risk losing everything to be together and to make the world a more just place.

 

Check out the Pixar’s storytelling rules on drama and conflict in the video below. 

They highlight just what’s at stake for some of the characters we’re probably familiar with (and love).

 

It’s what they want or are afraid of that makes the resolution satisfying for the reader even when story doesn’t quite end on a happy note.

 

Writing prompt   

Imagine the character you’ve written about in your inciting incident is writing a journal or diary entry about their biggest hope or fear.

 

What would they say about it and why? This will eventually be something they have to overcome or resolve in your conflict scene.

 

Maybe they are afraid not having any friends and being lonely and find themselves as the only person left on Earth? Or what if their biggest dream is to travel the whole world but are now trapped inside a biosphere or videogame?

 

Ready to write 
 

Hopefully the exercises have given you some inspiration to get started and help build your story about One Day in 2070.

 

It’s now time to get all your ideas down and make some final decisions in order to finish making your entry.

 

Use the following story worksheet or poetry worksheet to help you map these out.

 

You can use what you’ve created in the activities or start from scratch.

 

If you’re still stuck, we’ve got some ideas you might want to use in each worksheet.

 

Once you’ve completed the worksheet, you can carry on where you left off from the scene you began writing on day six or start writing a story based on a new idea!​

Top tips

Sci-fi Writer and our judge, Stephen Oram, shares his top ten tips (with thanks to the Clockhouse London Writers) with you:

  1. Have a good title.

  2. Have a beginning, middle and end.

  3. Have as few characters and settings as possible.

  4. Use believable names for characters.

  5. Use realistic dialogue that moves the story on.

  6. You need to be clear of the world that you have created. Do your research or planning but wear it lightly. Make room for the reader to fill in the rest.

  7. The earlier the better for your inciting incident.

  8. Beware of introspection – if nothing happens, there’s no story.

  9. Place / time / setting can be a character too.

  10. Have an ending that doesn’t betray the beginning. Once it’s read, a story’s end should seem inevitable.

 
 

 

Contact 

Email: utopia-now@kcl.ac.uk 

Phone: 07587527416 

Address: School of Population Health & Environmental Sciences

King’s College London  

5th Floor, Addison House,  
Guy’s Campus, London, SE1 1UL 

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