MJ McGriff is the sci-fi action writer (and self-professed TV addict) behind the New Earth Series. The Mission: A New Earth Novella is available for free download right here.
Plot twists. Energy blasters. New worlds. Epic fights. Morally ambiguous characters. These are the main ingredients of the books I love to read. As a full-time working mom, my book reading time is quite limited. So a book has to grab me and hold my interest until the very end. No time to drag. No room for long, drawn out explanations.
That’s exactly the type of stories I love to write. Creating and refining a story is a lot of hard work. What makes it a little bit easier is writing the type of story you want to read. Here’s how I go about doing that, with tips to help you do the same!
Nothing gets you closer to a character than literally being in her head as she experiences the story. You know exactly what she’s thinking and feeling both internally and externally. You also know only what he knows, so when a plot twist comes out of left field, you’re just as shocked as he is. Bringing the reader into the character’s shoes creates a connection that will keep them in the story until the last word. Get into the character’s head. Let them speak to you through free writes. Find an image that not only looks like them but conveys their attitude about life. Do this before you even start outlining or writing your first draft so you can create a story that feels natural to that character.
Putting the Story First
A newcomer may be turned off by the science fiction genre, thinking it’s more concerned about scientific explanations at the expense of the story. With my New Earth series, I wanted to change that by still giving fans what the love about the genre while making it accessible to new readers. Instead of focusing on how science can advance thousands of years from now, I focused on creating a fun and compelling story that happens to involve hover crafts and another planet. If you decide to take a different spin on a genre, just remember that you don’t want to go so far out of the box you mislead readers. Know your different genre flavors, don’t buck every convention, and whatever you make up, be sure it makes sense. (Proper research can totally help with this and Megan has some great tips on how to do that!)
I am a big fan of a good page-turner and I wanted to deliver the same experience to my readers. These days it’s so hard to capture anyone’s attention for more than five seconds. That’s why I chose action as a sub-genre for my work. You can expect some awesome fight scenes, a few explosions, and a final epic showdown. But I couldn’t forget my previous point – the story comes first. No matter how cool the scenes, it all had to serve the narrative as well as all of its themes and ideas. Delivery of these scenes was just as important, making sure sentences were short and punchy to keep the tension high and move the story forward.
Diverse set of characters
As an African American writer, it’s important to bring diversity to any fiction work I do. I know how hard it was growing up and not reading about women that even remotely looked like me. I also didn’t want to fall into the trap of creating the perfect, action hero either. I took a lot of inspiration from TV writer Shonda Rhimes when it came to creating a truly representative cast of characters. Her approach is simple: create a dynamic character with her own set of flaws and bright points who happens to be a person of color. Thinking of it like that can help avoid a lot of the stereotypes that can offend readers.
When you think of science fiction, big spaceships and dome-like homes may come to mind. Just like the genre needs more diverse characters, it also needs more creative settings. But instead of going over the top and creating a world from scratch, I went with an Earth-like planet with a mashup of names, cultures, and architectures of our world today. An Arabian-inspired city called Dallas? Check. A Japanese-like community in the mountains? Absolutely. As writers, we’re supposed to transport our readers to another world. So get creative and have fun! That’s what writing is all about, right?