It’s That Time Again

spaceshipIt’s that time again. The time when writers everywhere are gearing up for National Novel Writing Month. Clearing their schedules of everything not essential to survival and outlining stories so all they have to do is start pounding away at the keyboard, starting at 12:01 am on November first.

I have participated almost every year since 2011. I don’t always win. In fact, I usually don’t, but it’s usually only by a very small margin that I miss it.

One year, though, I got through the first week and realized that I had too much else going on, and I just couldn’t try to make it happen. One year, I completed a middle-grade story, and even though it was only about half the NaNo goal, it was my personal goal and I made it, so I was happy with it.

So, once again, despite several birthdays in my family, Thanksgiving, and all the other things that happen in November, I’m planning to try again.

This year, I’m doing a middle grade sci-fi story. With spaceships. And lasers. Per my oldest child’s request.

The idea started a few months ago when my son, who really enjoys sci-fi, wanted some new books to read and we went to the library and couldn’t find ANYTHING.

No, seriously.

In the Juvenile section, there was a whole wall of chapter books. A huge majority were some brand of fantasy, like Harry Potter and all its wannabes, Spiderwick and other magical stories, Percy Jackson and others in that realm, and so on. Aretmis Fowl comes close, with his fancy tech, but it’s still fairies and magical creatures.

We couldn’t find a single middle-grade hard sci-fi story. I found a book with a selection of short stories and excerpts from classic sci-fi authors, and that was the best option I found.

Naturally, I thought, my son can’t be the only pre-teen boy who likes Star Trek and hard sci-fi. I did get some recommendations from people on Facebook for books to look into for him, but the disparity in availability of genres makes me think there’s a huge untapped market out there for quality middle-grade sci-fi.

So that’s when I decided to try my hand at it for NaNo.

So, spaceships and lasers it is.

Unfortunately, that’s about all I’ve got.

I’m not a big sci-fi person. I don’t know a lot about science or technology, and I’m not sure about building a world like that.

I’m a pantser–writing by the seat of my pants–not a plotter or outliner. I would like to be an outliner, but I’ve never gotten good at it. Still, though, I’d like to have some idea what the story is about and where it’s going.

My main character is a fourteen-year-old boy. It takes place on a spaceship. There are lasers. That’s about it.

So, where do I go from there? What is happening? Are there alien races or just humans? Obviously my teen hero has to save the day, so where are all the grownups? Captured? Killed? Waiting for them on a distant planet?

One thought I had is that my hero and a bunch of other kids are on a transport ship, going to meet their parents at a newly colonized planet. The ship gets attacked and taken over by slave traders. Alien? Human? Then my hero and his friends have to take over the ship and escape from the slavers so they don’t end up mining some distant planet for the rest of their lives.

What do you think of that plotline? Does it work? What is it missing? Is it appropriate for a middle-grade audience? What would you do differently?

I’d love your input!

If you were a twelve-to-fourteen-year-old boy (or if you have one of those in your home), what would you want to read? Would you want there to be aliens? What would make this an exciting story? What sorts of twists would you expect? Better yet, what sorts of twists would you not expect but be thrilled to see?

What would make this book the one you’d want to get for your son (or sci-fi-happy daughter)?


About Avily Jerome

Avily Jerome is a writer and the editor of Havok Magazine. Her short stories have been published in various magazines, both print and digital. She has judged several writing contests and is a writing conference teacher and presenter. She writes speculative fiction, her ideas ranging from almost-real-world action/adventures to epic fantasies to supernatural thrillers.

23 comments on “It’s That Time Again

  1. Let me ponder a little and get back to you.

    I like aliens, but for strict “hard” sci-fi, they’re a no-no…

  2. Yes, I like your plotline! Perfect!

    Yes, aliens!

    It would be neat if you could add an alien pet creature of some sort. And if one of the aliens who attack end up helping the kids. No! How about this: the aliens have a slave creature that they consider too stupid to do much, but they still find useful for certain things. They treat it horribly. And the kids are nice to it, realizing that this creature isn’t really a bad guy, it’s been enslaved by the bad guys. Their kindness is rewarded when the creature helps them overcome the bad guys!

    I know it’s a common trope, but that’s because we love it! 😀

    Also fun: maybe before the attack, some of the kids are bullies or otherwise unliked or problematic. And during the process of overcoming the bad guys, the kids discover that each of them has unique skills to contribute — even the bullies or shy one or whatever. Not that they all get along perfectly forever after… but they do find a way to work together and to understand each other better.

    I also enjoy it when the hero isn’t the one with all the skills, but he’s the one who has the vision to see what needs to be done and the compassion and courage to connect with his people, encourage them to step up, and to lead the charge. He can still have one special skill (kids do like relating to that) that makes a difference, but it’s so important for kids to realize that courage and compassion make more of a difference than knowing how to reprogram the navigational computer. Hee hee.

  3. Oh, and when it comes to twists — what if aliens are the first captors, and then the kids are resisting the aliens but haven’t quite gotten free yet, and then they are saved by some humans who happened to be flying by (“it’s just a local fisherman out at midnight… in eel-infested waters…”). They are so relieved, and they turn over to the humans whatever key to the computer (or whatever) that they’d managed to keep from the aliens…

    But then the humans turn out to be pirates who just want to steal the ship! They don’t care about the kids and they intend to drop them on some nearby, uninhabited planet to fend for themselves (or, more likely, die!). So then the kids have to overcome the humans, but it looks impossible because they’ve already basically given the humans the keys to the ship and its security system. Doh!

  4. You need a scenario where your crew is locked in a hold with no escape holes large enough for the adults to squeeze through, and the pirates have welded the hatches shut– but there’s this one air duct that is just big enough for your hero and his friends to squeeze through–

    I can also give you some ideas for where to go for inspiration:

    Isaac Asimov wrote a whole series of stories under a pen name– The Adventures of Lucky Starr (Paul French). They’re available on Amazon, and as I recall from my own childhood, they’re worth reading.

    Also check out Jules Verne.

    You could also talk to Beth DeVore. If you don’t know her, message me on Facebook, I’ll be happy to connect you. She writes hard sci-fi, and has great ideas.

    Ashley Bazer writes sci-fi too, but–maybe not hard sci-fi? She also has great ideas–

    They would be great people to bounce ideas off of.

    Watching Star Trek Deep Space 9, Stargate, and Stargate Atlantis reruns may also give you more great ideas.

  5. I don’t think it has to be *hard* sci-fi, does it? Space opera works here, will it not? Many kids want hard sci-fi, but I think based on what you’ve stated your particular fan might like space opera instead. Think “Star Wars” for space opera; not all the tech needs solid scientific roots for acceptance. (I think.)

    What if the alien captors took the children in retaliation for perceived wrongs? Knowing that’s a soft spot for most sapient species, they hit us where we live. So they separate the children from the adults by taking NOT the children, but the adults, leaving the children defenseless and without guidance. The parents suffer knowing their children aren’t safe, are alone, and likely frightened. The children are powerless (so they think) to stop the marauders.

    And then, one boy of extraordinary courage does what’s necessary…

  6. Exciting!! The fun thing about writing science fiction is that anything is possible. I mean, what do you wish existed that the world hasn’t invented yet? You can create it for your story world! 🙂 I was a scifi geek in middle school and LOVED aliens (still do), so I say YES to aliens. 😉

    • I think the consensus is definitely yes on alien activity. So that’s a go. 🙂
      I’ll have to ask my boys what they wish was invented and put that in there. That would be fun.

  7. I love it! There should be a girl approximately his age who irritates the fire out of him, but they end up working well together (complementing abilities) whether they like it or not. Also, I would suggest a threatening creature of some sort and lasers! 🙂

    • Definitely a girl!
      And I’ve come down on the side of aliens, so they will definitely be threatening. And possibly another creature that they think is scary but is actually docile and friendly.

  8. Although it’s not my field (SF), I would highly recommend Babylon 5 over what Star Trek became (with the exception of Deep Space Nine). The world of Star Trek is an antiseptic, religionless, humanist utopia by and large. The world of Babylon 5 is dirty, rough-edged, and religious views of all sorts permeate the storylines, The way our own world is. Therefore, the universe of B5 rings much more true, to me. Another crucial difference is in the world of Star Trek, technology ultimately answers every problem. But in Babylon 5, technology is limited and sometimes even fails (gasp!).

    I take some issue [ 🙂 ] with characterizing Star Trek as “hard” SF as well. Transporters? Shields? Warp speed created by single ships? Replicators that basically create out of nothing? This is not hard science, it is more like wistful fantasy. I think you’d be better served crafting a much more believable, realistic world than that. The universe of FarScape also comes to mind in this regard, where the emphasis is on the characters and their relationships and not the technology around them. And that’s the key. Build your people first, then expand into their surroundings.

    I love the suggestions about aliens, pirates, innocuous creatures that turn out otherwise, but keep one foot firmly entrenched in the real world while subcreating your fascinating storyline. Above all, do not allow technology to save the day, as it were. Let your young heroes of both sexes win in spite of it. Characters matter more than machines. But you already understand this. I wish you the best, and I hope your son loves it!

  9. […] posted earlier about brainstorming for this novel. I am definitely a by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer, or, a […]

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