It’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.
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)?