Writing stories set in the future can be complicated, and you have to make sure you’ve done enough world-building. My novel, Outliers, (to be published this summer) is set a couple hundred years in the future, and a lot of the books I read are set in the near or distant future, so I was especially excited to write this post. Here are the five tips to help you build a better future.
#1: History (Know It)
Writing the future starts by figuring out the history to that point. There won’t be as much of this if you’re writing the near future, but it’s still important to know. Knowing the past will help you understand and develop how things are in the present for your characters and world. Ask yourself how the world and characters got the way they are. What has changed between now and the time your story is set in?
History is where many writers like to write pages upon pages of information. This is fine to keep for yourself, but you should remember that your reader doesn’t need to know most of it. The main reason you write the history is to give yourself a better understanding of the characters and world, so don’t dump a whole pile of information on the reader that doesn’t matter to them (e.g.: they probably don’t care what the second Supreme Councillor’s dog’s name was). Now, you might be thinking, if the reader isn’t going to see it, then I don’t really need to write it. Trust me, you do. They won’t see it directly, but they will see it through the way you write. And you want to know that it did make sense for your story to end up where it is. If you have a monkey as leader, you’re gonna want to know how that was allowed to happen (and to be clear, this is something your readers should probably be in on, too).
#2: Research (Do It)
Do lots of research. This is important for any novel, but especially so for stories set in the future. This may not apply as much to stories set in a timeline where there has never been any Earth or relevance of it, but it’s still important. Not only do you need to research the usual things (like what things could survive a fire), but now you have to research enough to create a future world than humanity plausibly made happen. You’ll need to know about different government styles (if there’s a government), current and predicted technology, the predictions for the future about climate change, overpopulation, etc. (mostly if your story is on Earth), and much more.
It can be easy to get lost in the research. I mean, after all, these are subjects you’re really interested in. But, eventually you will need to finish researching and start writing.
#3: Define Technology (Well)
You need to have a good understanding of technology, especially its limits. Why didn’t they just go back in time a ten years and stop the war? Well, maybe time travel only works for up to a couple days in the past. Why can’t the healing nanobots just bring her back to life? Well, maybe the nanobots require blood pressure to move around the body and heal. You get the idea. Your technology can’t seem so limitless that any problems seem immediately solvable. You need a clear definition of how far technology has progressed, how important technologies work, which technologies are considered normal, and which are still thought of as “high tech”. Remember that cell-phones seemed like a futuristic idea to people less than a hundred years in the past, so there should still be some technology that seems impossible to the people on your world, and still some that awes them.
Additionally, you want to connect technology to history. How has history impacted technology? Has it developed rapidly, are only certain areas extremely developed, is there a mix of old and new technology, or has technology been at a bit of a stand-still? Why? For example, a huge war could see much more advanced military technology, and less advanced other technology.
#4: Change In Society (Have It)
How well do you relate to and understand people ten years older or younger than you? Twenty? Thirty? Fifty? Two hundred? A thousand? There are constantly changes in society, and this will not stop. The people of your future won’t be carbon copies of today, even if it’s only five years difference. My little brother is less than ten years younger than me, and I still don’t get the slang he uses sometimes. That’s less than ten years. Each generation has there own sets of values, experiences, etc. that contribute to the way they act and think. Did the expression “get wrecked” exist five years ago? New ways of acting, thinking, and especially speaking are developing constantly. If your book is set hundreds of years into the future, try to keep in mind how much trouble you probably have reading Shakespeare.
Language isn’t the only thing that is important to develop. Depending on how far into the future you are, there are probably new laws, customs, cultures, controversies, etc., which you should include for your world-building. This society is different than just it’s shiny gadgets. Those gadgets and their history have an impact on the people.
#5: Eras (Stick to One)
I notice this a lot with Sci-Fi. Writers seem to drift between new and distant future. This comes hand in hand with developing the limits of technology in particular. For example, holograms won’t be very interesting to a race that can teleport and time-travel. Make sure you keep the progression of technology and society consistent. This isn’t to say that some parts of society or technology can’t be less developed than others, but this should be intentional and with logic behind it. Your reader needs to have a clear understanding of when your story is actually taking place.
How far in the future does your story take place? What’s one way the people are different from today?
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With all of this in mind, go out and write your masterpiece!