5 Sci Fi Writing Prompts – Novums

Science fiction stories typically arise from a novum, a scientifically plausible concept that is a “reality” in the tale. The novum might be an mechanical device like robot servants, artificial intelligence, or faster-than-light spacecraft; it also can be a hypothetical idea such as “The Earth is a scientific experiment run by aliens to determine the meaning of life” or “The government outlaws books.” The author then asks “What if?” exploring how the world with this novum is different than ours.

Among the problems of many novice science fiction writers is instead of introducing a new novum they rely on used furniture – that is, they borrow novums from popular SF series. After all, how many novels have you read that use starships exploring the galaxy for the Earth-based Federation? Barely changing names to appear as if you are not appropriating – a starcraft seeking M-class worlds for the Earth-centered Alliance – still doesn’t cut it as original or fully using the potential that science fiction offers to examine our culture or humanity.

To help SF writers, here are some novums of potential near-future inventions from which stories could be built:

Human pheromone trails
What if each morning when children washed up, the soap included synthetic pheromones that left a trail of where they’d gone, so in case of kidnapping, a child could be more easily found? What other applications are there for this technology, such as espionage or monitoring parolees?

Mach-powered interstellar spacecraft
What if mach effects – described by NASA as “the transient variations in the rest masses of objects that are accelerating and undergoing internal energy changes” – could power interstellar spacecraft? How would this propulsion system work?

Nanobot toothpaste
What if nanobots were placed in toothpaste to fight plaque and prevent cavities? What other toiletries might nanobots appear in to keep us healthy?

What if flower-shaped solar “petals” could follow the sun through the day, providing energy to homes and buildings. How does the widespread use of solar energy change our energy infrastructure?

What if a new science, called zillionics, was invented to deal with finding patterns flowing from the unrelenting torrents of data arising out of always-in sensors? Philosophies, theories and practical applications will be needed to distill, index, archive and find meaningful signals in data coming from zillions of sources.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.