5 Great Science Fiction Novum Writing Prompts

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:

Artificial wombs
What if embryos could be brought to term in man-made devices? Infertile women might have an artificial womb transplanted; some mothers might choose to have their pregnancy done outside of their bodies.

Ads while you sleep
What if to pay for information and the cost of an intelligent infrastructure, you could watch ads in your sleep? What opportunities might this offer criminals?

Sling-sat to remove space debris
What if a satellite swung space junk into the atmosphere (where it burns up) and then uses that momentum to move to the next piece of junk? Could this satellite be used to help in a space rescue during an emergency?

Solar gravity lens
What if the sun’s gravity were used as a magnifying lens to image exoworlds? What will we discover if this technique works?

Space debris cleanup
What if to get rid of space junk in low Earth orbit we used electrodynamic tethers that slow the debris’ speed? A lower speed will cause it to fall closer to Earth to eventually burn up in the atmosphere.


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.