5 Best 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:

82 Eridani colonization
What if future space explorers decided to colonize a habitable world orbiting this star, which is slightly dimmer than our own sun? The solar system is about 19.77 light years away. 

Fire-fighting wand
What if to put out a fire you could wave a wand that emitted an electric field destabilizing the flame’s underlying structure? Would this wand have other uses?

What if with a 3D printer we could create lithium-ion batteries the size of a sand grain? How do this allow us to further miniaturize devices, whether they be medical implants or insect-size flying drones?

Sequoia replanting
What if in 2100, thanks to global warming, sequoias have almost entirely disappeared from national parks in California, but could now be grow in the Southern Cascades? In short, Lassen and Crater Lake national parks would grow sequoia groves that in a thousand years will look like they do now in Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.

Touchable pictures
What if via 3D printing we could create textured pictures that the visually impaired could feel to “see” a photograph? Could such textured pictures be the basis of a new form of art or carry human-assigned meanings that allow various textures to deliver symbolic messages?


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.