5 SF Novum-Oriented 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:

Diamond nanothread
Tetrahedrally-bonded carbon crystalline nanomaterial – similar in structure to diamonds but only a few atoms wide – will revolutionize construction and architecture, being far stronger than concrete or steel. What other applications might this material have?

Instant checkout
What if instead of scanning every object one by one, simply pushing a cart through a scan beam would automatically ring up all items? How else might this technology be applied?

With carbon nanotubes and diamond nanothreads, skyscrapers will soar far higher than today’s structures. They’ll also be able to go far deeper into the earth – up to 25 stories below ground.

RFID truant officers
What if attendance at school were taken by Radio Frequency Identification technology? How would some clever students get around the use of such tags and even profit from their knowledge?

Tissue nanotransfection
What if a coin-sized silicon chip could deliver genetic code to skin cells, transforming it into cells needed to treat a condition or illness? How would this change medical care and first-aid kits? What if the chip malfunctioned?


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.