How Screenwriters Create Science Fiction Films

Love sci fi movies? Want to learn how to write a screenplay that makes you look like an expert scifi script writer? Then read on.

What is sci fi?

Sci-fi scripts rely heavily on building a non-existent but plausible world with technical gadgets or operations in the near future. Because the genre tests the limits of our understanding of the current physical universe, we need to take a leap of faith into the unknown. It gives us hope, courage, comfort or warning to prevent a catastrophe.

Since you are transporting your audience into an unknown world, you need to make a decision how to deliver vital exposition. Do you “data dump” on your audience or drip feed though characterization, plot. How much information is too much? When is it not enough? These are elements you can really play with.


The key to creating a plausible sci-fi world is explanation and consistency. It’s a necessary expository exercise for screenwriters, but your audience needs these elements to buy into the story.

Building your story world could consume as much as a quarter of your screenplay. How is this revealed? A time code embedded in your arm as in “Time Code” can be conveyed visually very quickly. However, explaining the Matrix needs a five minute verbal explanation.

Consider your setting. Is it on Earth, another planet at a time when inter-planetary travel is routine, or deep space? Do you research


When you create a new world, you need to establish operating principles and stick to them. Using our example of  “In Time” everyone is given a time allocation at birth based on their socio-economic status. Additional time credit can be bought, stolen or gifted. A character can’t decide they want more credit and purchase it online.

The rules are especially important in time-travel, magic


Technical gadgetry needs to be intriguing and surprising. Consider futuristic weapons, space ships and body armor.


This is your backstory. The old world no longer exists and a new world has been born. Was there a war, an apocalypse, a technical innovation that spiraled out of control? This is often done via text cards, voiceover, or news footage to deliver backstory rapidly.

We need to understand the context of our old reality in order to appreciate our new one. Since many of these stories are egocentric projections of man’s vastness, they can also caution us against our carelessness, selfishness, hubris or other negative aspects of humanity.

Imagine a world with no oxygen, no water, no love? How did we get to such a place? Are we victims or part of the problem? Are we part of the solution? If we’re invaded by aliens or attacked by hostile, external forces, who will help as fight and restore peace?


By definition, science-fiction relies on certain elements based on truth and some on fantasy. In order to add gravitas to our new world, tech terms like “warp speed” makes the world more real.

Consider terms like “Alphas” for superheroes with extraordinary abilities, or “valids” for genetically superior beings in “Gattaca.”

You may also want to create a unique language such as the Na’vi language in Avatar or the Dothraki language in “Game Of Thrones.”

Special terms create excitement and engage your audience.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Greg says:

    Disagree with this sentence: “Sci-fi straddles fantasy, so don’t create a laser pointer that burns trees, because that device could certainly exist in the present.” There’s a lot of very good grounded sci-fi set either in the present or very close to it (Primer comes to mind, as does Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; the fiction of William Gibson’s another good example.) Grounding sci-fi in the present can be a great way to ground your world and get the audience to buy in.

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