Crafting a space opera as a fiction writer

Crafting a Space Opera—Let the Pain Begin

I don’t know what possessed me to want to write a “space opera.” Of course, I loved the original Star Wars trilogy. As an aspiring fiction writer, it’s not that inconceivable that I’d want to try my hand at the genre.

But, boy, it is harder than it looks.

There are numerous magnificent entries into the science fantasy action/adventure genre. Too many to count. They span galaxies, timelines, themes, and tones. They are crammed with thrills, romance, mysteries, and just a little bit of science.

And—as someone who wants to write fantasy fiction, without boundaries—it seemed like the perfect place to jump in.

Ouch.

I guess I always jump into creative projects with both feet. Even as a kid, the excitement of drawing my own comic characters or writing my own adventures was enough to propel me forward. The enthusiasm I felt for creating my own stuff was enough for me to overcome whatever hurdles laid in my path.

Truth be told, I feel the same way whenever I jump into a new project or venture. I find that the excitement for starting a project is what motivates me to get into it. The idea of creating my own stuff provides enough momentum to try new things.

Right now, I’m writing scripts for an original podcast series, writing weekly blogs, proofing a series of short stories to be published as eBooks, and slowly making progress on my space opera.

All the while taking care of my day job as a freelance writer.

It might seem like I have limitless energy and the ability to produce extra time magically. But the reality is, none of these projects would succeed if I didn’t know how to manage my time. But that’s something I’ll get into in the future.

Enthusiasm is not enough to complete a novel. You have to labor at it, day in and day out, if you want to finish that first draft. I know this full well and am completely dedicated to finishing my space opera.

It’s just much more challenging than I had anticipated.

In the past, I’ve been able to break through setbacks and “writer’s block” (a made-up problem) through sheer passion for my work. When I hit a snag while writing a story—usually in the middle—I am able to work through it. Not because I’m so brilliant, but because my passion and eagerness for the subject matter were enough to keep me working.

When you start writing a story, your enthusiasm will be high. The joy of creating new characters, plopping them down in a setting, and seeing where it goes keeps you writing each day. But eventually, the novelty wears off.

After several chapters in, you realize you have a story on your hands. And you have to finish it. Finish it in a way that brings closure to the main threat, ties together all the loose ends and subplots, and is satisfying enough that a reader won’t feel cheated when (if) they reach the last page.

Some of you might say, “Well a lot of people have done it, so it can’t be that hard.” Let me as you this, how many books have you read in your life? Okay, now, how many of them stuck with you—so that even right now, you remember and cherish them?

Probably only a fraction of the novels you read you can still remember, let alone cherish. That’s because the writers, while they finished the story, failed to make enough impact on you as a reader that you appreciated—dare I say loved—what they did.

It’s that hard. You can put words down, one after the other, but you might not be able to do it in such a way that you can finish a competent story. Even then, what are the odds that it’ll end up in the hands of another person? That’s a whole different hurdle writers struggle with, before they even put pen to paper.

Writing a Tolkienesque fantasy story is almost easy. Much of the pieces are already in place. Wizards, elves, magic swords and rings, epic fate-of-the-world consequences. You can already see the story writing itself. But a science-fantasy-space-opera?

Unless you want to be compared to Scalzi, Lucas, or many other writers, you have to craft your own mythology.

That’s easy when everything is terrestrial. But when you are writing a story with space-faring people, you have more details to worry about.

I’ve wrestled with coming up with believable faster-than-light travel modes. There are alien races to think about. Technology—the terms for technology—that doesn’t sound cheesy or too much like what we have today. Envisioning planet(s) that have their own economies, governments, struggles, culture, and history. And all of it has to be acceptable to potential sci-fi fans, who are very demanding and have read every last book under the sun.

All the while doing what all fiction writers have to do: crafting characters with depth and realism with a plot that works.

It’s not easy, my babies.

I’ve written out a large chunk of the story. I even came up with a glossary in Google Sheets to keep track of names and places. I’ve filled three notebooks and several Word docs. And I’m still not sure if I’m even halfway through the story! Chances are, even when I finish, I’ll have to go back and add in considerably more content—to meet the typical length of this kind of story.

Even after all that—will it ever see the light of day? Will any of my work reach an audience, a group of people who will love it and pay for it? That is the biggest question of all. And the one I can’t answer.

You might think with all the hurdles facing this project that I should give up now. Why bother with all this blood, sweat, and tears—if it might not even work out? It could be futile to spend (maybe) the next few years of my life crafting this space opera.

But will I throw in the towel? Not on your life. Because that’s what writers do.

Featured image: “Flash Gordon by Al Williamson,” courtesy of 70s Sci-Fi Art

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