21W.759 | Spring 2016 | Undergraduate

Writing Science Fiction


Course Meeting Times

Lectures / Workshops: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session




This class will focus on the craft of writing genre science fiction. We will examine what makes speculative fiction different and how to construct stories and longer works that fit the requirements of the genre. We will read stories from early to contemporary science fiction in many subgenres to explore the flexibility and mutability of the field, as well as analyze how various great authors have handled central issues in the genre.

While this class will focus on “hard” science fiction, other forms of speculative fiction, including fantasy, will be supported if there is interest. Further, while the readings are primarily short stories, we will address long fiction in discussion. Students are encouraged to write at whatever length and in whatever subgenre of speculative fiction interests them most.

Schedule and Readings

During the first seven weeks of the class, we will discuss techniques directly related to the assigned stories. All stories are to be read by the Tuesday of that week. Exercises during the week will focus on the particular element of style that we have discussed.

The second seven weeks of the class will be devoted to workshops of original student stories. Using the vocabulary of technique, every student will participate in workshops leading to polished, finished fiction.

For a detailed look at the schedule and readings, see the Calendar and Readings sections.


Our reading will be science fiction short stories. While you are encouraged to write longer fiction or fantasy if that is your preference, I have chosen to use short fiction so that we can cover a larger range of the styles and subgenres in the field. Please do not feel constrained by the readings. You are entirely welcome to work on long fiction / fantasy and I will discuss this in class.


Evans, Arthur B., Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr., et al. The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction. Wesleyan University Press, 2010. ISBN: 9780819569554. [Preview with Google Books]

Silverberg, Robert. The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One 1929–1964: The Greatest Science Fiction Stories of All Time Chosen by the Members of the Science Fiction Writers of America. Vol. 1. Tor Books, 2003. ISBN: 9780765305367. [Preview with Google Books]


There are four types of assignments required in this class. Reading the stories and articles as assigned and participating in discussion of these works is the center of our exploration. Close reading and thoughtful reaction are crucial to developing a sophisticated sense of how various writers have addressed issues, and should inform participants’ original work. Even if you have read the assigned stories in a different context, read them again with a view towards technique and elements of style.

The second type of assignment will be a series of exercises in the techniques we will discuss in class. These exercises are designed to give students an opportunity to focus on different elements of fiction and to practice in those particular areas out of context. Included in this type of assignment will be not only writing exercises, but world building as well.

Students will be required to prepare critiques for workshop, which will include thoughtful prepared notes on each piece presented.

Finally, every student will write two pieces. These may be short stories or chapters in a longer work. If a student chooses to write long fiction, a short summary of the rest of the story should be appended to the final revised version of the second piece. Each major piece will be submitted to workshop and rewritten. Every student will be required to finish two pieces of fiction at the end of the class.

You will need to bring an exercise journal specifically for this class. We will be doing exercises in class on a regular basis, especially in the beginning of the term, so always bring your journal and a pen / pencil with you. You will be expected to keep your journal (using various writing exercises and approaches) during the entire term.


All work in this class will be produced for this class. Do not use earlier work, or submit a story for this class that you are also submitting in another Writing class. An idea or character from earlier work that you want to explore in a different context is acceptable, but please talk to me about it.


I use what is called “contract grading,” which means that you and I agree on the following contract.

You will be guaranteed to receive at least a B in this class if you do the following:

  • Attend class regularly.
  • Do all assignments and exercises seriously, with the full weight of your consideration, and on time.
  • Come to class prepared.
  • Participate actively in the workshop process, giving full and thoughtful responses to your classmates’ work.

The requirements to receive an A are harder to quantify, but they include more sophistication and grace in the writing, lively storytelling, and prose that approaches publishable quality.


Writing cannot be learned from reading a book. Attendance and participation in class are essential to making progress as a writer.

Department policy states that more than five absences will result in a failing grade. More than three absences may adversely affect your overall grade in this class.

Missing a workshop is serious and you must still turn in all critiques to your workshop via email if you do not attend. Not attending your own workshop date, or not having material available to critique for a scheduled workshop will result in a full drop in grade.

If you arrive more than ten minutes late to class, that will count as an absence.


Assignments must be handed in on the day due. Since stories will be part of the workshop process, handing in a story late will inconvenience your classmates and give them less time to prepare a thoughtful and useful workshop response.

Any final assignment handed in late without an extension, or after the due date of the extension, will cause a full drop in grade. No exceptions.

Turn in a hard copy of all work to me. For workshop purposes, everyone will upload their work, exercises or critiques, onto the course website so that the entire class may have easy access. All work must be uploaded by 9 PM the night before the workshop is due, in order to give all class members time to read and prepare a thoughtful and useful critique.

Laptop Policy

Laptop computers will not be open during class with the following exceptions: During Workshop to refer to stories online or notes, during writing exercises if you prefer to use a keyboard, and on the last day of class for evaluations. Likewise, please remember to silence cell phones before class.


Using someone else’s language and / or ideas without proper attribution is academically dishonest. As members of this class and the larger scholarly community you are expected to abide by the norms of academic honesty. While a good deal of collaboration is encouraged in and out of class, failing to acknowledge sources or willfully misrepresenting the work of others as your own will not be tolerated. Everything you submit must be your own work, written specifically for this class. Plagiarism can result in withdrawal from the course with a grade of F, suspension, or expulsion from the Institute.

The booklet Academic Integrity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: A Handbook for Students explains these issues in detail, and you are responsible for understanding its contents. We will work on citing sources in class and discuss ways to acknowledge them properly. You are also welcome to consult the Writing Center’s online advice on “Avoiding Plagiarism.”

Please remember that while the internet makes plagiarism easier, it also makes it easier to catch. It is better to hand in poor work than stolen / copied work.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2016
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments with Examples