40 Sci-Fi Writing Prompts to Supercharge Your Imagination

Abi Wurdeman
May 15, 2024

Science fiction story ideas can come from anywhere. 

A headline about new technology. The way a lion’s mane mushroom resembles a shaggy being from an alien world. The conspiracy theory your aunt won’t stop posting about. 

We live in a big, crazy world full of images, ideas, and innovations just waiting to be twisted or expanded into stellar sci-fi stories. 

And yet, there are moments when the ol’ imagination just won’t get on board with the galaxy of inspiration surrounding us. For whatever reason, we can’t see the possibilities or tap into our natural curiosity.

When that happens, writing prompts can help. 

If you’ve been relentlessly hitting a wall as you try to come up with sci-fi story ideas, you’ve come to the right place. Together, we’ll explore the value of using writing exercises to kick-start a new story. 

You’ll walk away with a whole big pile of prompts you can use to find your next story and even get a few sci-fi writing tips.

So let’s get to it… not that you need any prompting from me.

How Prompts Can Help You Write a Great Science Fiction Story

A person in a dress lies on the floor on their stomach in front of a typewriter, propped up on their elbows, holding a pen to their lips and thinking.

People get it backwards all the time, and that includes writers like us who should know better.

See, we all get it in our heads that you must have the idea before you can write the story. Not true. Not always.

Sometimes you can’t find the idea until you start writing. Grab a pen or open your laptop and let the words flow. Follow a train of thought, expanding on it without overthinking it. See what arises—what sparks your curiosity or gives you a thrill.

See, the more you demand brilliance from your imagination, the more freaked out it gets until it has no choice but to hide itself inside a box under a rock in some remote area of your brain. That’s just science.

Begin scribbling without a plan, however, and your imagination will feel safe to creep back out again. You’re only playing, after all. Experimenting. There’s no blueprint, no goal, no need to fear bad ideas.

Writing prompts help you in this process by giving you something to start with—no thinking necessary. The basic idea has been handed to you. All you have to do is run with it.

And if you really let go and allow your imagination to venture into new frontiers, you’ll likely find your way to a story idea that doesn’t even resemble the prompt you started with. It’ll be something uniquely your own and thrillingly brilliant.

Sound good? Good. Because this grand scribble adventure is starting right now.

40 Sci-Fi Writing Prompts

A hand writes on a sheet of paper with a pen.

What follows are a whole bunch of prompts to inspire your process. As you’ll see, they’re arranged into different categories, each one offering a different route for discovering a new story.

Start by riffing on a philosophy or examining a big question. Set foot into a new world and dream up the conflicts that arise within it. Or take the more straightforward path and expand on a clear-cut story idea.

In other words, you’ve got options and this is your party. Run it however you want.

What If…

A person rests their head on their chin and looks off to the side, thinking.

Most sci-fi stories center on a bold “what if” question.

What if humans were no longer the most intelligent species on Earth? What if cloning oneself became a common upper-class luxury? What if succulents were self-aware?

The prompts in this section pose “what if” questions. They’re short, sweet, and offer plenty of room for your imagination to run wild. 

If you’re looking for something that’ll get your wheels turning while leaving plenty of room to dream up your own protagonist and conflict, this might be the ticket.

Writing Prompts

  • What if a scientist accidentally released Martian microorganisms on Earth?
  • What if you could test the outcomes of different decisions in virtual reality with 100% accuracy?
  • What if you found out the human race was actually an alien race that colonized Earth 3,000 years ago?
  • What if body swapping was a real thing and you suddenly woke up in a stranger’s body?
  • What if you found out your marriage was someone else’s experiment? 
  • What if virtual reality became indistinguishable from real life?
  • What if we could all share our thoughts and experiences through a vast neural network?
  • What if we could restore the diminishing populations of endangered species by cloning them?
  • What if our memories could be stolen and sold on the black market?
  • What if no one ever had to work again because robots took care of literally everything?

Argue the Theme

Image of a red and orange galaxy.

Just as science fiction asks big questions, it also explores huge themes. Doesn’t matter if it’s a 300-page novel or a short story; if it’s sci-fi, it’s probably encouraging you to reflect on identity or the ethics of technology or our place in the universe or some other expansive topic.

If you’re the type who likes to nail down your story’s underlying message first, the prompts that follow are for you. Pick a thematic statement and then come up with a story that proves the statement to be true.

Writing Prompts

  • Every innovation, however well-intended, will inevitably be weaponized by those in power.
  • Artificial intelligence is a threat because it is a reflection of humanity.
  • Artificial intelligence will ultimately work for the good of the world because it is a reflection of humanity.
  • We can only survive in a community.
  • Our mortal limitations are what make life so precious.
  • We control our destiny.
  • Humanity will be destroyed by its own arrogance.
  • Context determines morality.
  • Truth is relative.
  • It’s possible to learn how to be human.

Settings and Circumstances

A person in a space suit sits on the floor of a dark room, lit only by a red light on the floor.

I probably don’t have to tell you that worldbuilding is everything in science fiction. The physical setting, technologies, culture, political and societal structures, even the balance of science and magic in some cases… all these elements help define your characters, conflicts, and themes. 

The prompts below invite you to start with a setting or situation and build your sci-fi story from there. Consider what conflicts might arise within this world. Who would thrive here? Who would escape? Who would rebel? What themes could you explore in a setting like this?

Start writing about any of these things and see what happens.

Writing Prompts

  • A society where people make clones of their loved ones before they die, ensuring no one has to experience permanent loss.
  • A vast forest of sentient trees on an alien planet.
  • A major tournament with competitors from across the multiverse.
  • A world where parallel universes have exchange programs, allowing beings to test out alternative lives.
  • A massive interstellar ark housing the descendants of refugees who fled a dying Earth generations before.
  • A zoo on a distant planet, populated with genetically engineered creatures from across the galaxy.
  • A society that lives in constant fear of an assassin who has the ability to manipulate probability and stalks their targets across multiple dimensions, leaving a trail of chaos and destruction in their wake.
  • A world where people spend all their personal time escaping to idyllic VR settings instead of confronting the challenges of real life.
  • A vast garden spaceship that serves as a sanctuary for flora and fauna from several different planets. 
  • A network of interconnected space stations and habitats forming an archipelago, each station a microcosm of culture and technology with its own laws and customs.

Sci-Fi Story Ideas

Two scientists look at bright-colored liquids in long test tubes.

Now we get really direct. The prompts that follow are just good ol’ fashioned sci-fi story ideas. You get a protagonist(s), conflict, and setting. That gives you plenty of room to start playing with an outline, scribbling a scene that pops into your head, or writing your story from page one.

Writing Prompts

  • A search and rescue worker’s quest to find a missing backpacker leads them to discover an alien colony hidden in the Alaskan wilderness.
  • A lost space explorer ends up stranded on a distant planet that closely resembles Earth, right down to the creatures that inhabit it—including an alien race that seems indistinguishable from humans. But with each passing day, unsettling differences between this planet and Earth begin to emerge.
  • Natural resources are depleted, so scientists create artificial ecosystems to sustain life on Earth. But when these ecosystems evolve beyond their control, they must confront the consequences of playing god.
  • Time travel tourism is a booming industry, giving customers the opportunity to witness historical events firsthand. But when a time travel tour guide’s toddler accidentally transports themselves to the Mezosoic Era, the present begins to morph into something unrecognizable. The tour guide must rescue their child from the past without further destroying the life they know.
  • A group of scientists discovers a way to accelerate evolution, allowing them to create new species with advanced capabilities. But as they experiment with their newfound power, they unwittingly unleash a chain reaction of mutations that threaten to destabilize the entire ecosystem.
  • After a devastating war, a lone human survivor wanders a desolate landscape inhabited only by robots. As they search for other survivors, they must confront what it means to be human and what their purpose is on a planet where they no longer seem necessary.
  • A scientist discovers an alien artifact buried deep beneath the ocean. As they study it, they uncover its true purpose and the existential threat it poses to humanity.
  • In a future where humanity has transcended its biological limitations through cybernetic augmentation, a group of rebels resists assimilation in an attempt to preserve their humanity.
  • A clone created as a replacement for a wealthy heiress discovers the truth about their origins and escapes to the outside world. In a society that views them as property, they must evade capture and find a place where they can exist as their own person.
  • A parasitic organism infects the minds of its hosts, creating a hive-mind collective that spreads like a virus throughout the human population. A group of survivors must find a way to break free from the hive mind's control before it's too late.

How to Use These Prompts

Sand moves through an hourglass as a blurred figure in the background sits in front of a laptop and writes in a notebook.

Anytime you use writing prompts, it helps to remember that you’re on an exploratory quest, not a life-and-death, Earth-saving mission. 

In other words, these aren’t assignments. You’re not suddenly responsible for writing a 75,000-word novel about a teenager who stumbles upon a lost city in Michigan that was built by an alien race 2,330 years ago.

Your only job is to see what your imagination does with the very limited information it’s just been given. 

You might choose to treat a prompt like a freewriting exercise. Set a timer and let your stream of consciousness flow onto the page. Write everything that comes to mind, including “What can I do with this theme?” and “Oh crap, am I just ripping off The Matrix?” 

(Pro tip: Dabble has a built-in word sprint timer that’s perfect for an exercise like this.)

Another option is to write a scene inspired by the prompt. Maybe it’s the scene where the teenager first stumbles upon the lost city. Or a flashback to when aliens discovered the land where they wanted to build their settlement. Or an opening scene where the teen is hanging out with friends under the bleachers, still oblivious to the presence of alien technology in their zip code.

You could turn the prompt into a short story even if the ultimate goal is to write a novel. This allows you to explore an idea in greater depth without spending months developing the idea. It also helps you clarify the main conflict, core theme, and major plot points before complicating things with subplots.

However you choose to tackle these prompts, remember that the goal is to find your way to your own science fiction story ideas. If you stumble upon a great idea that has nothing to do with the prompt, abandon the prompt. You owe it nothing. Chase what thrills you.  

Bonus Tips for Sci-Fi Writers

An arcade called Super Bonus has flashing lights and mirrored wheels.

Once you find a sci-fi story idea that delights you, the next step—as you know—is to actually write the thing. It’s a big job, which is why we’ve written an entire guide to writing science fiction. You can find it here

In the meantime, I’d like to share a few quick tips for making the most of your cutting-edge sci-fi ideas.

Seek Inspiration Everywhere

Even if you have a general idea of what you want your novel or short story to be about, you’ll still have a lot of details to dream up. That includes things like futuristic technology, awe-inspiring settings, unique characters, new societies, and possibly even other dimensions, planets, and alien races. 

As you plan and write your story, seek inspiration everywhere. Visit science and natural history museums. Wander a botanical garden. Search for weird animals online. Research their daily habits. Find pictures of abandoned places or eerie landscapes. Learn about unexplained phenomena. Listen to Ologies

The world we know is full of bizarre and fascinating things to inspire your own made-up universe. 

Tell a Human Story

Because worldbuilding is such an essential element of science fiction writing, it can be very easy to forget the human element. Don’t make that mistake.

Even if your characters aren’t actually members of the human race, you still want to tell a compelling story that resonates with your readers. So find that deeply human connection.

Give your characters desires, weaknesses, and fears. Have them face challenges that force them to make difficult decisions and either overcome or submit to the worst within themselves.

If your protagonist has a special ability, balance their inherent power with clear vulnerabilities.

In short, don’t neglect character development. No amount of mind-blowing technology or jaw-dropping landscapes will make up for characters your readers don’t care about.  

Find Your Science-to-Fiction Ratio

A hand reaches out in the darkness, lit by an eerie green light.

If you read a wide variety of science fiction, you know that there’s no rule about how exact and detailed you need to be with your science or how fantastical you’re allowed to be in your storytelling.

Some sci-fi novels go deep into explaining technology and creating fictional innovations that are clearly the great-great-grandchildren of tech we have today. Others use a lighter touch, explaining the science just enough for the reader to follow the story.

Then others go the full-on sci-fi/fantasy route, fussing very little over technological details and bringing in imagined alien species and magic systems. Star Wars is a very famous example of this.

It doesn’t matter which route you choose. What matters is that you choose one and keep it consistent.

Defy Reality, Not Logic

No matter how much or how little you explain the technology of your sci-fi world, one thing is certain:

It has to make sense.

It’s fine if your reader doesn’t understand how teleportation works. But if, for example, one of your characters teleports using a teleportation device in a spaceship and another one uses a kitchen pantry, you owe your audience an explanation.

Just like when you’re building a magic system, your science fiction technology should come with rules your reader can follow. 

Don’t Infodump

Having said all that, you should also be careful about dumping too much information on your audience at once. Only share the worldbuilding details that are essential for them to imagine your setting and follow the story.

Even then, sprinkle necessary information into the narrative rather than opening the story with twenty pages of exposition about how bed bugs colonized space. (Please don’t write that. I don’t want to live in a world where that story exists.)

Bottom line: your first and most important job is to tell a story, not write a pretend textbook.

Your Literary Future Awaits

At this point, there’s nothing else to do but get started. Grab a notebook or open your Dabble Story Notes and see what kind of magic you can make with these prompts.

Writing science fiction is a bold undertaking. Between extensive worldbuilding, developing complex characters, and helping readers imagine a world they’ve never seen before, you’ve got a big job ahead of you. 

But is there anything cooler than crafting a story that leaves total strangers in absolute awe?

If you could use a little support on this journey, I highly recommend writing your sci-fi novel with Dabble. This all-in-one writing tool has a ton of great features to keep you organized and on track throughout the entire process, from brainstorming to revising.

There’s even a sci-fi template to guide you through story planning. You can access the template here.

If you’re not already a Dabbler, no problem. Click this link to start a free 14-day trial. That gives you full access to all Dabble’s features and plenty of time to decide if it’s the right tool for your writing process. You don’t even have to enter a credit card to get started.

Abi Wurdeman

Abi Wurdeman is the author of Cross-Section of a Human Heart: A Memoir of Early Adulthood, as well as the novella, Holiday Gifts for Insufferable People. She also writes for film and television with her brother and writing partner, Phil Wurdeman. On occasion, Abi pretends to be a poet. One of her poems is (legally) stamped into a sidewalk in Santa Clarita, California. When she’s not writing, Abi is most likely hiking, reading, or texting her mother pictures of her houseplants to ask why they look like that.