I'm having trouble deciding what year I want my Novella to take place. How do other Sci-Fi writers make up what year it is in their writing? I want it to be far enough in the future that the present is considered a part of history that hasn't been forgotten, or considered ancient. So, how far ahead should I put the year that the story takes place?

  • So are we looking at a living Memory Scenario (there might be an old man in a rocking chair ranting about how "Back in my day, we only had 150 Pokemon and we were damn greatful."). Or are all people alive in that year now deceased. This can actually be surprising length... You can find on Youtube a clip of a 1950s era game show where celebrities had to guess the guests accomplishment in 20 questions. The guest was an elderly man and they impressively guessed he witnessed the assassination of Lincoln. The may was a five year old boy at the time, but was in Ford's Theater that night.
    – hszmv
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 16:23

9 Answers 9


Assuming that your characters relationship with the past is similar to your own, look back through historically significant events until you find one that feels old enough but not too old. Also consider which aspects of our society make up the history you are looking at, because different types of memories age at different rates.

For example, the days before computers and cell phones probably seem like ancient history to anyone under 30. While films of Jimmy Hendrix performing at Woodstock seem relevant and recent. The amount of change is more important that the amount of time when laying out your characters understanding of the past.

Finally, setting the date for a Sci-Fi novel should justify the differences between your mythical and our real worlds. If your characters have neural implants instead of cellphones, then it is probably more than 10 years from now; but if instead, they still have cellphones whose batteries die every night, it is probably less than 10 years.

The date of your story is just a number that appears at most, every couple of dozen pages. Focus on your story! Don't worry about such details until later. You can change it once your story tells you in what age it needs to live.

  • 2
    Or, the batteries in the neural implants die every night. Thus giving a whole new meaning to "Sorry, sweetie, I'm just too tired tonight."
    – Stu W
    Commented Jun 18, 2016 at 14:34
  • I love your point about 'the amount of change being more important than the amount of time'. Very good observation. At first, I was critical of your claim about people under 30 (I'm 28) and the days before cell phones, but as a part of your answer, it plays an acceptable part.
    – storbror
    Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 11:40
  • 2
    "if instead, they still have cellphones whose batteries die every night, it is probably less than 10 years" Interestingly enough, ten years before you wrote this answer, the typically cell phone had a battery which (when in decent condition, at least) lasted for more like ten days, and certainly a week, than for one day.
    – user
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 14:13

Its actually a very subjective and artistic question. I would take tech, emotional attachment and the audience into account.

Tech. What tech is there and how forward thinking is your futurist mind? How revolutionary is the tech and how long would you estimate science to get there?

Emotional attachment What historical events are woven or known about in your world? Does it relate to the real world? How many generations does it take before the emotion of the past events lose their attachment to that future present? Ww2 can feel like a moment ago or a lifetime away depending on the emotional attachment by the characters.

Audience The reader can be surprised in your story. Sometimes it can leave the reader with a pleasant surprise or it can be negative if they do not believe. Your time can be more real if its close and more fantasy the further away. There are a lot of examples of real tangible stories written for a fantasy future or a real story written for the near future. Does the audience want near or far?

  • +1 For the solid bullet point. Set the time accordingly. The story has to appear reasonable and credible. You can't write that people are no longer using their feet for locomotion just 50 years from now. Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 12:21

I'm thinking around 2300 or 2500, although my reasoning is that I consider the American Revolution to be history, and everything before that to be ancient history. Although, that's just me. Try judging time on technological revolutions, i.e. American, French, industrial, modern technological revolution. All advanced the game quite a bit.

Or you could just make up your own time system. It's a lot easier in my opinion, but to each their own.


Looking at it the opposite way, I'd say that anything that your grandfather saw is "not-that-old". If you met (or may have met) the person that witnessed it, it does not feel that much different than being told of something that happened yesterday. E.g. I knew a person that was just around the corner when a Portuguese president was shot back in 1918, so I kind of was there too. So, "not-too-old" would be 3 generations ago, from my grandfather being young, until I am really old. With current life expectancy that would be a little bit more than a century.

Repeat the thought for my grandfather, and something that is "not-too-old" for them, but "too-old" for me, would be your desired time frame. Roughly more than a century, less than three.

I am guesstimating here, but I wonder if there is any psychological studies about this kind of time perception? I am partially inspired by the memory of some study claiming that we choose mates based not on increasing our "success", nor that of our children, but the probability of "success" of our grand-children. I don't know if any of those are somewhere out there to be found.


Agree with all others. The answer lies in the writing theory, story design. The number of the future year doesn't matter at all without your story goals, without what you want to say or make to feel.

You cannot just take a year you want:

I want it to be far enough in the future

without consequences. It all matters for your story.

E.g. if you have completely different technology from now but the year number is not such big that means of technological revolutions, quantum leaps and interesting times at all. The opposite situation: so many years past, but we see only slight evolutional changes that give us a feeling of kinda conservatism with stagnation, crisis of development or boredom or.. revolution is coming.

So, it's up to you as author of your story design to decide.

Also, your question is incomplete, you need to add clarification:

to be far enough in the future X that the present is considered a part of history with the world in technological state Y

by this Y you give a reader the feeling of the environment the story in.

If you at first want or decide (marketing, personal preference or whatever) to use far enough in the future then the second you should select the style/mood/atmosphere/parable of your story and choose an appropriate technological setup (i.e. warp drives (if any), implants or artificial body clones, super collective mind, new iphones with android installed).

You can look at futurology as a science, but not to dig in deep enough (nobody knows the future and you are the author) unless your story is analytical paper for economists or so (also, know your reader).


You might consider referencing some of your favorite sci-fi stories. I love the Hyperion series, and it's set, what, in the year 3200? I felt that Simmons set his story "so far in the future" as a) allow his tech to exist but 2) the reader could see the date only as a number or reference without getting caught up in "FTL transportation is only one hundred years away? I might make it!!"

I do like Henry Taylor's "different memories age differently" as well - you could definitely suit that to your purpose.

But like my own age, it's just a number :)

From personal experience, don't choose a number from the past to just indicate the passage of time unless you explain it. I arbitrarily dated in my manuscript using "1950" and my beta reader was confused by it (she is not a sci-fi reader). When I explained I just was using the numbers until I settled on a dating technique, she was ok with it.

  • Welcome to Writing.SE! You provide a good answer, except for the very last part: it looks like you're asking a question yourself here. We are not a discussion forum, but a Q&A site. If you have a question you want answered, there's an "ask a question" button at the top of the page, that's where new questions go. Take our tour, it should explain how Stack Exchange works. :) Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 13:40

I don't know. My Sci-fi is about 10 years in the future, but you said you wanted the present to be history. Maybe about 50-100. That should work.

Hope this helped!


I note that Rolazaro Azeveires wrote:

Looking at it the opposite way, I'd say that anything that your grandfather saw is "not-that-old". If you met (or may have met) the person that witnessed it, it does not feel that much different than being told of something that happened yesterday. E.g. I knew a person that was just around the corner when a Portuguese president was shot back in 1918, so I kind of was there too. So, "not-too-old" would be 3 generations ago, from my grandfather being young, until I am really old. With current life expectancy that would be a little bit more than a century.

That does not fit too well for a few people. Harrison Tyler (born 1928) is the grandson of President John Tyler (1790-1862). Doctor Otto Habsburg (1912-2011) was photographed with Emperor Franz Josef I (1830-1916), who was the grandson of Emperor Francis II & I, (1769-1835).

Anyway, in science fiction it is fun to use different calendars and have the reader wonder just what date in the Gregorian calendar 3,000 A.U.C. corresponds to, for example. Or 37 New Age. But of course the writer would have to give an example of a date in both systems somewhere to be fair to the readers.


Although I feel that there are some great answers here already, I'll give my 2 cents as well, in hopes that others have the same initial question, but with a different story in mind.

This answer will be somewhat influenced by my own 'sci-fi' project.

Depending on what the feel of your story is, what role the 'science-part of the fiction' plays in that story, how thoroughly you explain the science, and what science it is based on, you can do different things.

The Feel

All stories feel different, based on the events, the characters, and the setting. In some stories, the setting is heavily influenced by or based on the science-part of the fiction. In other stories, only some events are based on it. If you are writing a thriller, a lot should probably be kept unknown for a long time. If you're writing action, not as much. There are countless ways to write Sci-Fi.

The role of the sciency part

Some Sci-Fi stories make it obvious that it is Sci-Fi. Other stories barely show it. Most of the latter story could center around life/the world 'as we know it'. Perhaps it feels like a psychological thriller until we realize that some until-now-unknown tech/science is at play. In that case, the overall work would probably be regarded as a Psychological Sci-Fi Thriller.

In my work, we follow 'ordinary people' who happen to be affected by something that we learn about later in the story. That is the science we have yet to uncover. To the reader, what happens to the characters seems like mental disorders or illnesses, and we are trying to figure out what is wrong with them, or how their issues can be solved.

How thoroughly you explain the science

It's always a tricky balance when it comes to the question of 'how much to explain'. The usual answer is 'as little as you can get away with', which is partially due to that fact that most fake science can be proven wrong by actual scientists if you try to explain it.

What science it is based on

Depending on what science or technology is present in your story, and whether it is an obvious development from something we know, the question of 'when the story takes place' can vary.

If it is obviously an improved version of something we have or use today, you must estimate roughly how long it would take us to get there from 'today'. This means looking into prototypes for similar technology, things that have been proven 'impossible', experts' opinions or estimates of when X will be possible, and so on.

If it is something that is less obviously dependent on existing tech, you can simply come up with a reason why we haven't heard of it or experienced it, even if the story takes place in the year 2019 or in the 1850s.

In my story, the tech can be categorized as somewhat 'mythical', meaning that scientists have been working on 'breaking the code' in order to make 'something like this' happen. However, that is the official side of things. In my story, we learn that that is merely the public statement, kept to ensure that there wouldn't be a national or potential world-wide crisis, following the news of 'what is actually possible'.

A cool thing you can include in your story, is using or mentioning well known historical events, but adding your own touch to them. Giving a different explanation for why or how it happened, or an unknown consequence of it.

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