I am considering how to write a "fiction" book about the far distant past (millions of years ago), like some sort of historical or science fiction book. I'm not sure if there is a specific category for this kind of evolutionary book, I have not really read a science fiction book before, I am more of a non-fiction kind of person.

In learning how to write a science fiction book (or similar), all examples revolve around a central or "main" character, like "Nell" in The Diamond Age. Most movies too revolve around central characters with a few less central but still prominent characters, like Hunger Games, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Braveheart, Batman, etc.. I don't think about things in terms of individual "people", I think about things in terms of patterns or, coming from software development, in terms of "types" or "abstractions". So I might think about how dinosaurs in general would have had X kind of experience, or animals y type of behavior, but not a specific dinosaur or animal.

Is it possible to write such a book using generalities yet still tell a story about some parallel possible history? Like telling the story of the evolution of an alternative species, and the major events the species had, etc.. Sort of "Big History fiction". If it is possible to write such a book, what are the key story elements you should have to make it interesting (or what resources do you recommend I check out to learn more, such as a fiction book or "how to write x" series). This would mean you can write books which don't have individual main characters. If it's not possible to write such a book, why not, what is wrong with not having main characters?

2 Answers 2


I think that you are looking for one of the books by Olaf Stapledon specifically this one https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Maker as an example. It has a very broad scope like Big History. Unfortunately it has been a while since I read it. If I remember correctly millions of years were sometimes summarised in a paragraph.

  • Perfect, thanks! Any other books like this one?
    – Lance
    Aug 29, 2022 at 16:54

The main example I can think of is "The Last Question" by Isaac Asimov (which may be read online for free here). This is a bit of a cheat, though, because:

  1. It's a short story, not a full-length novel.
  2. Each section of the story follows a small group of characters, so there are still "main" characters in a sense. However, these characters are promptly discarded once their role has been fulfilled.

In the case of "The Last Question," Asimov makes it work because the core idea of the story is interesting enough to carry the reader's attention through the entire plot, and also because the story takes place over an extreme timescale and de-emphasizes the importance of any one character or their personal circumstances. Nevertheless, Asimov does make use of these characters as more than simple mouthpieces. Their names become steadily more abstract and alien, and their attitudes more dispassionate and clinical, implying long-term societal development as time passes. Yet they always come back to the titular "last question" in each iteration of the story, and this repetition serves as a common thread, forming the central conflict of the plot.

I'm not sure you can do away with characters altogether (although I would very much like to be proven wrong). They serve as a lens through which the reader may understand the setting and plot, as well as the conflicts of the story. Without characters, there are no stakes. Even rigidly nonfiction history textbooks like to take individual historical figures and turn them into "characters" of a sort. It is very, very difficult to write something with no characters at all, and not have it read like a dry encyclopedia article.

If you are going to try and make a no-characters story work, you need to find some way to convince the reader that the conflicts of your story are important. I'm sure you care about those conflicts (or else, why are you writing them?), but the reader won't, not unless they are overwhelmingly important or central to the human experience, like the central conflict of "The Last Question." Even then, you're going to run into A Million is a Statistic pretty quickly. I don't have answers for how you work around that.

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