How to Write an Alien Invasion Novel

In 1898, H. G. Wells struck the match for alien invasion novels with his War of the Worlds.

“I’m writing an alien invasion novel.” You’ll get a few odd smiles, a few confused looks, and maybe a few glazed “whatever” looks. The genre has been suffering under mediocre representations. But you, as a creative and adventuresome fellow who knows how to write, can bring the alien novel back to life! Right? Right?

The Aliens
As a writer, you’ll often hear that your characters are what draw a reader to your story and create the first link between observer and world. This means antagonists as well as protagonists. Whether a well-developed protagonist or antagonist is more important is subject to much debate. For an alien invasion novel, however, the answer is simple: the antagonists. The people who read alien novels look for an are attracted to the aliens. Don’t skimp on this. Even if all the humans see is ships, you would need to develop their thought process to make all their actions cohesive. Most important is the aspect that allows the aliens to be defeated or win.

Motives, Motives, Motives
This is number one, and a swimming pool of cliches. Slaves. Food. Planetary resources. Punishment for being a war-like race (And they aren’t? Who’s attacking who?). Or just some super evil galactic government that can’t stand the thought of sentients not under it’s control. One thing that will hook readers is a unique motive. As part of the premise, the motive must be strong and believable.  Keep in mind that all the alien’s actions during the invasion are governed by the motive.  If the aliens want the planet resources, they’ll take care not to damage the atmosphere and landscape too much. If the aliens want more subjects, they will be more mindful of the civilian lives. With that in mind, you don’t need English-speaking aliens to communicate a motive. Their actions will do just fine.

What is the alien weaponry? Defense? What type of ships do they possess? Are there any other technological advantages that they have? Your heroes will be fighting this. Just make sure the technology level is smooth: if they have motherships that can vaporize a city, they probably won’t need foot soldiers. If there is a weakness to their technology, it must be realistic. Any aliens attacking Earth have no doubt worked simulations of our attempts to resist.

Methods of Attack
~Alien Raids
Aliens without the power or numbers for an all-out attack can be content with pirating resources in raids. Raids, with presumably less-advanced ships and smaller numbers the enemy, are easier for smaller groups or citizens to defeat (or at least convince not to come back). On the other hand, raids may be preparation for an all out attack, doing reconnaissance of Earth’s population or military abilities or spreading terror.
~Alien Infiltration
Aliens take human form and live among us, slowly taking higher and higher levels within our society until they affectively rule the world, or can smother resistance to a true invasion. This is interesting because aliens could be running nations and no one would know.  To bring the aliens down, the protagonist must first discover them, and take on sleuthing duties to route expose them.  Easily a thriller in the mystery/spy department.

The Independence Day aliens show you how it's done.

~All-Out Attack
The aliens come. The aliens attack. Earth is crumbling. This is for the aliens who are to big and bad and don’t have to bother with infiltration or minor attacks. Also the favorite method of exterminators. Presumably, the aliens know what they’re doing, and the only hope of defeating them is in an odd weapon. Ala the common cold be deadly to Martians (or macs being compatible with alien motherships, but I had to give a good example first). The defeat must be different, reasonable, and unexpected. I find this version the most exciting, but that may just be me.

Reaction and Resistance
Since, most likely, your story will be from the humans’ point of view, their reaction are most of the story. Being a stubborn bunch, most will fight back (before or after peace negotiations fail). But there will be the few that see Earth as the losing side and throw their lot with the aliens.
Military Resistance is likely to be wiped out, but then, we could always come up with some clever incision the aliens were not prepared for. More common is an innovative defeat involving brains over brawn or natural aspects of Earth being deadly to the aliens.

Defeat or Triumph?
By far, most alien invasion novels end with Earth in triumph. But not all. There are three main endings for the alien invasion novel: a) Earth wins, b) peace is negotiated, or c) aliens win and Earth is left on bent knee. . . at least until next time.
If Earth wins, you must decide how. Usually any strict military action gets crushed (or vaporized, as the case may be) and innovative action is used for the actual defeat, if indeed human action is the alien downfall.
If peace is negotiated, the natural communication problem must be solved, preferably with a more interesting fix than “They watched our TV shows” (Wouldn’t they all be brain dead then?) or “Telepathy!” (Getting close to magic, even if it is acceptable soft sci-fi).
If the aliens win, you need to make sure readers don’t throw your own book at you. There must be a silver lining: plans for the future, the aliens aren’t any worse masters than any other government, or something else that saves the ending. We tend to want the guy most like ourselves to win, or at least be okay. If you defy this, it had better be so interesting readers are to busy thinking about it to aim properly at you.

~Beneficial Alien Invasion/Aliens are the Good Guys
What if the invasion was for the benefit of man kind? What if Earth had been provocative, and the aliens were more good guys than bad? Since our natural tendency is to route for the humans (after all, they are the ones we understand and can sympathize with best), this opens some interesting opportunities for dilemmas. What side does the protagonist take, and how does he justify it? What if both sides think they are in the right?

Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series is an example of alternate history alien invasion.

~Alternate HistoryHarry Turtledove’s Worldwar Series is an example of placing an alien invasion in the past.
Most aliens novels take place in the present – whenever the “present” was when the novel was written, for this simple reason that the readers get hit with the creepy feeling of possibility and “w. But this is hardly a hard-and-fast rule. Giving an aliens invasion a historical setting takes the usual work and research of a historical novel, but the possibilities are enticing. (Personally, I think aliens versus Napoleon could be cool.) Ancient cultures are fascinating, aliens are fascinating, and the combination of the two is at least interesting.

I like to think about the “what ifs” of an aliens invasion. I don’t know whether or not I’ll write an alien invasion novels someday, but all novels have their “what-if” stage. Hopefully this post will start a “what-if” chain in your mind as well! Have you ever written an alien invasion novel or story? Is there anything you like to add? What aspect of an alien invasion novel do you find most important?


About Kathrine Roid

I'm an science fiction and fantasy author living in Texas with an undead parakeet and teleporting cat. Think about that for a moment.

Posted on March 14, 2011, in On Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Oooh! I have an alien invasion book (kinda called Invaded, but still!) must find out more about them! All I know is that the race dies quickly and so needs the resources of earth at a safe pace for their kids, and that they need human body parts for their kids. I think to eat the body parts. Not sure about that. But yeah 🙂

  2. Battle: LA is an alien invasion movie, and I’ve heard really good reviews about it. There’s also a cowboys vs. alien movie coming out this summer.

    Macs are compatible with alien motherships? I knew there was something suspicious about those computers.

    • Battle: Los Angelas? The professional reviewers don’t appear to like it, but regular ol’ folks seem to be not displeased. . . although I usually wait for a friend to watch a PG-13 movie and recommend it to me before watching it myself. Let me know. 😉

      Haha. Yeah, Independence Day gets a lot of poking over uploading a virus to alien tech through one of our dearly loved macs. XD Although I don’t think I would have noticed that oddity without someone pointing it out to me.

      • Yeah, I just didn’t know how to spell Angelas.

        Kerry Nietz, a Christian author posted about it on FB, he said it was really good.

        • I cheated. 😉 When in doubt. . . use Google!

          Interesting. I like what he writes – which should be apparent by my last post. I wonder if I should get a FB account.

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