Setting Description Entry: Cryogenic Sleep Chamber

This post has been generously written by Beth Revis, YA debut author of Across the Universe. AtU, first in highly anticipated trilogy, will be available Jan 11, 2011, by Penguin/Razorbill and is being compared to The Hunger Games for Sci-fi as breakout fiction. Click on the link above to read the exciting first chapter!

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awake on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into a brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship—tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now, Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.


When coming up with a setting for something in a science fiction, you have to consider two rules.

1. The science should be based on pre-existing scientific thought or theory
2. You have to figure out why we don’t have the technology currently, and then come up for a reason why you can have it in your story.

For example: in writing my science fiction, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, I needed a character to be frozen cryogenically. This is not something that exists in our science today, but is possible in the foreseeable future. One of the problems with cryogenic freezing is that cell walls burst in the freezing process (think freezer-burned meat). So, if you’re going to use cryogenic freezing in your book, you have to have a solution for it–that is, arguably, the most important thing about your sci fi setting.

So: my problem was that we were close to cryo freezing, but not quite there. I decided that I would make cryo freezing simple—basically you freeze in your own personal ice tray—but add a “blue goo” that would prevent cell walls from breaking. The setting was then a combination of what’s real—freezing—and what’s made up—the blue goo injection and other details that validated the science of cryogenic freezing.

Below is what I made my cryo chamber like—but you could have as easily come up with a different method of freezing (dry-freezing? A stasis chamber? A medically-induced coma along with anti-aging drugs?) that would have been just as valid but entirely different.


Cryogenic chamber(s), medical professionals, information charts, a de-robing room (you’re not frozen in your clothes!), medical equipment (IVs, needles, gauze, cotton, eye-droppers, etc.), white walls, hose for cryo liquid, fluorescent lights, freezing mechanisms, storage facilities, cryogenic supplies


Woosh of cryo liquid from hose, hisses of pain from patients, professional tones of voice from medical personnel, metallic clicks of cryo chambers locking, plastic-on-plastic sound of IV bag and tubing


“Hospital” smell: sterility, antiseptic, rubbing alcohol, cleaning materials; sweat, bleach, metal, tears


(Personally, I think smells can often translate to taste, so a “hospital” scent might linger on the tongue), taste of blood from biting your lip, cold taste of cryo liquid


(I used touch to describe emotion, so I most often referred to the feeling of the room as “cold” to reflect the stony terror of the situation): cold tile floor, cold glass box, cold metal handle… but also: wetness from tears, ache from clenching fists, kisses goodbye

Helpful hints:

–The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1:

And there was Daddy. The translucent liquid was frozen solid and, I knew, so was Daddy. I put my hand on the glass, wishing there was a way to feel his warmth through the ice, but I snatched it away quickly. The glass was so cold it burned. Green light blinked on the little electric box Hassan had fixed to the top of Daddy’s cryotube.

Example 2:

I watched as the girl touched the box, then pulled her fingers away. Stupid kid. Didn’t she know how cold the flash freezing process was? Steam rose from the glass top; if she’d just looked at it, she’d have known not to touch the thing. I breathe in deeply, tasting the cold on my tongue. Reminded me of icy days in the city.

–Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile)

The tubes were forced down my throat, hard. They did not feel as flexible as they had looked; they felt like a greased broomstick being crammed down my mouth.

Example 2: (Metaphor)

They slammed him in his mortuary, and a puff of white steam escaped through the cracks.


Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, an online library packed with powerful tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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19 Responses to Setting Description Entry: Cryogenic Sleep Chamber

  1. I’m late to the party, but I made it. There was no way I was going to miss out on this post! Thank you Angela for having Beth, and thank you Beth, for your AWESOME post!!! 🙂

  2. Awesome! Can’t wait for this book to come out! Thanks to both of you.

  3. Tahlia says:

    I have this awe of science fiction writers, you have to know science as well as being creative. How many scientists are creative too? Only the best.

    I’m going to check out your book too. It’s good to find sonething that’s outside the formula of girl at school meets bad boy at school stuff. Maybe you’d like to check out my novel, Lethal Inheritqnce . It’s fantasy. Chapter one is on my site

  4. Melissa Gill says:

    So glad to see something interesting in Sci-Fi and space travel coming out. This sounds awesome.

  5. Beth says:

    What a great post. Not only does it give me some good ideas, it also makes me eager to read your book!

  6. I gotta say the greased broomstick got me. Of all the horrifying things done to be put in the cryogenic chamber that was the most visceral to me. I wanted to run screaming but Beth made me immobile! Such an amazing story, and I loved hearing how Beth did developed it.

  7. Awesome setting description. I can’t wait to read the book.

  8. Casey says:

    The book actually sounds kind of like this TV show called Firefly. It was a really good show, so that’s a compliment. xD

    I’ll definitely look for this book when it comes out!

  9. T. Anne says:

    OOh this post is chalk full of goodness! I heart you Beth and CANNOT wait to get my hands on your book!!!! LOVE the cover!

  10. cleemckenzie says:

    I so admire the sci-fi writer. The way they build their worlds, has always intrigued me.

    Thanks for the wonderful post. I learned so much about the behind the scenes strategies that create those futuristic stories.

  11. Beth, this is so awesome. I really appreciate you taking the time to help all of us with description. I know this setting is especially valuable to anyone who writes Sci Fi!


  12. I just read the ARC of this book – SO good. Great advice Beth, thank you!

  13. Okay, this just makes me want to read ACROSS THE UNIVERSE right now!

  14. Great points about creating a SF setting. I deal with that myself in my writing, so this post was helpful!

    I’m looking forward to being able to read Across the Universe!

  15. Wow – just seeing the Thesaurus entry makes me want to read the book!!!

  16. The Bookshelf Muse and Across the Universe by Beth Revis together, what a great combination! Thanks Beth and Angela for this post.

  17. Blee Bonn says:

    Fantastic post. I absolutely cannot wait to read your book!

    Thanks Angela for the awesome blog.

  18. Tahereh says:

    what a BRILLIANT post. thanks so much, ladies! this was fabulous information!!

    i can’t wait to read ACROSS THE UNIVERSE!

  19. Karen Lange says:

    Wow. Great stuff! Thanks to both of you!

    Happy weekend,
    Karen 🙂

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