People underestimate Speculative Fiction, but I think it is the best kind of fiction. It crosses the boundaries between commercial and Literary. It gives readers so many genres and sub-genres to read it leaves their heads spinning. And for writers of Speculative Fiction, there’s a whole universe of possibilities.
What is Speculative Fiction?
Speculative Fiction is an umbrella term for the fiction of “what if?” What if I aliens invaded? What if someone was being stalked by a centuries old serial killer? What if magical being were real and lived in our world? As such, it encompasses the more well-known genres of Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction. And lesser known genres like Alternate History, Surrealism, Absurdism, and Magical Realism.
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It has a long history rooted in mythology1 going back to the ancient world. There are also many venues to submit to within the varying genres, making it a rich market for those who love to write in a variety of Speculative Fiction genres. Not to mention many awesome blogs by writers such as N.K. Jemisin, Mary Robinette-Kowal, and Marie Brennan.
What makes it so appealing to writers?
The answer will be different for each writer. I love it because of the universe of possibilities it presents when I’m writing. I can mix genres by setting a Horror story in a Fantasy setting and creating what is, essentially, a Dark Fantasy story. I can write a story about a woman fostering a child from an alien species, and have done so in the past. I can make up quaint New England town not found on any map and have it be full of alien-human hybrids, human-Neandthal hybrids or mythical beings. It can even be a town of vampires.
Below are four universal reasons I’ve come across when talking to other Speculative Fiction writers.
1) The vast array of genres
It’s been mentioned before, but Speculative Fiction has a vast array of genres for a writer to choose from. Or if they not inclined to choose before writing their story, to stumble on when writing. Even if you just look at one of the main genres like Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Horror.
With the vast array of genres comes a great versatility in the stories people can tell. Love stories, stories from the point of view of the monster, zombie apocalypse retellings of famous works like Pride & Prejudice. Not to mention all the possibilities I’ve already mentioned.
I once wrote strangely sweet love story featuring a pair of female serial killers. A side note, since my female serial killers in love story didn’t have a supernatural element, it was Horror but not Speculative Fiction. My story about a demon mother having trouble weaning her daughter onto human flesh, however, does fall within the realm of Speculative Fiction. For those who don’t want to write exclusively Speculative Fiction, Horror is a great genre to write. Each story fitting into the categories of Speculative or Realistic Fiction as it comes to the writer.
The same can be said of Fantasy and Science Fiction. That vampire romance in a Fantasy setting you always wanted to write or that story about alien abduction will always fit in somewhere, even if it is just the genres as a whole.
When you write Speculative Fiction, you potentially have control of everything. Especially if you enjoy number four on this list as well.
4) World building
This is my personal favorite part of writing Speculative FIction and that of many Speculative Fiction writers. Some people even read books on world building of build entire worlds just for the hell of it, as a way of helping with writer’s block etc.
World building, which is exactly what it sounds like, gives the writer a level of control those writing Realistic Fiction only have with their characters and plot.
Want to write a story about a vampire version of the United States first spy ring? Just build a plausible reason for their to be one in the first place and you can write your vampire Culper ring story. A story about an all female race of aliens? Just come up with a believable reason they’re all female and start building little things about their society.
Which brings us to the recommending reading.
There are many awesome books for those hoping start writing Speculative Fiction, many magazines, and many awesome podcasts to listen to. But if I was asked, the best books to read and the best podcast to listen to would be…
Writing Excuses is a great podcast co-hosted by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Well, Howard Tayler, and the previously mentioned Mary Robinette-Kowal. It covers all things writing, but the bread and butter of the show is, in my opinion, the fact these things are generally handled through the lens of Speculative Fiction.
On Writing Horror edited by Mort Castle, which brings together a variety of Horror writers on a whole range of subjects. It even has essays on twenty-one classics of the genre and avoiding things that have been done to death! A must for anyone writing Horror for the first time. Though, fair warning, it isn’t a step-by-step book and is instead a book about the general craft of writing Horror.
The Guide To Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction by Philip Athans is my favorite guide to writing the two most well known of the Speculative Fiction genres. Philip Athans is knowledgeable about the field, the writing concise and easy to understand. And the examples just funny and awesome. It even has a little story by R.A. Salvator which is very good craft-wise and very engaging to read.
Writing The Paranormal Novel by Stephen Harper, on the other hand, gives Fantasy, especially Urban Fantasy writers a good foundation for writing supernatural/paranormal beings and objects in their stories. It is full to the brim with questions that make you think about the things Harper is talking about, which I find very interesting and helpful when struggling with my own work.
Do you have a favorite genre of Speculative Fiction or favorite books on writing it?