Speculative fiction is becoming more and more popular. Many budding and professional writers are constantly trying to break into this fantastic genre. If you’re new to SpecFic, you’re probably wondering, what is speculative fiction?
Don’t worry. Prolific speculative fiction writer, Simbiat Harouni will address frequently asked questions like ‘ what is speculative fiction ?’ Her comprehensive definitions of speculative fiction, will be followed by examples and tips on how to write speculative fiction. Ready? Let’s read on.
Everything You Need To Know About Speculative Fiction: Definitions, Tips And Examples.
Books (and stories) can do so much more than provide an experience for the reader. They can immerse you into a whole new life and a completely new experience. They can transport you to a new world, showing you perspectives that you never considered.
One typical genre of such beautiful stories is the speculative fiction genre. It consists of so many sub-genres that it is hard to properly assess and categorize them all. When people ask about speculative fiction examples, they’re often referring to the subgenres. Not story samples.
The sub-genres or examples of speculative fiction are so many. They include but are not limited to:
- Science fiction,
- superhero fiction,
- alternate history,
- dystopian fiction,
- supernatural fiction,
- as well as combinations like science fantasy.
Among them all though, fantasy is the oldest sub-genre, going back thousands of years. A look back at the earliest civilizations such as the Greek civilizations finds that they told stories in the form of fantasy even then.
After fantasy became popular, other sub-genres slowly came into the limelight, with science fiction leading the way. Science fiction has gained popularity in recent centuries.
As the speculative fiction genre is growing, writers such as myself have found ourselves wondering, what the right definition of speculative fiction is.
Also, what exactly it takes to write good speculative fiction stories and excel in this exciting climate.
So What is Speculative Fiction?
Speculative fiction is a broad category of fiction. It’s used for work that doesn’t qualify as literary fiction and also doesn’t completely fit into the science fiction or fantasy genre.
Because of the sheer broadness of the speculative fiction genre, some people have even taken to calling it the “super genre”.
Speculative fiction can accommodate literary fiction with elements of fantastical events. It can include the aforementioned sub-genres.
However, there are some writers that don’t consider some elements of fiction, like horror to be speculative fiction. To properly understand this, we can take a look at the history of this genre.
A Brief History Of Speculative Fiction.
Speculative fiction started a long time ago when poets and writers started to reimagine reality for their art. According to the Oxford Research Encyclopedias article on speculative fiction, the term Speculative Fiction was coined by the writer, Robert Heinlein in 1941.
It wasn’t until 1947 though, that he popularized the term in his essay, ‘On the Writing of Speculative Fiction’. In this essay, he defined Speculative Fiction as,
[N]arratives concerned not so much with science or technology as with human actions in response to a new situation created by science or technology, speculative fiction highlights a human rather than technological problem.
Now, the term has been expanded to capture the true meaning more accurately.
Wikipedia gives another apt definition of speculative fiction as,
a genre of fiction that encompasses works in which the setting is other than the real world, involving supernatural, futuristic, or other imagined elements.
Here’s my definition of speculative fiction.
Speculative fiction is a genre of literature where a writer explores real-world situations through a fantastical or speculative lens. It is basically asking, “What if?”
Because writers are constantly willing to ask these important questions, several aspects of speculative fiction have been born. These include:
- Science fiction,
- Horror and so many more genres. Some of which are not as well known as others.
Speculative fiction has spread to so many areas of life and literature. So wide is its appeal that it cannot be classified as a mere medium. It has now graduated into a group.
A testament to its popularity is the fact that it’s being used across a wide range of media including:
- Short stories
- comic books,
- and other forms of storytelling and entertainment.
In the article, will share my time-tested tips for writing great speculative fiction. But first, I’d like to discuss the most common reasons why people, like me, write speculative fiction.
3 Good Reasons To Write Speculative Fiction?
People write speculative fiction for so many reasons. Just like any other career path, more than one road can lead to your destination.
Here are good reasons to write speculative fiction.
You Are Inspired By Folklores You Once Heard.
My journey to speculative fiction was sparked by popular folktales. I particularly recall those about the Tortoise’s adventures in the animal kingdom.
Myself and my siblings – sometimes cousins too – would sit in a semicircle in front of my grandma. And she would regale us with tales of these beings. Of course, we knew that these animals could never climb up to heaven.
And of course, we know they couldn’t make special sweets with which they tricked each other. But the stories did a good job of opening up our minds to the possibility of more.
Perhaps, you heard these mind-boggling stories. It’s one reason to consider writing speculative fiction.
You Are Inspired By The Books You Read.
After grandma stopped telling these stories, I started reading about the old Yoruba kingdoms and about juju. I learned about the almost unbelievable things that happened in the past.
These stories were fascinating and they led me to start writing my own short stories in the form of plays. This is how I started writing speculative fiction.
Perhaps, you’ve read some fascinating fiction or non-fictional stories. And perhaps, these stories have inspired you to write yours.
To Explore The Unknown, And The Strange Thoughts That Run Through Your Mind.
Occasionally, strange ideas cross my mind. And I do my best to put them to paper.
I succeed only a handful of times because speculative fiction is a special kind of fiction writing. Yes, it is.
Didn’t I make this clear when I addressed the question, ’What is speculative fiction’?
A story in this genre needs to have all the elements of fiction while satisfying the demands of speculative fiction.
The elements of fiction include: (characterization, language, theme, and all the rest). But the demands of specific include:
- Factual storytelling,
- Emotional triggers required to connect readers to the story.
Seamlessly, combining both the elements of fiction and the demands of SpecFic requires some sort of expertise.
What Is The Difference Between Fantasy And Science Fiction?
What is the difference between fantasy and science fiction? I would say that this is a fairly simple question. And that it is as simple as what is speculative fiction. Except that it is really not a simple question.
These two sub-genres of speculative fiction are nuanced and interwoven so that a more intimate look is required to properly assess their differences. On the surface, it is easy to classify and define them.
Science fiction is a sub-genre that often takes place in a dystopian setting with marked technological advancements interwoven into the story. In many cases, science fiction cases take place many years in the future.
On the other hand, fantasy stories particularly feature mythical beings like ghosts and gods. And the characters in these stories display some sort of supernatural power.
The writer, Orson Scott Card explained it best in his science fiction definition:
Science fiction is about what could be but isn’t while fantasy describes what couldn’t be.
However, these two share many differences in three areas:
- Their believability,
- Their settings, and
- Their characters.
One major difference between science fiction and fantasy novels is their differing levels of plausibility.
In fantasy novels, it is generally understood by the writers and readers alike that no matter how much they may want it to be so, the characters and even the places described in the books can never be real.
I remember how I felt while reading Brandon Sanderson’s ‘The Emperor’s Soul’. I wished that I could somehow transport myself into the book.
I longed to see the wonderful description, live in that land by myself. But no matter how I wished for it to be so, it couldn’t happen.
In fact, it will never happen. That’s because nobody can actually do the things that were described in that book.
On the other hand, science fiction takes its roots from the real world. In a number of years, it could be possible for someone to develop and wield the lightsabers used in Star Wars. Maybe.
Settings of science fiction and fantasy stories often differ a lot too. In science fiction, the stories are usually set in a dystopian, high technological setting.
In fantasy stories, however, the story features a wide range of mythical beings, places, and settings.
In some situations, the settings can look like the real world. But they always have a twist or two, especially in high-grade fantasy stories.
Finally, the characters in fantasy and science fiction can be somewhat different too. From what I have read of science fiction, there is usually a wide array of characters.
They include aliens and more advanced species, in addition to some human characters which may be present in the story. After all, Aliens, robots, and the likes are what science fiction is made of.
On the other hand, the characters in fantasy stories are mostly humans or close to being so. They can have a few distortions to their looks like dwarves or fairies.
They can be beings who look like Gollum from ‘Lord of the Rings’. These characters are rarely found in science fiction stories though.
But, even with all of these differences, there are certain things that tie these two sub-genres together. These things can be divided into the following:
- The problems that their characters have to face
- The lessons that they learn.
Certain things are common to all stories, whether they are speculative or not. Things like war, famine, racism, government, and family struggles are common to these stories.
Examples Of Science Fiction Stories and Books.
Usually, people who ask what is speculative fiction often want examples. For more context, below are some examples of science fiction novels:.
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury,
- Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card,
- The Martian by Andy Weir;
- I, Robot by Isaac Asimov; and
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
These are all examples of science fiction novels. And they’ve themes, settings, and characters that fit into the science fiction description.
When considering fantasy novels, on the other hand, you can think of such books as:
- The Lord of the Rings by J. R.R. Tolkein,
- Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin,
- The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling,
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll,
- Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, and
- so many other books by other brilliant authors including Nnedi Okorafor, Tochi Onyebuchi, Helen Oyeyemi, Ben Okri and others.
- You can read recommnded fantasy short stories by Simbiat Haroun and Pemi Aguda for free online.
Many things set these stories and books apart from each other, like the very fabric that makes up the stories and the settings and such.
But at its root, they have similarities, like every other story that has ever been written, speculative or not.
Understanding How To Write Speculative Fiction: A Detailed Guide.
Now that you understand everything there is to know what speculative fiction is. The next step is to learn the tips and essentials of writing speculative fiction.
The funny thing, however, is that there is no special trick or magic potion to learning how to write speculative fiction.
You need to read, read, read a lot of speculative fiction. And you need to write a lot of work in that genre as well.
It’s not enough to have an answer to the question, ‘what is speculative fiction’. You have to put in the time.
Whether you are writing speculative fiction or regular literary fiction, these essentials remain the same, as far as I know.
These essentials are:
Get Your Theme Right.
Your story should have a central theme whether it is a fantasy or science fiction story. What does the story revolve around and what are its main themes?
In the Harry Potter series, we saw a boy grow up alongside his friend while facing off against an all-powerful enemy.
Themes in this series include coming of age, power, love, family, and many others. Consider this when you are writing your next story.
Create Rounded Characters
If your story does not have interesting characters, then it will not be very interesting to your readers.
It is usually the interesting characters that draw readers into the story. And they do this even before the writing or the conflict has a chance to draw them in.
Ensure that your characters are nuanced and interesting. Nobody wants to read about cliche characters or one-dimensional characters that are hard to connect with.
An important example is the characters in the Harry Potter series. They are multi-dimensional and interesting enough so that years later, people continue to connect with the characters. Sometimes even more than the story.
Be Creative With Your Setting
This is one of the most important parts of your story and will make or break its believability.
Whether you are writing fantasy or science fiction, the settings in your story must be flawless and beautifully described.
Highlight You Character’s Conflict
The key to every great story, more than nuanced characters and a wonderful setting is conflict.
Explore inner conflict within your main character, small scale conflict between characters, as well as large scale conflict in the story itself.
Define The End Goal Of Your SpecFic Story
What is the end goal of your story? What is the whole thing working towards? What are your characters fighting for? Answer these questions and you have yourself a wonderful story.
Opportunities Available For Speculative Fiction Writers
There are several opportunities available for speculative fiction writers.
Online magazines that publish and promote speculative fiction stories include
- Omenana magazine,
- Fireside Fiction magazine,
- FIYAH Magazine,
- The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy,
- Asimov’s Science Fiction,
- Clarkesworld Magazine, among others.
You can also subscribe to Creative Writing News and submittable. This will grant you access to calls for submissions as soon as they are issued.
Speculative fiction writers can also take advantage of:
- MFA degrees (some programs are tailored to speculative fiction writers),
- Prizes, and other opportunities.
Common Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Speculative Fiction.
If you’re asking the question, what is speculative fiction, you’ll probably want to know common mistakes to avoid. Common mistakes to avoid when writing a specific story.
There are several mistakes that you can make as a beginning speculative writer. But the majority of these mistakes lie in your craft. Some of them are:
Writing cliche stories and characters
There is a reason why nobody wants to read cliche stories anymore. No one wants stories that have been over flogged and boring.
Don’t kill your story with overdone ideas. Think of fresh and exciting stories and your reader will appreciate that.
Speculative fiction podcasts will spark your imagination just as much as books will. Writing Excuses and Unexplained Mysteries are good examples of such podcasts.
Not properly planning your story setting.
Your story setting is one of the most important things in your spec-fic story.
If there are places and things that are not properly explained, your reader will definitely notice. Ensure that your story setting is as flawless as it can possibly be. Ensure that the reader is not thrown out of your story.
Going overboard with story description
Many definitions of speculative fiction emphasize the description. This often gives writers the false impression that spec-fic is all about descriptions.
Avoid this mistake. No matter how clearly the story comes to you, you must be able to identify which part of the description makes it to the page and which part stays in your head.
You don’t want your reader to get bored.
Letting your style take over your story
This is something that I learned during a writing workshop. Let your writing skills shine through without letting it take over your story.
Chances are high that the readers are there more for the story than for your writing. Even so, you can wow the reader with your writing without necessarily detracting from the story.
Choosing overly complicated names for your characters
Resist the temptation to give your characters names that are too complicated. It is hard to keep track of characters when you can’t even remember their names. Remember that.
Wrap Up On What Is Speculative Fiction? Examples and Tips For Writing SpecFic.
Stories are the foundation on which a lot of things in life are built on. There’s hardly anything you can get away with doing in today’s world without being told to ‘tell a story’
One of the most interesting branches of storytelling is speculative fiction. I hope you understand what speculative fiction is. I also hope you learned everything you need to know to excel in the speculative fiction genre.
Don’t forget to use your imagination, don’t burden your reader with pages of description. Also, read the stories and books recommended in this resource. Feel free to suggest more examples of speculative fiction stories and books.
Have you ever asked the question, What Is Speculative Fiction? What kind of answers did you get?
And have you tried to write speculative fiction? What has your experience been? How have you overcome the challenges you faced while trying to break into the SpecFic genre.
Simbiat Haroun lives in her head and when she is not writing, she is silently watching, thinking about what next she will turn into a story. She is a graduate of Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus Creative Writing Trust Workshop.
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