Speculative fiction is a term that was developed in the 1970s. It refers to literary works that blur the lines of traditional categories. Stories might blend horror elements with science fiction, romance, or even historical events to create a unique story. Virtually anything that is a creative work that doesn’t fit into just one category may qualify as this type of fiction.
Knowing how to write speculative fiction and make it realistic, however, is a unique challenge that may not be suitable for every author. After all – it takes a certain talent to blend thematic elements from the US Wild West with interstellar spacecraft, pirates, and zombies to create a much loved story. If you want to give it a shot, then here’s what you’ve got to do.
— Toy Box Story (@storytoybox) May 4, 2016
#1. Build Your World
World-building is the most important component of speculative fiction. Entire books have been written on this one task. To create realism within the world you’re building, you must give each description context. Every character must have an explanation for their presence. Even if you’re creating a brand new world, there must be some relational element to the descriptions in order for the reader to engage with the story.
If you build your world correctly, then the reader will stop their critical disbelief. If you leave gaps in it, then you’ll lose your readers.
#2. You Must Have a Message
There must be a point to the story that you’re creating. Whether you’re creating a commentary about world politics or you’re challenging the unconscious bias that someone may have, you must be able to make the reader think about themselves and their beliefs in order to have successful speculative fiction. Without a purpose in the story, all you’re really creating is mind candy that’s easy to consume… and easy to forget. The best stories in this category leave a lasting impression on the reader.
The beauty of speculative fiction is that there aren’t any defined rules as to what you can address in your message. This opens up your story to several directional choices that traditional categories of literature may not make available to you.
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#3. Embrace the Characters
The goal of speculative fiction is to get the reader to engage with the main characters of your story. In order to do this, you must help the reader build a relationship with that character. The best way to do this is to include backstory elements for the character that are similar to the life experiences of your targeted audience. In The Hunger Games books, Katness comes from a poor community that is under the thumb of a ruling class who is using their labor to their benefit.
People can relate to that because they often feel the same way when they go to work. When a boss is tightening the screws on a deadline or micro-managing their work, they feel the same way the author portrays those in District 12. This, in turn, helps people engage with the story on a personal level and continue on with the story.
Why? Because what happens to the main characters becomes an influential part of their own lives. If the main character to whom they relate can be successful, then the reader sees themselves as being able to find that same level of success.
This is the power of speculative fiction.
#4. Keep It Real
Your characters are going to interact with what naturally happens in their world, not the real world where we all exist. If you have aliens who are attacking the planet, like what we see in Independence Day, then your characters are going to need to respond appropriately to that decision. Some might run away. Others might go to fight. What they won’t do is make a run to Walmart to buy milk and then plan a backyard barbecue later that day, right?
You must keep it real in speculative fiction to the elements of the world you’ve created. Without this realism, your characters aren’t going to seem authentic. The readers will begin to question your credentials as a storyteller. Once that happens, it can be very difficult to win them back.
Knowing how to write speculative fiction is a skill that can be developed, but also takes a certain talent to get it right. Follow these steps and you’ll begin to develop your own world for your readers.