A Broad Look at Speculative Fiction

We’ve spent the past few months discussing point of view, scenes, and characters, but I think it prudent to back up a bit. Before you can create your characters, decide on point of view, or start crafting scenes, you need to know what type of story you’re working on. So let’s talk genres.

The beauty of a good book is getting to be transported to a different world. Sometimes that means our world through someone else’s eyes, but sometimes it literally means to a different world or a different version of our world. These latter two options tend to fall into the category of speculative fiction.

Speculative fiction is a broad topic. To speculate is to “form a theory or conjecture, especially without firm factual basis”. And fiction is “an invented idea or statement or narrative; an imaginary thing”. So, speculative fiction is an invented narrative which explores a theory without firm factual basis. Doesn’t this encompass most of fiction? Where is the line drawn?

Speculative fiction is a genre that diverges from the accepted rules of our world. It is used as a catchall phrase to cover fiction dealing with elements that do not exist in the real world. This means that it is a genre with many subgenres including fantasy, science fiction, horror, alternate history, dystopian fiction, and magical realism.

Fantasy, science fiction, and horror all have many of their own subgenres which we will be taking a closer look at in the next few posts. For now, let’s focus on some broad definitions of genres that fall under the speculative fiction umbrella.

Fantasy typically contains elements of magic and the supernatural. It can be set in “our world” with magical or supernatural rules applied to it, or it can be set in a fictional world as different from our world as the authors likes.

Science Fiction typically deals with the advancements of science and technology in a futuristic setting. Science fiction stories can be set on future Earth, in space, or on other planets.

Horror is meant to frighten, scare, or make the reader feel ill at ease. Horror stories typically explore themes related to demons, spirits, death, and the afterlife.

Alternate History takes historical events and shows what the world may be like if that event had a different outcome. Alternate History doesn’t necessarily have any magical or futuristic elements, it simply speculates about what could have been.

Dystopian Fiction is set in an oppressive society that attempts to project its perfection through control (be it moral, technological, corporate, totalitarian, etc.). These societies are typically in decline and the story conveys characters inciting change in their circumstance.

Magical Realism is set in the real world but has undercurrents of magic. The magic in these stories is not the main focus; it is considered normal in the world and therefore is often left completely unexplained.

Understanding the different speculative fiction genres will help you categorize your novel and knowing which genre you’re writing in will help when it comes to worldbuilding and plotting.

Still have questions about what speculative fiction is? Leave them in the comments.

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