Speculative is an umbrella category, telling potential readers, agents, and editors very little about your book outside of that it explores some form of “what if” scenario that separates it from what is possible in our known reality. While you may choose to write in speculative fiction, your individual books will most likely belong to a more specific genre—fantasy, science fiction, horror… If Speculative fiction is your chosen “genre” please be sure to always mention your chosen focus, if you have one. A lot of authors do like to call themselves speculative authors because any given book they write may be fantasy, or sci-fi, or even horror, or a good blend of the three. Novels don’t tend to be listed as speculative, as it is not a genre a lot of readers look for—they have specific likes and dislikes, and speculative is too general a term. Anthologies, however, are often labeled as speculative, and they tend to center around a given theme more than a specific genre.
Much like YA, beneath the speculative umbrella a wide range of subgenres exists—science fiction, horror, steampunk, fantasy, supernatural, and many more. In general, these types of fiction speculate about what the world might be like if [fill in the blank].
This is the genre where you look to the world around you and you ask, “What if?” From your answer, new “what ifs” emerge and you answer and ask and answer again until a whole new world comes into view from your creative speculating. Most of us authors did a great deal of this as kids--imagining what if our worlds were different, seeing magic and wonder in the mundane, and turning those who torment us in life into beasts and monsters in our heads. For speculative fiction we need but tap back into a little bit of that wonder, while being certain to anchor it in reality for the reader.
(Speculative Fiction--No HEA required!)
What if… vampires were real and had infiltrated every level of society until they felt safe enough to “come out of the coffin” and join human society? (The Southern Vampire Mysteries)
What if… one day magic returned to the world of man, and an outbreak of elves, dwarves, and even more exotic magic touched babies were born to human parents, even as teenagers faced a new challenge in puberty—gobinization, the sudden turning from human to ork, troll, or worse? Then the dragons woke from the earth, and with their hoards of gold and treasure bought out all the corporations? (Shadowrun)
What if… a busy road killed a lot of family pets and sometimes people, but if you buried them in the right place, they might come back to you, even if dead is better? (Pet Sematary)
Over the course of this week, I will be sharing good examples of short fiction and film in some of the primary subgenres of speculative fiction. We’ll also discuss the world building that goes into creating a world like our own, but with a factor of “what if” tossed in. Please pay special attention to the announcements, as they will have valuable material you may be able to use in your writing assignment next week.
Is all Horror, Fantasy, and Science fiction speculative?
No! All fantasy is speculative by definition, but science fiction and horror are not always speculative, even if the majority of it is. If you look at the diagram below you will see while Fantasy is completely under the speculative circle, a bit of science fiction, sci-fi horror, and pure horror are not. The stories outside the speculative influence have one crucial element in common to mark them as non-speculative--these are stories that could actually take place in our known reality. Can you think of a horror story that is realistically possible right now? A science fiction story that could in fact take place today? How about examples like Se7en? Gravity? Silence of the Lambs? Outbreak?