The Writer

BUT WHAT IF?

All fiction is speculative to some extent, posing a “what-if” question, which serves as the premise and drives the plot. But for fantasy author Kij Johnson, winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Award, the specific genre of speculative fiction adds its own special writing challenges: “A brilliant speculative story is harder to write than a brilliant realistic story, because it must do all the same things mainstream literature does – characterization, language, theme, and all the rest – and also, it needs to meet the requirements of the genre: accurate science, plausible worldbuilding, and the physiological triggers essential to a horror story.”

Before you set out to write any form of speculative fiction – whether fantasy, sci-fi, or horror – you must be aware of the meaning and application of this term. What exactly is speculative fiction?

We’ve turned to several seasoned writers of speculative fiction to answer this question plus others: What is the difference between sci-fi and fantasy, which are sometimes represented together as “SF/F”? How does YA speculative fiction differ from speculative fiction for adults? What makes good speculative fiction as a whole?

Then we’ll focus on the industry, asking several agents representing speculative fiction: What makes the cut in the modern publishing marketplace?

What is ‘speculative fiction?’

According to Lois McMaster Bujold, four-time winner of the Hugo Award for best novel, this literary term, a few decades old now, was meant to provide “an umbrella term to encompass both science fiction and fantasy and reduce the time wasted arguing over which category any given tale fell into.”

Johnson sees it as “an umbrella term for stories that operate outside reality in one way or another: they cannot happen or did not happen or cannot happen yet – at least, according to current understanding of the world.” It is often “consciously extrapolative – what would happen if reality were changed in X way? – but it doesn’t have to be.”

According to Johnson, the term has wide application to a number of genres: “science fiction, fantasy, supernatural horror, surrealism, irrealism, and some experimental forms.” Daniel José Older, bestselling MG, YA, and adult fantasy writer, adds magical realism and mythology to this list.

For fantasy writer Janice

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