What is Speculative Fiction?

An Awesome New Look at Traditional Fiction

by Victoria Pakizer

Speculative fiction contains every awesome genre of entertainment available. It is fantasy, horror, science fiction, different realities, alternative history, superhero fiction, utopias (a wonderful society), dystopias (a terrible society), steampunk (updates of Victorian era), cuberpunk (where virtual reality and true reality are difficult to separate), magical realism, fairy tales, etc. or a mixture of any of the above. The easiest way to summarize speculative fiction is: any story that takes place in a reality that is different from our own.

These movies, shows, and books are examples of speculative fiction: The Matrix, Dawn of the Dead, Dollhouse, Clockwork Angel, Smallville, The Sixth Sense, Brave New World, Shiver, and The Lord of the Rings.

One major component of speculative fiction is science fiction. If you read a story about aliens, alternative universes, advanced technologies, futuristic settings, time travel, or something similar, you’re reading a science fiction novel. Science fiction deals with the more plausible side of make-believe. As the saying goes, science fiction may not be fiction forever. Examples of this are Star Trek, Back to the Future, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Firefly.

Another genre included in speculative fiction is paranormal/horror. This genre is stuffed with creatures you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, such as ghosts, vampires, serial killers, demons, and zombies. When people think of horror, they usually think about a group of teenagers with an IQ below 30 getting lost in the woods, chased by a cannibalistic family, and death scenes that involve blood, guts, and gore. While that certainly counts as horror/paranormal, so do stories that involve werewolves, such as Teen Wolf, or ghosts like Hamlet. Other examples of horror/supernatural are Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dracula, and Silent Hill.

Speculative fiction also includes fantasy. Some elements of fantasy are dragons, wizards, elves, King Arthur, and Zeus. Fantasy usually has a “medieval” feel to it and may envelop myths and legends, but “urban fantasy” can take place in a realistic setting like New York City. A Song of Fire and Ice, Merlin, and Enchanted are all examples of fantasy.

So, if we have science fiction, horror, and fantasy as separate genres, why do we need speculative fiction? We need it for TV shows like Supernatural, a story about two brothers who hunt monsters. We assume the show is mostly horror/paranormal, but it features demons who create alternative dimensions, angels who travel through time, and ghosts who cause fairy tales to come to life.

Supernatural has horror creatures comprising both science fiction and fantasy elements, and that’s where speculative fiction enters. Whenever a work involves more than one genre, you can call it speculative fiction.

There’s an unspoken rule in creative writing that states don’t mix genres. For example, if you’re writing a science fiction novel, it’s best to stay away from fantasy elements. It could be jarring if, in the middle of Star Wars, Lancelot showed up riding a dragon to save the day, but we’re finding more and more authors who are smudging the dividing line between genres.

The TV show Angel features a vampire who travels to alternative dimensions on occasion. Thor is a stereotypical superhero movie that relies heavily on Norse mythology. Mixing genres can result in magic.

Authors who don’t understand speculative fiction may find themselves stuck in a box, afraid to let Athena fight zombies, but speculative fiction says – why not?

If you’re a good enough writer, you can write about aliens meeting King Arthur. Writers are trained not to break the rules, but with the genre of speculative fiction, feel free to do so. This genre opens countless creative options! Good luck and have fun breaking the rules.

Have any crazy ideas for Speculative Fiction? Let us know in the comments below! Also, don’t forget to go to the www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com to find out more about our creative writing courses!