Why would someone want to write about the impossible? Why write about meeting aliens, or dragons, or wars being fought in the mind, or aback dinosaur? There are several possible answers, but first let’s look into one question. Why not write speculative fiction?
This isn’t a simple reversal. There are certain legitimate reasons for not writing speculative fiction. For one, there is this strange idea in some people’s minds that certain kinds of writing are some how ‘better’ than another kind. I don’t mean one person’s a better writer than another, we all know that happens. But some consider certain genres to be better than others. For most of these, ‘literary’ fiction is the best writing, while genre writing is considered trashy, tacky, the domain of ‘hacks’ or otherwise inferior. Nevertheless, literary fiction is indeed it’s own genre, generally characterized by beautiful prose, often in depth characters, and very little plot. If that’s your cup of tea, go ahead. Enjoy.
Even among the genres, some critics act as if certain genres are better than others. And, for reasons that completely escape me, Science Fiction and Fantasy are often considered bottom of the barrel. If you don’t believe me, or want to learn more, please check out TV Tropes.org, their article on the science fiction ghetto.
Many writers of the genre have complained that they get pigeonholed as a ‘Science Fiction Writer’, or Fantasy writer or horror, or what have you, and all their future books get lumped into that category whether they are or not. Their agents or editors may even discourage them from writing in other genres, because their fans expect X. This may happen to writers in other genres, but I’ve not heard any of them complain about it.
If you are like me, the above will not scare you off. So, why write speculative fiction?
- Because that’s what you like. If you can’t enjoy reading a genre, you certainly aren’t going to enjoy writing it. Believe me, it takes a lot longer to write the average book than it takes to read it. The quickest novel I ever wrote took me about twenty-four days to write. Interesting coincidence: that’s about how long it took me to read the unabridged version of Les Mis. My copy was 1463 pages. My book was about two hundred pages, double spaced. Also, if you don’t enjoy writing a story, it will show.
- Because your story will only work with speculative fiction. If you dream of telling a story where the dinosaurs evolved into dragons and have a secret colony on the moon, that doesn’t fit into any other genre. Speculative fiction is the only spot where it works. (If you are writing a story like that, I’d like to read it.) While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that anything is possible with speculative fiction, a lot more is. Maybe your story requires magic, or a technology we don’t have and may never. Go for it. Just make it seem plausible.
- Many great ideas were once speculative fiction. The first person to try to patent a submarine was initially turned down because the clerk had read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne and thought they already existed. Leonardo De Vinci drew up patterns for a flying vehicle much like a helicopter. While that is art, not fiction, I believe my point remains.
- Because it’s a good way to stretch your imagination. Yes, not everything is possible in speculative fiction, because even there you need to be consistent, but there are more avenues to explore.
- Because it’s fun. There is something freeing about your options with speculative fiction. I helped my brother map out a possible story about emus colonizing Mars. We had a blast coming up with the story and potential plot points. If the story gets written, will it be ‘Great Literature’? Probably not. I certainly wouldn’t expect people to be reading it in fifty years. But it’s a fun romp where we took an impossible idea and played with it. If that is what you want to do, then go for it! Who knows, someone may eventually consider it ‘Great Literature’. Shakespeare wrote to be enjoyed by the common theater goer, and The Hobbit is a children’s book. Even Dr. Seuss wrote many ‘Classics’.
Write the book you enjoy. What the rest of the world make up it’s own mind about it later.
(What are your reasons for writing speculative fiction, or wanting to?)