Tuesday, 15 August 2017

What is speculative fiction?

Today, let's have a discussion about what can be one of the most slippery subjects - genre.

Observant readers will have noticed that I recently decided to call myself a speculative author. I was thinking about why I might have done this and what it all might mean. Certainly I never set out to restrict myself to any one genre - previously, I had labelled this blog, quite generically, as "about writing". But I don't think of speculative fiction as a genre, more as a way of looking at the world - or other worlds. Of course, it can hold a whole gamut of genres inside it - including science fiction, fantasy, horror, steampunk, even romance (anyone want to read about the love between an android and an abandoned server?) - so as far as I can see, the field is wide open.

For me, writing is about the imagination - what can't be seen or doesn't exist (as yet). I'm not that interested in writing about the contemporary world. When I did, with my novella, I introduced the sci-fi-ish element of surgery to alter one's personality - so it was contemporary with a speculative twist. Calling yourself a speculative author is liberating rather than restricting, I think. The story possibilities out there are endless. I also think what we read can have a big influence on what we write, more than we sometimes realise. At the time of writing my book, I was reading a lot of real-world thrillers, so that became the kind of story I wanted to tell. However, I didn't really pull it off effectively - that kind of book requires a certain rhythm and intensity to work and be, well, thrilling. I've found a lot of great authors recently working in the speculative realms, many right here in the blogosphere, and it's rubbed off. In my recent work, I've mixed up the action with more descriptive passages that aim to immerse the reader in the world. With a contemporary thriller, the readers are already in that world. You're not going to spend that long describing an alleyway with a couple of overflowing bins in it. People already know what that look like.

So all in all, I didn't set out to choose this speculative journey, but I'm loving it and looking forward to seeing where it takes me next.

What about you? How important is genre and branding to you as a writer? Do you think choosing a genre is a conscious or unconscious process, or a bit of both? What does speculative fiction mean to you?

In other news; just a heads up that I've halved the price of Black & White to $0.99 during the preorder period (so it'll go back up to $1.99 after release). You can find it here: Amazon US / Amazon UK / Smashwords / Barnes & Noble / Kobo


Unknown said...

Branding is important to a publisher so at a certain stage of the writing process, it does become the concern of a writer as well.

For those who publish their own work, this is useful while marketing.

Some thought must be given to genre, because sometimes the audience expects certain tropes, structure, and endings.

JeffO said...

Nick, one thing I think is important here is how the change reflects your own perception of yourself as a writer. Many of us start out with blogs where we identify ourselves as aspiring writers, or wannabe authors, or as I'm kinda, sorta a writer but I'm afraid to call myself that yet (yours truly included). This change shows more self-confidence, so cheers!

As for your question, yeah, I still struggle with that. I'd likely put myself in the "commercial/contemporary but with pretensions of literary" fiction, if that exists. We'll see (hopefully) where booksellers want to put it!

Annalisa Crawford said...

I think it's the perfect description of your work, and certainly gives many more possibilities than it takes away!

The Cynical Sailor said...

I've always found speculative fiction to be tricky to define and I'm not sure everyone defines it in a consistent way, but many of books I tend to like seem to fall into this category, so I guess it works for me in terms of being a reader and identifying books I might want to add to my TBR list.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Speculative covers so many genres - fantasy, horror, sci-fi, paranormal, etc. It still gives you a lot of freedom.

Darla M Sands said...

I agree that it's a great way to leave your avenues open. ~grin~ Happy Writing!

Misha Gerrick said...

I don't limit myself to genre. I write the story that attracts my attention and keeps it.

But at the same time, most of those stories thus far has been Spec Fic.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Nick - I think the passionate part about writing will shine through - and that will draw readers in ... as the others have said - you have a number of choices falling into the speculative slot ..

Good luck - and great you've chosen this branding route - cheers Hilary

Kelly Hashway said...

Speculative fiction covers many genres, and since I write in several of them, it's always been the best descriptor for me.

Susan Kane said...

"Speculative fiction" is a marvelous idea. As Kelly said, it covers many genre, doesn't lock writers onto one particular road.

lostinimaginaryworlds.blogspot.com said...

Interesting subject, Nick. I've half through an MA in creative writing and was amazed to find that one of the modules was on genre! What? Never realised how involved this subject could be.

Liz A. said...

I think genre is only important when it's time to market your book. Before that, you need to let the story take you where it's going to. Whether that be in the "real world" or beyond.

Heather R. Holden said...

I agree about how liberating speculative fiction can be. I love how it encompasses so many genres I adore!

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I use the phrase "dark fiction and horror" to describe my writing, because I found that even when I wasn't writing "strict" horror, there still tended to be elements of darkness, whether physical, psychological, etc. It's a nice big umbrella, covers a lot. :)

emaginette said...

We all need to know what genre we work within. If we don't, we can't sell our work and neither can our agent. :-)

Anna from elements of emaginette

Arlee Bird said...

I think in one sense all fiction is speculative--a writer is speculating about what goes on in other people's minds and lives and all. Thank goodness there is such a broad range of fiction available to readers. When I was younger I enjoyed reading about the fanciful and exotic while now I prefer reading about contemporary things to which I relate. Any genre is fine with me in the hands of a writer who writes well.

Arlee Bird
Tossing It Out

Weaver said...

Genre is a tough one, especially when people start blending the line. It can be tough though.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

I am so eclectic as a reader that it's no wonder I'm that way as a writer. However, what I do know about my writing is that I like to write weird. Is that a genre? :)

If I would finish something so that I could send it to you to edit, I would feel better about myself. haha.


Unknown said...

I think speculative fiction writing offers a huge area of content to explore with new worlds and new ideas! I didn't mean to end up labeled as "Christian writer" because I know it limits me. Even though I do have that faith and I write, I like to explore new ideas and think outside the box, but now with that label, I get limitations put on me by readers and fellow writers. (Really, heroines can kick butt and take leadership ... but some of my readers don't think so. agh.)
I think you've made a wise branding choice that will serve you well now and in the future!

Tyrean Martinson said...

And ... hope it's okay, but I switched over from tending to family e-mails to visiting blogs and didn't realize I hadn't switched my profile. Sorry about that, Nick.

Shannon Lawrence said...

I think choosing the genre is a bit of both, as you put it. I didn't start out wanting to write mostly horror, but it was too much a part of me. I do love speculative fiction, both reading and writing it, and I believe it allows us to explore more than other genres in a way. Other genres stick to certain rules, and need to be more realistic. There are no barriers in spec.

Rachna Chhabria said...

I've always wondered what was speculative fiction. Thanks Nick for this post :)

Sandra Cox said...

I agree, Nick, speculative fiction crosses all genres. Whatever we write we need to feel passionate about.
Great post.

H.R. Bennett said...

I definitely think that genre and branding are important to a point. But I also don't think it's something that's just chosen consciously. I think a writer will unconsciously find their comfort zone and work from there. There's no harm in venturing out from it and exploring and finding what you might be good or not good at, but finding your default can be a good thing.

Hell, just to use myself, if you had asked me a couple years ago if I'd see myself regularly writing horror I would have laughed. I would have talked about grand fantasy like LOTR. But now...well...haha

Anonymous said...

My second YA I call speculative fiction because after reading the definition, it fit. Unfortunately, most people I talk to have no idea what speculative fiction is so that makes it hard to explain the book at times. >,<

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I love speculative fiction as a writer and reader. I love that it is so wide open to many different sub-genres.

lostinimaginaryworlds.blogspot.com said...

Hi Nick,
You don't have a blogspot followers gadget so couldn't return the compliment. Regards, Carole,

Lynda Dietz said...

I've always wondered about that particular label, "speculative fiction." Thanks for defining it so clearly! I like hearing how broad the palette is in the category as well.

cleemckenzie said...

I've always been curious about the origin of the term Speculative Fiction, since it covers such a broad spectrum of literature:, superhero fiction, science fantasy, horror and supernatural fiction, fantasy and science fiction. I've read that Heinlein first wrote the term, but I'm not sure if that's true.

Nick Wilford said...

Damyanti - Interesting points. It's why I wouldn't want to tie myself down to any more specific genre.

Jeff - Yeah, I'm trying to be a bit bolder and not timid. Embracing what I do.

Annalisa - Thanks! The possibilities are endless.

Ellen - There are quite wide definitions, but I'm happier calling myself a speculative author than an SF author, for example.

Diane - Yeah, there's a lot of room to try different things.

Darla - It is. Thanks!

Misha - I'm pretty much the same, I didn't start with any tag in mind.

Hillary - Yeah, hopefully it shows that I'm excited about what I'm doing!

Kelly - It is a handy term that defines what you do while still leaving the field open.

Susan - Agreed.

Carole Anne - There could be endless discussions about it!

Liz - When we need to start talking about our work is when we start looking at genre. I agree.

Heather - It covers some fantastic genres.

Madeline - It's a good description of your work.

Nick Wilford said...

Anna - It's very important from that point of view.

Arlee - Yeah, I agree that speculating is our stock in trade!

Donna - Sometimes it's hard to define what we do.

Teresa - Weird is good. I would give most things labelled as such a go!

Tyrean - I think you've got a good brand. It makes readers expect you'll deliver a story with good morals, which is attractive.

Shannon - I like things being open and not following particular rules.

Rachna - Glad to be of help!

Sandra - Definitely need to be passionate.

Robert - You're right, I think our genre chooses us rather than the other way round.

Patricia - I tend to mention SF if I ever talk to people offline about it, as more people understand that.

Susan - It has so much scope.

Carole - I do have one - you're my latest follower, so something's gone right!

Lynda - Glad I could clear it up!

Lee - I'm not sure about the origin. Hadn't thought much about it before, but I am now.

Suzanne Furness said...

Speculative fiction does seem to encompass a wide area and so certainly gives scope to explore and cross-genres, which I find interesting. It can be hard to define where a particular genre ends and another begins! I focus on children's writing. I dabbled in adult contemporary for a while but it wasn't really me! I would say I write fantasy with a splash of magical realism (which can be another tricky genre to define!).

Sherry Ellis said...

I've always been a children's picture book writer, but now I'm branching out into middle grade. I don't know if I'll ever write outside the children's genre, but it might be fun to try.

Tamara Narayan said...

I can't seem to stick to one genre. I've done science fiction and speculative fiction and historical. I also have contemporary and fantasy ideas for future novels.

Jenelle Leanne said...

Speculative fiction does cover quite the gamut of genres... I don't think it "boxes you in" really. Just means that you don't gravitate towards writing say... historical romance or biographies. LOL

I think genres are like puppies. The author doesn't choose the genre... the genre chooses the author. What I mean by that is that by and large (not a hard and fast rule by any stretch of the imagination) authors seem to write the sorts of things they want to read... and they will generally write in a narrower window than what they read. (For example: I love fantasy. I also love real-world, heartwarming stories like "Where the Red Fern Grows," and I enjoy the occasional historical fiction like "Carry On, Mr. Bowditch." Along with sci-fi, fairy tales, and the occasional classic...) however, fantasy (and various iterations of that side of the spec. fiction family) is what grabs me the most... and so that is the genre I mostly stay in with my writing.

That may not make any sense. I have a four month old and am not getting much sleep. haha.

Anyway, intriguing post!

Also, I tagged you: http://jenelleschmidt.com/strangest-browser-searches/ don't feel like you have to do it, but hey, I mean, if you are like me and ever have trouble coming up with a blog post idea... :)

Chrys Fey said...

I like using "speculative" because it covers so much. That's why I added that to the genre for a book I am shopping around, since it has fantasy elements.

Unknown said...

For those who publish their own work, this is useful while marketing.