The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Speculative Fiction

Speculative Fiction is a marketing category that includes the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror, alternative history, dystopian, apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and superhero fiction. Speculative fiction asks what if reality were different? This is the common story question that runs through the genres, though the focus of each genre is different.

Note there is some debate about magical realism and whether or not it should be under the umbrella of speculative fiction. I choose not to include it here, and may discuss in a later post if time permits.

Speculative fiction accounts for approximately 8% of adult fiction book sales, and has been trending downward since about the mid-2000s. It’s not a huge selling genre, especially when compared to romance or YA, but SFF readers tend to be voracious followers of authors they love.

Speculative fiction genres have many subgenres. For example, urban fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy, while steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction, and we will get into the subgenres at a later time.

What is the central concept of the speculative fiction genres?

  • Fantasy often includes creatures/beings/people from mythology, and magic, and uses these or other supernatural elements as a main plot element, theme, or setting. Fantasy often is set in imaginary worlds where magic is common.
  • Science fiction is based on some future scientific or technological advances (real or from the author’s imagination), major social or environmental changes, and often portrays space, time travel, and/or life on other worlds.
  • Horror focuses on some negative aspect of the world, real or imagined, and transmits these ideas to the reader. Works are intended to frighten, disgust, or startle.
  • Alternate history (sometimes called alternative history) focuses on some historical time period or event and presents them as happening a different way.
  • Dystopian novels tend to focus on some failed society or political structure, and often presents the resulting life as difficult or negative. Themes often include poverty and oppression.
  • Apocalyptic stories take place during a disaster and involve global catastrophic risk.
  • Post-apocalyptic stories tend to focus on the survivors after some global disaster.
  • Superhero stories center on a hero with extraordinary powers who fights evil forces.

Next week we will dig deeper into speculative fiction.


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