Speculative Fiction: What If Stories

What If…?

Speculative Fiction

Speculative Fiction

The name of this blog is speculative tertulia. Its main purpose is to discuss speculative fiction.

I previously talked about my love for speculative fiction. But what it is exactly speculative fiction?

It is fiction that tells stories with a ‘what if?’ element. Fiction that asks questions about the world and us by using settings and characters that are created from our imagination and speculation rather than real life.

Some would argue that is what literature is about: imaginary characters and situations. Otherwise, writers would be writing journalism, history or biography.

By definition, fictional characters and situations are not real. But in speculative fiction, the characters, settings, and situations violate our real world in particular ways. There is no basis in reality.

For example, science fiction deals with possible extrapolations in scientific advancement or what would happen if science’s principles were different. Horror deals with monsters and supernatural creatures that do not exist in the real world. And fantasy deals with magic and fantastical creatures in worlds unlike our own.

Hence, make-believe literature.

Writing Speculative Fiction is Challenging

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It seems as literary genres go, writing speculative fiction should be easy. You are making it up, right? Instead, I can tell you it is not easy. Yes, you are making it up as you go. But it is quite challenging.

For example, if you are making the rules of magic as you go and they are not consistent, your readers would notice. They will stop caring.

If your science fiction is not base on science (it’s okay to extrapolate current scientific trends and advancements, but even if you negate scientific principles (like faster than light technology), be prepare to make it believable and possible or your readers will not care.

Even horror is hard to write. There have to be consistent rules governing the supernatural.

Today’s readers are too sophisticated to take speculation at face value.

On top of all that, the writer still has to advance the plot, develop the characters and write a story with conflict and resolution just like an in a regular, non-speculative story.

So the real question is, how can you do that, in an honest and believable way?


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I wrote a blog post about deadlines in which I spoke about the importance of outlining a story.

Speculative fiction plants in the reader hypothesis without scientific basis. The world-building will help to sell the possibility.

But when you are writing speculative fiction, which by definition are what I call ‘what if’ stories, the world building is just as important. It should figure just as prominently in the outline phase.

I could write several blog posts about world-building. What I want to emphasize today is that in speculative fiction creating a world with its own rules, laws, and regions is just as important as creating characters.

And if done right, it can enrich the plot or suggest further plot ideas. Again, world-building has to be consistent.

For example, you cannot write on page one that magic requires a sacrifice or that vampires only come out at night and then have vampires at a sunny beach on page 45 or have your character use magic without sacrificing something on page 66.

Your readers would notice and probably throw the book away.

Should We Undertake the Challenge?

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Writing speculative fiction correctly and doing it justice requires perhaps more preparation and research than regular fiction.

  • You need perhaps to brainstorm and outline more than in other literary genres.
  • You need to spend lots of time developing and building your world, its regions, peoples, economy, religion, government, resources, lands, laws, etcetera.

But if done right, it can be the most rewarding experience for your readers.

My advice is this: spend time researching your world and building it, put a lot of thought into it. Your readers would appreciate it and want to read more from you.

Speculative fiction is not easy, but this is a challenge I accept earnestly. And you should too. Whether as a writer or a reader. Dare to be challenged.

As a reader, which elements do you expect in a speculative fiction story? What matters to you? Share in the comments section.


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March 2023