Writing Speculative Fiction: Defining Your Niche
Orson Scott Card is one of my favorite Science Fiction writers, and one that I believe I could do well to emulate. Aside from writing the award-winning Enders Game series (among others), he is a professor of English, currently at Southern Virginia University, and has written several books on the topic of writing. One, which I will be discussing today, is How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, from Chapter one: The Infinite Boundary.
When you go to the fiction isle of the local bookstore, you will likely see the shelves sectioned off based on the ‘topic’ of the book. These are convenient distinctions which work very well for most genres, but when you come to the fiction isle, that system starts to break down- and when you come to the Sci-Fi or Fantasy sections, you may be surprised to see what you find there. Some authors have books in both sections, while others have books that seem not to really fit in either. So, is this distinction important? Card would say, from the author’s perspective, not really. Once a writer is established as either a fantasy writer or a science fiction writer, he more or less can call his work whichever he wants and most people would not argue too loudly. However, the publishers are a different story- some magazines, for example, will only publish one genre. Unless you convince them that your story fits their definition, you can expect them to reject it, even if they happen to like it.
Card offers us these basic definitions: “…science fiction is about what could be but isn’t; fantasy is about what couldn’t be” (Card, 22). Worlds containing technologies and cultures that are based on what is conceivable but not known by the laws and theories of science would fall into Science Fiction. If that world contains things that are contrary to known laws (like magic, for example), then it is more suited for the category of Fantasy.
These categories are not as limiting as they sound, and as writers we can ignore them if we wish- however, if you intend to fall into one genre or the other, especially if you’re pitching it to a publisher, you need to keep these differences in mind if you want to be sure you end up where you planned. Readers will have wildly varied expectations for their Sci-Fi or Fantasy stories, but if you do the head work to make sure you fit the basic criteria, and then make it feel like Sci-Fi or Fantasy through your story’s milieu, you should be accepted in the genre you intended.
Posted on September 17, 2010, in Erik Marsh, Fantasy, Orson Scott Card, Science Fiction, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged Enders Game, fantasy, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Orson Scott Card, science fantasy, science fiction, The Infinite Boundary. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.