From Sarah, With Joy

Writer querying two novels and some other word babies. I tend to effervesce.

New post every Monday

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Best Thing About Speculative Fiction

I think as writers we get a lot of our themes and style from our parents, or at least the way we were raised. But I have a confession to make.

My mom didn't love Harry Potter.

I know. This is one area where we differ. My mom was much more a fan of books like The Secret Life of Bees, or The Glass Castle. She prefers stuff like memoir.

Now, I don't particularly love memoir, but I love the gritty realism type of thing that she loves. As a child she gave me books like Summer of the Monkeys and A Long Way From Chicago. which I absolutely loved. Some of our favorite movies of recent years are Dan In Real Life and The Way, Way Back. Such incredible movies.

Now enter my roommates. When I went to college I got introduced to a plethora of things I probably wouldn't have been introduced to otherwise, and for which I'm very grateful. Things like Dr. Who and Firefly and Star Trek. Stuff I also absolutely, thoroughly love.

And my roommates basically all hated Dan In Real Life.

Which seemed to suggest that these genres are polar opposites, but I'm starting to see how that is false. I'm starting to see how genre is more of a venn diagram, and it's the overlapping area between these two categories that most intrigues me.

One of my favorite books that perfectly exemplifies this overlap area is The Green Mile by Stephen King. It's set on death row in the Depression era. You don't get more gritty realism then that. And the book deals in large part with hard themes like racism. But then you get this sort of mystical element--a gigantic black man with healing powers. The guards various reactions to this discovery are absolutely fascinating. The main character's faith in general is tested, then strengthened, and he has to make some tough and hard choices about what to do. He does his best, and is open to learning and change through his relationship with this man. Another guard is so manipulative, prissy, and crazy that he can't remotely be trusted with the secret.

In other words, this story enables us to explore humanity, at its best, worst, and most complex, in ways we could not have without that little bit of magic. Speculative fiction enables us to explore what it is to be human by testing us in superhuman scenarios.



One of my favorite episodes of Star Trek is in the first few seasons of TNG. Data is put on trial to determine if an android has the freedom to refuse tests, or make their own choices. In other words, if he is to be granted the same rights as his human (well, organic might be a more appropriate term) shipmates. Picard is charged with defending Data, and his final statements give me shivers just thinking about it. The entire episode is about how it is our treatment of subordinates and those less powerful or different that says the most about who we are as humans.

And they couldn't have framed that as dramatically and starkly as they did without an android in the defendants seat.

It is often said that one can explain a thing best by explaining what it is not, and perhaps speculative fiction is what gives us the opportunity to do that with humanity. It's a hobbit's stubbornness, a dwarf's sense of pride, these familiar characteristics that resonate with us, and frame this human qualities in fresh, interesting, and memorable ways.

Of course all genres have value, and serve their own legitimate purpose. But for myself as a writer, it's this overlap area that really intrigues me. I very rarely write hard core sci-fi or fantasy, but I also have a hard time writing anything without some element of the weird and supernatural.

What about you? What is your favorite part about speculate fiction, or the genre that you write?

Write on!

Sarah Allen

This Week on Social Media:

For more frequent updates, writing tips, and funnies, follow on FacebookTwitterGoogle+
YouTubePinterestTumblrGoodReads, and/or Instagram.

SUBMISSION OPPORTUNITIES:
  • Writers Digest: Your Story 61Write the opening sentence (just one, of 25 words or fewer) to a story based on a photo given. You can be funny, poignant, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story. Due Oct. 13.
  • Black Balloon PublishingA prize of $5,000 and publication by Black Balloon Publishing will be given annually for a short story collection or a novel. The editors will judge. Submit an unpublished manuscript of at least 50,000 words during the month of October. There is no entry fee. Due Oct. 31.
  • Drafthorse Online Publicationdrafthorse is a biannual online publication of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, visual narrative, and other media art where work, occupation, labor—or lack of the same—is in some way intrinsic to a narrative’s potential for epiphany. Due Oct. 31.
  • Tavern Books Wrolstad Contemporary Poetry Series: Tavern Books seeks submissions of new, full-length poetry manuscripts for the Wrolstad Contemporary Poetry Series. Open to all female poets 40 years of age and younger who are US citizens, regardless of publication history. Selected author receives a $1,000 book sales advance, paperback and hardcover publication in the Tavern Books catalog, national distribution, and a close working relationship with the editorial staff. Due Jan. 15.

SPOTLIGHTS:

30 comments:

  1. Well said! It gives us new and sometimes better way to relate and explore the human condition.
    I think speculative fiction gives us a way to cope with things as well. We can handle the horrors of real life better when they are based on an alien planet.
    My mom does not like science fiction. In fact, she's never read my books.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! And exactly right, it provides us a new lens for ourselves. And I hadn't thought of it as a coping mechanism, but it totally is! And it can be quite cathartic.

      Haha, yay moms ;)

      Delete
  2. It sounds like your mom and I have the exact same taste in books. I can hardly bear speculative fiction or sci fi and fantasy. I did read Harry Potter to see what all the excitement was about, but I can't say I really enjoyed them. The only fantasy book I've really enjoyed is The Hobbit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds great! This is why we have so many books, right? And that's a wonderful thing! And the Hobbit is a great one :)

      Delete
  3. It's quite awesome to "try" to think like a superhuman. I've found that even animals have their rules on living--especially domesticated one. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed :D I think that's what is so interesting, is to see how humans adapt in these crazy situations.

      Delete
  4. I think once yo put aside any preconceived ideas any genre has the potential to win you over if it's written engagingly. It's just that some genres require a little more wading through the mire than others.

    mood
    Moody Writing

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly. Great point. Any book depends on being well-written, and every genre has something valuable to offer.

      Delete
  5. Great great points, Sarah. I am a lover of spec fic and I think that there are a lot f people out there who just don't get it. You can say things in this genre you can't say in any other - "Data is a toaster." A nice point there - is Data a person because he looks like one? Would we feel the same sympathy for him if he didn't? The author f that episode, by the way, is herself a lawyer and must have seen a lot in her time. The Green Mile - yes, says things that couldn't be said in a regular gritty-realist novel. Not to mention the fact that spec fic writers can say things about the real world others can't get away with. There was a Star Trek episode which commented on the Vietnam war, for example.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly!! Saying "Data is a toaster" or "Data is autonomous" says MUCH more about those saying it than Data himself, but he gives us the opportunity to explore that question. And yes, that magical, supernatural element gives us the luxury of looking at the real world with a bit of distance.

      Delete
  6. One of my favorite aspects of speculative fiction is that it doesn't have to study humanity at all. I think trying to make writing into an analysis of the human condition and nothing else is a huge waste or the medium's potential, though it's certainly a good thing and is done in many different ways, some of which are entertaining and some of which are not. Spec fic can make you completely rethink science and/or nature, albeit usually though the lens of a person or at least a humanoid who drives the story forward. The depth of emotion speculative fiction can activate is hard to find in mainstream or literary works.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you make a very interesting point. What I love, though, is that I feel like speculative fiction can't /help/ but give us a new lens on humanity. And most often its completely unintentional. I don't think people get into science fiction and fantasy to study the real world :) And I don't think writers write in those genres for that reason either. We do it, often, because its just freaking cool. But a result of that, which almost can't be helped, is that we look at ourselves from an angle we haven't before. Like from the back of a giant flying bison. And that's also just freaking cool.

      Delete
    2. Oh yeah, that's what I think too. You can get a lot of things out of fiction that weren't intentionally put into them. I just like how unintentional these things often are in spec fic vs. literary fiction.

      Delete
    3. Oh definitely! Especially modern literary fiction. It' can be obnoxiously self-aware and honestly I feel like the hearts gone out of a lot of it.

      Delete
  7. You love a lot of the same things I do, I just didn't know that the common theme was speculative fiction until recently. That was when I discovered I don't just like reading/watching it, I love writing it too.

    Great post.

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awesome! There is some seriously great stuff out there.

      Delete
  8. I agree that adding the supernatural or fantastical or just plain weird can open up the best and worst of humanity. For me, I like the world-building in spec fic. I like how similar and different it is to our world and how that makes the characters react.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely! World building can be so rich and beautiful :) And putting characters in those new, weird, different places is totally fascinating.

      Delete
  9. I did like the first Harry Potter because how can you resist such great writing? But in later books, as things got more action-y, I lost interest. I like girly books!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the tone definitely shifted throughout the series. My two favorites are from the younger tone and the darker tone--books 3 and 7. And I agree, the writing is fabulous. If you haven't yet read the last in the series, I would definitely recommend doing it, even if you've seen the movie. Reading book 7 is worth it just for Chapter 36, The Prince's Tale.

      Delete
  10. Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. I do appreciate it, and it's my pleasure to return the favor.

    I'm game to read just about any kind of book except for porn. Since I started reading so many debut books of fellow bloggers, I've discovered that I enjoy quite a few genres I never expected to like. (I sure never expected to read YA at my age!)

    Count me in as your newest groupie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh thank YOU! Thanks for stopping by and commenting :) I'm more of a recent YA convert myself, but its quickly become one of my favorites.

      Thanks again for coming by, hope to see you around again soon!

      Delete
  11. Fantastic post. I love speculative fiction, and my favorite part is exploring the facets of humanity too. I'm a character driven writer. I do read all sorts of books because you never know when you'll come across an awesome story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you!! I agree, the best stories are all about character. And that's exactly why spec fic can be so much fun, because you get to explore characters in a way you couldn't have otherwise.

      Delete
  12. I really love the ability to world build, but the characters within the genre are so fascinating too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yiss!! It's that intersection of world-building and well-developed characters reacting and interacting in that new and interesting world that particularly fascinates me.

      Delete
  13. I've never really got into speculative fiction much as I'm more of a sci-fi/fantasy kind of reader. What I like about the genre I write in (I call it "quirky" but I suppose it could be lumped under "fantasy") is that I can write my characters any way I see fit (hybrids-half human/half animal, or demons) and stick them in a world where its completely acceptable for them to be who they are where they are.


    Father Nature's Corner

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed! We get to explore our own weirdness :)

      Delete
  14. A Wrinkle in Time. Chronicles of Narnia. Let Me In. All meet the speculative fiction requirements, I believe, and all captivated me at one point in time or another.
    Great post! Rock on, girl :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly! The Narnia books are the ones my dad read to us as a kid. Still very important books for me.

      YOU rock ;)

      Delete

I absolutely love hearing from you! Thank you so, so much for your thoughts and comments, they really do make my day. Consider yourself awesome. Also, I do my best to respond to every comment within 24 hours, so I invite you to come back and continue the conversation :)

If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for the monthly newsletter and get more updates, writing tips, and funnies, as well as a free copy of 50 Marketing and Networking Tips for Writers.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...