Writing Speculative Fiction – Guest Post by Craig Boyack…

I write what I call speculative fiction. Many of the definitions out there never really give a crystal clear idea of what the genres mean, so I picked this name and made my own definition. To me, speculative fiction involves at least one unreal element.

Speculative fiction is a big enough field to keep me happy. It includes paranormal, science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, horror, super heroes, and everything similar. I think I’ve dabbled in all of it to one degree or another.

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One of the things I try to do is enough research to make it digestible. I’ve always said, “I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to be plausible.” The plausible parts make it easier for the reader to take that leap of faith when I need them to.

I did an extensive amount of research for my novel, Panama. I set this during the building of the canal, and there was a ton of history available. I included celebrity cameos in the story and many of them were in exactly the places I put them when they came into the story. I was amazed to find tour schedules for Lilly Langtree. It didn’t surprise me quite as much for Theodore Roosevelt, but he was the president and we tend to keep good records of their motions.

When it was time to introduce the demon and the black magic, I think the research made it all easier to digest. Right after I brought in the speculative element, I brought in Carlist rebels. These guys weren’t in America, but they were big in the power struggles in Spain, and the era is correct.

People often say science fiction and fantasy authors have it easy, because they don’t have to do as much research. I disagree on this point. The world we create still has to make sense. It can be as simple as water flowing downhill, or gravity making a difference in a deteriorating orbit. Injuries still hurt, bleed, and bruise. Getting these things right makes it easier to sell the speculative element.

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Basic physics should come into play when dealing with swords and plasma rifles. Authors can write it any way they like, but these little bits make it all more believable to the reader. The difference between a great sword and a short sword is incredible. It’s much easier to recover and block with a short sword; the great sword does more damage – if you connect, if not you’ll be wide open for an attack.

Most readers will be familiar with the fact that guns recoil when fired. Your hand laser doesn’t have to, but it helps the readers get a sense of being there. Real guns give off a smell, and there’s no reason the hand laser can’t produce a whiff of ozone.

Fantasy readers get irritated when the heroes travel all day, throw a blanket on the ground and make stew for supper. This is because readers know stew takes hours to make. They understand that horses have limitations and can’t run 100% of the time. Animals are only capable of going so many miles per day. They need time to graze, and in some cases chew their cuds. Dried beans need a good long soak, if not a boil and soak, before you can eat them.

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In a similar fashion we have to address the learning curve involved with new weapons. You can’t just pick up a sling and slay Goliath. You can bet David threw several tons of stones before making his epic shot. It’s good to research the weapons and even try to handle one before you write about it.

This idea applies to magic too. A training sequence only takes a page or two, but it’s always fun when your witch tries to figure out what to do with the animated banana she accidentally created. It adds a bit of whimsy, but also primes the reader for the possibility of failure at the worst time. Do a bit of research and find herbs that have a connection to magic, learn how an eclipse actually works so you don’t have the wrong celestial body casting its shadow. Maybe learn something about crystalline structure so you can describe it accurately.

It wouldn’t be out of line at all to learn the melting point of silver so you don’t have your werewolf hunter using a Bic lighter to cast bullets. Maybe you should read a book about reloading too.

I put this kind of effort into my speculative fiction. I’d appreciate it if you’d consider me for one of your next reads. I have two collections of short stories and micro-fiction priced at 99¢ each, if you’d like to try something without committing the time to a full length novel. If you prefer novel length, I have some of those too.

Craig Boyack.

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65 thoughts on “Writing Speculative Fiction – Guest Post by Craig Boyack…

  1. Great post, Craig! Thanks for the definition of speculative fiction. A couple of my writing sisters and I had a discussion (over beer and cheese curds) about what speculative fiction is. Love how you describe it. And so true about research and giving the reader enough “real” to accept the speculative.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Julie. I think there are many definitions for almost everything in writing. I tend to amalgamate them and make up my own. Speculative stuff is usually based upon the old question, “What if?” Research varies from project to project, but it still matters and helps set up the unreal element. Beer and cheese curds? I want to join your writing group.

      Liked by 1 person

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