Writing Tip — Genres of Science Fiction & Fantasy

fantasyw-2801105_1280Since I just returned from vacation, my post today is short. If reading about speculative fiction this month has inspired you to give it a try, I recommend reading this article on genres and sub-genres from Inspired Prompt via Science Fiction & Fantasy.

What I like about this post is that the author list novels written in each style. That is so helpful in understanding what readers expect in each sub-genre,

But even if you haven’t read much in the area you want to write about, get writing! You can always revise your work as you learn about the rules of your chose sub-genre.

Since the name “speculative fiction” is an umbrella for so many different kinds of storytelling, the author of the post couldn’t cover them all. I noticed “steampunk” is missing. For examples of this, try Michelle Levigne’s series Guardians of the Time Stream.

What other sub-genres are missing?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts for Speculative Fiction

fantasyw-2704453_1280For my last prompt of the month, I chose this picture. I like the contrast between the girl who is dressed in clothes from our time and the setting, which looks futuristic. I also like the hazy sunset. It seems appropriate for a story set in July or August. How would you write this scene from the girl’s POV? Here’s mine:

“A whisper of a breeze signaled the coming of night. As the police jets patrolled the city, the broiling sun slid to the horizon. In fifteen minutes, I’d be free. At least for a few hours, sneaking into the cracks and crevices in this city where the patrols either didn’t know about or didn’t go and no cameras watched. I checked my phone. Time to go. I got up and walked over to the street lamp. I wrenched aside a loose metal panel and set my phone inside. Now I was invisible in the city. I went to the door and ran down the steps.”

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, C.S. Wachter

IMG_1297 (1)My last guest blogger for the month on speculative fiction is C.S. Wachter. Her series is epic fantasy. And she also uses initials for her pen name! Welcome, C.S.!

Me: What comes first when developing a story—characters, setting, plot?

C.S.: The story seems to come to me as a vague notion to start. An impression. The Sorcerer’s Bane (my first book and book 1 of The Seven Words) started out one afternoon in August 2015. After coming home from meeting with a couple neighbors who encouraged me to write, I sat down at my laptop and typed a couple sentences: “Travis Illk was a seasoned world skipper. He had traveled the skipping lines—those mysterious wormholes between the seven planets of the Ochen system—into and out of all seven worlds for the better part of forty years.”  Those few words set my world framework (seven worlds, all distinct, joined by wormholes). They also set Travis up as the kidnapper who would work for the demon-possessed sorcerer, Sigmund. At that point, I wrote the prophecy that would set the tone for all four books in the series. I followed my nose. It was like the story already existed as a unified whole and I just needed to dig it out of my brain. As I moved forward through the story, more was revealed and at about the half-way point, the final pieces of the puzzle fell together in my mind. I know this is rather a disorganized way to go about writing, but it works for me.

The characters seemed to write themselves. At one point, a character I had envisioned as part of my protagonist’s support group turned out to be the exact opposite, a major part of the enemy’s team. I didn’t know it until I started typing. The first words out of his mouth were so negative. I just let him go in that direction.

Me: What are some unique challenges to writing speculative fiction?

C.S.: One challenge was placing the story in a world that is relatable while still creating a unique universe. I coined a couple words but kept that to a minimum to imply ‘different’, then used those terms in ways that would make them easily understood. 

Another unique challenge for me as a Christian was to remain faithful to the bible while presenting Christian truths without mentioning God, Jesus, or the Bible. My protagonist is a chosen Light Bringer. The One (God) speaks to him. It was important to me that I portray the One as a personal being who is not silent. That he speaks and acts within the worlds of Ochen, and that needed to flow out of the story itself, so it didn’t feel forced or phony.

Christian speculative fiction is a small niche market, but it’s growing. The challenge is to increase this market by helping others to understand that speculative fiction can be a viable way to weave Christian truths into an exciting story. People are touched by stories; they are reached on a visceral level non-fiction can’t reach. Non-fiction has a role, and it’s vital to the Christian life, but fantastical stories can create memories in ways non-fiction can’t.

Me: What do you do to renew your inspiration when it is running low?

C.S.: First, prayer. Every day. Writing is a gift from God and I thank him for that daily. I ask for guidance continually. When I’m going to sleep, especially if I’m uncertain what direction to move in my story, I pray for inspiration to come to me while I’m asleep.  

Take a break and go for a walk. It’s not unusual for words or images to come to me when I’m out walking my dog. I always have my phone handy and write in Notes often.

Reading books. I read a range of genres from non-fiction and philosophy to classics to speculative fiction. But I read most in Christian speculative fiction because it speaks to me and stimulates my imagination.

Me: What advice would you give to someone who wants to write speculative fiction?

C.S.: Read voraciously in your genre (especially authors who have a reputation for writing well). Speculative fiction has so many sub-genres it’s important to understand the differences between them. For example: Space Opera has a whole different feel and voice than dystopian. Fairy tale re-writes are very popular now, but you need to understand the genre and how to appropriately switch up the story to make it fly. Magical realism is a whole other field because it must be set in the world as we know it but with subtle changes that must be believable even if fantastical.

Join an online group like Realm Makers Consortium. Friend others who are writing speculative fiction. Go to conferences. Join a critique group. I’ve tried some of the larger groups online and if that works for you, use the experience. I know others who have found great support that way. For me personally, meeting regularly with just a few people is more productive.  

Let your imagination soar. Write fast and furious; allow your story time to take off and grow. When it’s written, then take the time to edit slowly and carefully. Trying to edit while writing can plunge you into a never-ending cycle of re-writing without moving forward.

And—last but certainly not least—have fun with it. Take joy in the process of creation.

Learn more about C.S. in her bio and links listed below.

C.S. Wachter lives in rural Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, with her husband Joe, one German Shepherd, and three cats. She and Joe have been married for more than forty years and have three sons, one grandson and one granddaughter.

Ms. Wachter earned her degree in Performing Arts and English Education from Rowan University in 1975. She compares developing a character’s perspective to preparing for an acting role. As a life-long lover of books, she has read and enjoyed a variety of genres. However, after reading J. R. R. Tolkien in middle school her favorite has been, and remains to this day, Fantasy with a Christian perspective.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cswachter/

Website: https://cswachter.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17719497.C_S_Wachter

Click below for Amazon links:

Amazon author page

The Sorcerer’s Bane

The Light Arises

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, T.E. Bradford

36878543_125578318354679_4835224291496689664_nMy guest blogger for today is T.E. Bradford. The first book in her YA fantasy trilogy will be released in September, and she has already published a book on her battle with cancer. Welcome, Tracy!

Me: Which comes first when developing a story – characters, setting, or plot?

T.E.: My stories are very character driven, but it’s hard to separate the plot from the characters in my head—they sort of come as a package deal. I see stories and scenes in my head like a movie is playing. The trick is to write them well enough so readers can see them too.

 Me: What are some unique challenges to writing speculative fiction?

T.E.: Writing speculative, the story is by nature a bit unbelievable. Making it believable, while keeping that element of the fantastic, can be a delicate line to walk. Sometimes a choice of one adjective over another can make a huge difference.

 Me: What do you do to renew your inspiration when it is running low?

T.E.: Write more! LOL

Yeah, I’m kind of a geek. I also read a LOT. Like 3-4 books a week. And I’m one of those people who has crazy vivid dreams. They can provide a lot of good inspiration.

 Me: What advice would you give to someone who wants to write speculative fiction?

T.E.: Dream with all your senses! I coined that line as my first “brand” headline for my website, and I still love it. I think it captures the idea that you are dreaming, yet still bringing in all of the sensory information to make it as real as possible. Also, don’t let anyone poo-poo your idea. It’s yours. This is speculative fiction we’re talking about, after all. So what if no one else has done it? In fact, that’d be awesome if you could find something no one has ever done. So just go for it.

The first book in my Divide Series – Child of Prophecy, is set to release this September with Elk Lake Publishing. It’s so exciting, and I would not be doing it if I hadn’t just jumped out in faith and let God take my writing where He wanted it to go.

Here’s a quick blurb for Child of Prophecy:

Being different is bad, until you find out it’s the one thing that might save you.

Fifteen-year-old Nova would give anything to fit in. But there’s a reason she feels so out of place in this world—she’s from another one. And prophecy says she’s destined to destroy them both.

 Check out T.E.’s bio and links below.


Tracy is a writer, singer-songwriter, cancer survivor and proud wife and mother. Born and raised in Central New York, she will tell you that her parents gave her the two best tools in her arsenal by reading to her and raising her in a Christian household. In spite of the long CNY winters she continues to live there with the husband that God created just for her, and the son who is her forever best story. In her heart, she feels that her gift of writing is a little piece of magic, and that it is both her privilege and grandest adventure to find new ways to stretch a hand out to touch the wonder of this vast universe God created.


Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TEBradford


Twitter: https://twitter.com/TE_Bradford

On Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/T.E.-Bradford/e/B01LYP25SS/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Website: http://www.tebradford.com




Monday Sparks: Writing Prompt for Speculative Fiction

whale-2722172_1280What if whales did live in the sky? How would that affect the weather? Flight patterns?

I can just hear an announcement at the airport: “All flights are cancelled from JFK today because the Cloud Humpbacks have begun their annual migration sooner than expected. We will resume flights as soon as it is safe.”

What if all the life in the sea was in the sky? Would we travel by sea? Weather reports would have to include what the animals were doing, unless I did a total reversal and had the sea act like the sky and have all weather originate there.

What “what if” questions does the picture spark for you?

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Jenelle Leanne Schmidt

Small Author PhotoThe world of speculative fiction covers so many subgeneres. Earlier, I had Jason C. Joyner talk about his superhero novel and today I have Jenelle Leanne Schmidt, who writes epic fantasy. Welcome, Jenelle!

Me: Which comes first when developing a story – characters, setting, or plot?

 Jenelle: With regards to what comes first, personally, I think anything goes. Some authors start with a character. Others start with a plot line. Still others begin with their world-building. Although my stories tend to be heavily character-driven, I’ve used all three of these as my starting points, and I can’t honestly say that I prefer one over the other. What works is going to vary from one author to the next, and even from one story to the next.

 Me: What are some unique challenges to writing speculative fiction?

 Jenelle: There are many challenges that are unique to writing speculative fiction. It deals with the imagination in ways very few other genres do, and begs the reader to suspend their disbelief a bit more than other genres.

One of the main challenges to writing speculative fiction is the setting. Most fantasy and sci-fi stories take place in different worlds. They may be connected to our world via a portal of some kind, but they are separate entities, and as such, they need to be defined and explained and described extremely well, as they are not places a reader can ever actually visit. If there is futuristic technology or magic or the characters have abilities that defy our laws of science, those things need a sensible explanation that the reader will accept as reasonable. This gets even more difficult if the story isset in our own world, because the author needs to come up with well thought-through explanations for the more fantastical elements of the story.

Another difficulty I’ve observed has been the overuse of tropes. Tropes can be a very good thing, but if they are consistently used in the same way, they become cliches.

 Me: What do you do to renew your inspiration when it is running low?

 Jenelle: When my inspiration runs low, it often means I need a break. Sometimes this means doing something else for a while and NOT thinking about my story, other times it simply means a break from staring at the screen – and talking through ideas I have or the problem spot I’m stuck on with someone else.

 Me: What advice would you give to someone who wants to write speculative fiction?

Jenelle: Be creative. Let your imagination loose. What tropic elements are in your story? Think about how you can turn them around and use them to surprise your reader. Make sure you think through the world-building aspect of the story and really make the setting come alive through your descriptions and explanations… and make sure that the setting is important to the story. If you could take your same story and not lose anything by setting it somewhere more mundane, then maybe think of ways to make the setting more important either through the obstacles it presents or the themes it can convey.

To learn more, visit Jenelle at the sites below.

Minstrels Call Cover

Jenelle Leanne Schmidt is a dreamer, compulsive opener-of-doors, and award-winning author of the new novel: Minstrel’s Call. She resides in Wisconsin with her husband and their four adorable children who are all named after characters in The Lord of the Rings.

Blog: http://jenelleschmidt.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/JenelleLeanneSchmidt/

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JenelleLSchmidt/

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Jason C. Joyner

36978778_10157217267360730_8470087880406990848_nToday speculative fiction writer Jason C. Joyner is joining me. His first novel, for the YA Christian market about superheroes,  just came out on July 3. Welcome, Jason!

Me: Which comes first when developing a story – characters, setting, or plot?

Jason: I usually see characters in a specific setting. My first novel was a man floating face down in the water, dead. I had to find out why and who cared about him.

For my YA superhero novel I saw two kids dealing with weird fallout from their powers. A kid with super speed who kept wearing out shoes, and a depressed girl who tried to dye her hair black but her hair turned back blonde because she can manipulate light.

From those images (because they are quite stark in my head), I’ll ask questions about the circumstances. The plot comes next, and I’ll think of settings to go with everything.

 MeWhat are some unique challenges to writing speculative fiction?

Jason: Speculative fiction is fun to write, but you have to go beyond what you can research. In many other genres, you can research specifically the technology, weapons, vehicles, etc. that you need. I had to create routers that spread a mental suggestion across a campus. I used things like fiber optic cables as inspiration for another aspect of the story, but then I have to add the “speculative” factor.

 Me: What do you do to renew your inspiration when it is running low?

Jason: I have had plenty of rejections from agents, but I’m thankful that most have included comments like, “The talent is there, you just need to find the right project.” I’ll look at those or positive reviews of stories to remind me I can do this. I’ll look at Pinterest for images that inspire. I like to find soundtracks or epic instrumental music to get me in the mode of writing. Finally, I’ll set the timer on my cell phone. While the timer’s running I must write – no internet distractions, changing music, getting snacks. Hands on the keys then!

 Me: What advice would you give to someone who wants to write speculative fiction?

 Jason: Read widely. Write what you would enjoy reading, but be aware of the standard tropes if you’re writing epic fantasy vs. hard sci-fi vs. zombie apocalypse. Speculative is a broad term, and the fans of different sub-genres will expect certain things. It’s not that you can’t do new or different things, but be aware of what their expectations are.

To learn more about Jason and his new YA superhero novel Launch, check out the links below.

36969644_10157217267365730_1118897216069566464_nJason C. Joyner is a physician assistant, a writer, a Jesus-lover, and a Star Wars geek. He’s traveled from the jungles of Thailand to the cities of Australia and the Bavarian Alps of Germany. He lives in Idaho with his lovely wife, three boys, and daughter managing the chaos of sports and superheroes in his own home. Launch, a YA superhero story, is his first published novel.

Social media:
Facebook: www.facebook.com/jasoncjoyner– You can join my Facebook group, The Heroes’ Hangout at https://www.facebook.com/groups/229022587673013/
Twitter: www.twitter.com/jasoncjoyner
Instagram: www.instagram.com/jasoncjoyner
Launch Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/jasoncjoyner/launch/
Launch playlist on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/user/124166539/playlist/4sB5rCXHYQ0wxA43gB7Oyr

Purchase links:
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Launch-Rise-Anointed-Jason-Joyner/dp/0998624381/ref=pd_rhf_gw_p_img_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=83XMXW8YRKBH0DTKNW9V

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/launch-jason-c-joyner/1128415598?ean=9780998624389



Monday Sparks — Writing Prompt: Character Sketch

fantasyw-3281907_1280So who is the person in the picture? He’s obviously a super-being, but what kind of super-being? Hero or villain?

When I first saw the picture, the costume reminded me of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent of Aztec mythology. The sunrise or sunset made me think of a southern city baking under a tropical sun. I did some research and learned Quetzalcoatl was the god of the wind and the dawn. So here’s my take on a new superhero:

Name: Quetzalcoatl

Real name: Unknown

Location: Latin American city

Super powers: Flying. Commanding the wind. Powers strongest in the hours after dawn, weakest on moonless nights.

Antagonists: Criminals and anyone who preys on helpless people

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Michelle Levigne

michelle-levigne-LR-2Because I am focusing this month on speculative fiction, I have asked several authors who specialize in that genre to guest blog. First up is my friend Michelle Levigne. Michelle writes in many genres, not just speculative fiction, but in that category she covers steampunk, fantasy, and science-fi.

Me: Which usually comes first when developing a story – characters, setting, or plot?

 Michelle : Plot — but even that isn’t right. Usually the story starts as an idea, an image that comes into my head, a spin-off from another idea, a chance remark someone makes, a joke, a “Hey, what if THIS happened instead of what happened in the movie/book?” or sometimes a reaction to a cool idea that was badly done and I think about how I could do it better — or at least differently. C.S. Lewis said the Narnia books started with just an image he had of a faun carrying parcels, walking through a snowy wood. Just yesterday, I remarked to my mother that all the Hallmark “royal wedding” stories are soooo cookie cutter, so I dreamed up an idea that was the opposite of the checklist they offer. For instance, my royal wedding (If I ever wrote it) would have a princess, not a prince. He breaks it off because he is a threat to the kingdom, not just to a bunch of social rules. She would abdicate her throne for him. Someone conniving is trying to throw them together instead of tear them apart. Someone wants to hurt her tiny kingdom, instead of allegedly “protect” it. See what I mean? 

Me: Since you write in multiple genres, do you have a favorite? Have you ever started a story in one genre and switched it to another?

 Michelle: I can’t say I have a favorite genre. The requirements of the story sometimes pick the genre. For instance, magic would work better than superhero/telepathic powers (although some might claim they are actually the same thing) or the social situation I need for my story works better in a past culture rather than futuristic, or vice versa.

And yes, that just happened to me. In fact, I’m still working on the switch. I wrote a book a few years ago that was the first in a planned 4-book series, science fiction, near-future, taking place on a farming colony set up on an alien world — Earth is starving and it’s worth the expense of setting up alien colonies to feed the planet. I am changing it to fantasy, where it’s not an alien world but a series of worlds on the other side of a magical doorway. Instead of rebel colonists and alien creatures, I have very angry denizens of Faerie who were driven from Earth and want their planet back. Even if they have to kill off all the nasty mortals. I had to gut large portions of the setup for the SF series to make it fantasy, but I think it’s a better book. And hopefully a better series someday.

 MeWhat are some unique challenges to writing speculative fiction?

 Michelle: The world-building — which is the fun part, sometimes — but it’s tricky because you’re building a WORLD. How much do you make like the modern, terrestrial biology, society, technology, politics, and how much do you change? How much science do you have to know, to keep people who know more in those areas from throwing the book against the wall because you broke all sorts of laws of science? How much can you get away with by having your characters either ignorant of the physical/scientific/magical laws, and how much do you have to explain, and where does vital information stop and info-dump begin?

There’s a little bit of a challenge to try to make it unique, and not follow trends that have gone on so long they’ve become cliché. Because as Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun. You can work so hard creating a totally unique setting — you believe — and then just after you turn the book in to a publisher, a book is released to critical acclaim that makes you swear someone was hacking your computer every night, to steal your story.

This actually happened to me when the TV show “Beauty and the Beast” was on. I had just finished a script and had requested the release form, to send it to the production company. That week, an episode aired that had my general idea {drugs invading Down Below) and even some of my lines, starting with, “That’s not the Vincent we know.” Yeah, right, like Ron Koslow needed to spy on our writing group that met at McDonald’s every Tuesday night?

 Me: What do you do to renew your inspiration when you’re running low?

 Michelle: I take a break. I read. I watch movies. I go do chores, because usually the low point of inspiration is just a feeling of, “Okay, I thought I knew what happened next but I can’t find it,” and I give my brain a break. Usually when I’m busy doing something else, the solution shows up. I can’t count all the times I’ve been driving or sitting in church or doing something else and I get the “fix” for a problem in a story, or I get an idea for character background, or I get a new tangent for the plot that is a lot more fun than where I planned to go originally. I’ve learned to always have paper and pen ready. I feel sorry for my Sunday school teacher, who must think I’m taking notes all through class, but I’m actually replotting the current story, or brainstorming as I work through a new idea for a new project.

A good stimulus for creativity is to go watch a movie or TV show or read a book that is just ludicrous, and you have to wonder who wasted the money to produce the wretched thing and then inflict it on the watching/reading public. If the idea is good, but the execution stinks, naturally you start thinking about how it could have been changed and fixed. And sometimes come up with a completely new, original story. Or at least a bit of inspiration for a character or background or piece of technology or a side story or just a fun tangent to explore.

And when all else fails, chocolate lubricates the mental and creative gears.

 Me: What advice would you give to someone interested in writing speculative fiction?

 Michelle: #1: Have fun. Unless you have incredible luck and a faerie godmother or you’re disgustingly talented right off the bat, it’s going to take years to produce something someone will want to publish. So make sure you’re writing what makes you happy and feeds your soul, because that is what will keep you going until the day “the call” comes.

#2: Play in other people’s playgrounds, first. Meaning write fan fiction. There are hundreds of fandoms out there, for anything you can think of. Fan magazines. Online sites where people post bits of stories and artwork and homemade videos. Get into fandom and find people who will be honest and kind, and who will grant you the freedom and wiggle room to explore your own vision for the fandom you love. You want people who will give you feedback on your use of established characters, situations, settings, customs and technology. This is a place where you can practice writing stories without having to spend time and energy creating the worlds. Like walking into a theater full of costumes and a full set on the stage, and you’re free to make up a play that goes with the costumes and set.

Then when you’re ready to launch, and write in your own worlds, you might just have friends and followers who will cheer you on and come explore your playground with you.

Me: Thanks so much for stopping by! To learn more about Michelle and her books, check out her bio and links below.



On the road to publication, Michelle fell into fandom in college (she is a recovering Trekker, and adores “Warehouse 13,” “Stargate SG-1,” “The Dresden Files,” and “The Librarians.”), and has 40+ stories in various SF and fantasy universes. She has a BA in theater/English from Northwestern College and a MA focused on film and writing from Regent University. She has published 80+ books and novellas with multiple small presses, in science fiction and fantasy, YA, and sub-genres of romance. Her official launch into publishing came with winning first place in the Writers of the Future contest in 1990. She has been a finalist in the EPIC Awards competition multiple times, winning with Lorien in 2006 and The Meruk Episodes, I-V, in 2010. Her most recent claim to fame is being named a finalist in the SF category of the 2018 Realm Award competition, in conjunction with the Realm Makers conference. Her training includes the Institute for Children’s Literature; proofreading at an advertising agency; and working at a community newspaper. She is a tea snob and freelance edits for a living (MichelleLevigne@gmail.com for info/rates), but only enough to give her time to write.




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