Speculative fiction is a story that asks “What if?” and then answers the question through the plot. Most people consider speculative fiction to be a sub-genre of fantasy or science fiction. In reality, a speculative fiction story can borrow elements from both of these genres (and many others too).

I love reading (and writing) speculative fiction because it sparks my imagination. While, I like a good coming of age story as much as the next reader, when you add in the what-if element things get a lot more interesting.

For example:

What if an orphaned boy found out he was secretly a famous wizard?

Sound familiar?

Here’s another one:

What if children had to fight to the death to protect their hometowns?

Some of the most popular stories of our time can be boiled down to a single question. The rest of the book, or the rest of the series, is there to answer it.

Examples of Speculative Fiction Books

The what if question isn’t just a curiosity. It’s the the force that sets the plot in motion. This is where most of my favorite stories start.

Neil Gaiman‘s American Gods: What if the old gods are real and get into a fight with the new gods we’ve set up for ourselves in the modern world?

Neal Shusterman‘s Scythe: What if humans stopped dying and we had to find a way to keep the population manageable?

Phillip Pullman‘s His Dark Materials Series: What if people wore their souls on the outside?

The first what if question leads to other questions: What would have to happen for this to be true? What would the world look like? How would people think and feel? And then what?

How to write speculative fiction

I consider myself a writer of speculative fiction because my own writing often starts with a question. My upcoming novel “Nothing’s Ever Lost” answers the question: What if dying isn’t the end of the adventure?

My short story “Remade” also started with a question: What if someone made a teleportation device that didn’t work as intended?

If you want to write a speculative fiction story, all you need is a question “What if… ” fill in the blank. It should be one that lights up your imagination. Here are some writing prompts to get you started.