According to Wikipedia, speculative fiction is “an umbrella term encompassing the more fantastical genres, specifically science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history in literature as well as related static, motion and virtual arts.”
A simpler way to think of speculative fiction might simply be as stories that take us beyond the world we know.
In taking us beyond the world we inhabit, one containing familiar people, places, laws and social mores, and technology, writers of speculative fiction face challenges both similar to and different than writers of more “down to earth” contemporary or historical genres.
For speculative writers, as for many, the story often begins with a character. Yet, are there unusual methods involved with creating characters like a young man infused with superhuman strength, a laboratory-crafted creature, a rescue operation starship commander or a time-travelling soccer mom?
The answer is yes and no.
On one level, character development is as straightforward for the speculative author as for any other writer. Author Carole McDonnell says, “Character development is pretty much the same as it is in non-fantastical worlds, unless the person has some power that they have to learn how to wield or some inherited family magic trait.” She goes on to explain that as long as characters act consistently with the laws of their unusual Storyworld and the author continues to believe, readers generally will go along. “If you start not believing in your created world, then the reader will feel your disbelief
. . . Human sin and human emotional pain is [sic] everywhere and that is what needs to be understood and believed in.”
Author Chesya Burke imagines how her characters might behave in whatever circumstances she positions them. “In many cases, the magical world in which my characters exist is natural for them, so the unordinary becomes ordinary and acceptable for the character, and for the reader, I hope.”
Writer Patchet Spates, whose stories include vampires, demons and the like, when asked whether character creation presents any special challenges, said, “You really have to think about your characters as both human and superhuman . . . I believe that you have to be able to include some human-like traits to your monsters and monster-like traits to your human characters.” Spates stresses the need, however, to keep the characters believable by putting them realistic situations even if the settings are supernatural.
Incorporating faith seemed to be less of an issue than getting people of faith to accept and be comfortable with speculative genres. Speculative fiction may examine or seem to contradict faith in a way that can be disconcerting.
Not all speculative fiction contains otherworldly characters. Sometimes, it’s the setting or time period that makes the story speculative. Fantasy, for example, frequently features clans or tribes; science fiction often incorporates people from another planet. With these new people come new cultures, cultures that are completely crafted by the writer. Thus, the writer gets to break any and every social belief or stereotype.
Creating multicultural characters might seem to be no big deal for these writers. However, at least one Christian horror writer, author Maurice Broaddus, says, “It’s to the point where I go into an urban fantasy expecting not to encounter minority characters other than in a ‘magical Negro’-type capacity.” Broaddus clarifies that historically, few authors of horror or fantasy were people of color, and when white authors have included black characters, it is often only in secondary roles designed to “guide the main heroes on their way (and typically die a sacrificial death along the way in so doing).”
Broaddus is not alone in his thinking. It’s a long-running joke in the black community that a black person in a film, particularly a speculative one, will be the first to die. Should the character live longer than expected, he or she still typically will hold a supporting role designed to aid the white protagonist. Consider Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) in Star Wars, Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) in the Star Trek series, even Halle Berry as Storm in the Xmen films. Rarely is the person in command a person of color. A notable exception would be Commander/Captain Benjamin Sisko of Star Trek Deep Space Nine, played by actor and professor Avery Brooks.
Characters of other ethnicities are treated in similar fashion. It seems that despite the obvious opportunity for thinking beyond the boundaries of real society, character casting in speculative fiction has a way to go as far as ethnic diversity and characters playing against type. Several authors mentioned this as an impetus for their writing of speculative fiction.
Still, Broaddus feels, “Story is story and characters are characters. Characters must be fleshed out and as real as possible to give the reader someone to latch onto and experience the story through. No matter how otherworldly the story, at its heart, is an examination of the human condition.”
Patricia Woodside does business and financial analysis by day; she reads and writes by night. She is the mother of three sons and is a transplanted New Yorker living in Florida. She is working on her first inspirational romance.