Welcome to the Dragon's Pen, the blog of an aspiring kiwi author ... chatting about reading, writing, querying and publishing

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fantasy: Thinking outside the Square.

As secretary for the Dunedin writer's workshop, it was my turn to take the short lesson at last week's meeting. Our next competition in October will be judged by the fabulous Tania Roxborogh and the theme is Speculative Fiction. Many of our members have never written fantasy or Science fiction and were feeling a little out of their depth with the subject. So our lesson for Wednesday was: "Speculative Fiction - what is it?"

I wrote up a basic definition;

"Speculative fiction is the umbrella term for all of the fiction genres that embrace the “other”, by this I mean stories and novels that are a bit outside the square in terms of the “real world”."
And listed a few genres that come under this wonderful umbrella term including elements or themes that are often an important part of each genre. I have restricted myself to Science fiction, Fantasy, Gothic fiction, Paranormal and Fairy tales.

Note, my lists are very simplistic. If we wanted to be really technical each other these genres can be split up into scores of sub-genres - but we won't go there. The whole point behind this was to introduce Speculative fiction novices to the genres of the fantastical genres, to help them understand what makes each one different to it's fellows and to make them feel that writing something so outside their comfort zone is possible and can be FUN!

Science Fiction

  • other worlds; other civilisations; other universes.

  • often futuristic; often involves space or space travel.

  • may involve magic, but usually uses futuristic technologies


  • often “other” lands, sometimes other worlds

  • often (but not always) in a historical setting

  • sometimes a futuristic or alternative twist on a historical culture (ie: steampunk)

  • usually has quests and heroes who save the world, the land, the princess, etc

  • magic is an important element, but the form of the magic varies

  • sometimes magic and technology are mixed

  • often magical items are involved (ie: the ring in Lord of the Rings)

  • sometimes old fashioned technologies with a futuristic twist (ie: steampunk)

  • often characters are connected to royalty … or from among the lower classes

  • often mythical creatures are used; giants, ogres, dragons, flying horses, unicorns, genies and talking creatures, etc.


  • usual set in the real world, cities and towns as we know them

  • may involve the faerie, werewolves, vampires, ghosts, angels, demons, zombies, shape shifters or other creatures of myth who are semi-human.

  • often involves a journey of self-discovery; a love story which must overcome extreme “paranormal” obstacles; a mystery to be solved.


  • elements of horror / terror

  • elements of romance

  • elements of mystery and suspense

  • historical setting

  • prominent features are: supernatural, ghosts, haunted houses, gothic architecture, darkness, death, madness and transgressions, persecuted females, secrets and hereditary curses.

  • may also involve vampires, werewolves, monster, demons, fallen angels, skeletons and ghosts, maniacs, bandits and villains.

Fairy tales and Folktales

  • often (but not always) in a historical setting

  • often teaches the reader something about human character, mostly folktales do this

  • may involve magic or magical items, sometimes quests or tasks must be undertaken

  • evil vs good is a common theme (ie: Rapunzel and Snow White)

  • often mythical creatures are used; giants, ogres, dragons, flying horses, genies, talking creatures, etc. (ie: George and Dragon)

  • sometimes uses bewitched creatures/people (ie: Rose Red and Rose White)

Of course not every story in these genres will have every one of these things is them, but most stories will have one or more of these elements. So for those of you who are new to the fantasy genres I hope this helps you gain an insight into the crazy worlds we write. Perhaps it may even inspire you to try your hand at writing something "other." I hope so.

Enjoy dabbing. Mix things up. Play around with different ideas. Most importantly have FUN with it.

If you're in Dunedin and you're interested in dropping by the Dunedin Writer's Workshop we meet every Second Wednesday of the month at 7.30pm. If you'd like to learn more feel free to email me (you can find my details on the "Who am I?" page at this blog).

In other news: I'm proud to say I've finally finished editing my latest fairytale, Bittersweet. It's nice to have it done and dusted, and looking pretty on my flash drive.
I guess that means it's time to get writing something else.

1 comment:

  1. I can't wait to read the final dusted down version of Bittersweet. I wonder what you will come up with next?