Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Speculative Fiction

Margaret Atwood

Lesson time 12:33 min

Learn Margaret's approach to writing speculative fiction and her advice on how to generate ideas and build your world in this genre.

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Topics include: "Generating Ideas for Speculative Fiction • Stick to Your Own Rules • The Difference Between Utopias and Dystopias • Creating a New Species in Oryx and Crake"


So there's speculative fiction and there's science fiction. And there's science fiction fantasy and there's fantasy. And you might put them all under a big umbrella called wonder tales. So wonder tales are not naturalist. They're not the world that we find ourselves in here and now today. Speculative fiction is a way of dealing with possibilities that are inherent in our society now, but which have not yet been fully enacted. You can look at books like "Brave New World," Zamyatin's "We," and "1984," things for which we've got the technology more or less, and arranged in a space on the planet we happen to be living on. Science fiction, usually we think of other galaxies, other planets, other sorts of things entirely. And I write speculative fiction not because I don't like the other kind, but because I can't write it. It's not within my skill set. [MUSIC PLAYING] If you're interested in writing speculative fiction or even science fiction, look around you at what's happening in the world. Read some newspapers. Often the back pages of the newspapers, or even a magazine like "New Scientist" or "Scientific American" will open the doors to some of the things that people are working on right now, but may not have succeeded in doing yet. But it does show what they're interested in achieving. And you can take that idea, and just move it a little further down the road. My mother, I found, when going through her effects after she had died, had saved two whole newspapers. She saved the whole newspaper about the moon landing, and she saved a newspaper about a report made by the Club of Rome in 1972. And what the Club of Rome was saying in 1972 was if we don't mend our ways in relationship to the environment, by the year 2010, things are going to be like this. And we didn't, and they are. Unfortunately, human beings are quite short-term thinkers, and especially politicians are short-term thinkers. So had I been writing a spec fic about social media, it would have been quite easy to predict that somebody was going to steal all the data and use it to manipulate elections. [MUSIC PLAYING] Speculative fiction is fiction, and therefore, all the rules that apply to writing fiction, including making it interesting, making it plausible, making it accurate to itself, all of those things apply to it. Just because it's speculative fiction does not mean it's going to be automatically interesting. There is a whole category of readers who won't read it. They just say, I don't read that, which is kind of silly of them, because there's nothing about genre that means that a genre book is a bad book or that it's a good book. It's a book, and it has to be good on its own terms, period. So by saying, I don't read that, they're just excluding a lot of pretty good books from their reading experience. If you're writing speculative fiction or science fiction, you can't violate the rules that you yourself have set up, or just to take it back to "Gullive...

About the Instructor

Called the “Prophet of Dystopia,” Margaret Atwood is one of the most influential literary voices of our generation. In her first-ever online writing class, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale teaches how she crafts compelling stories, from historical to speculative fiction, that remain timeless and relevant. Explore Margaret’s creative process for developing ideas into novels with strong structures and nuanced characters.

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Margaret Atwood

Learn how the author of The Handmaid’s Tale crafts vivid prose and hooks readers with her timeless approach to storytelling.

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