world building

World building: Everything-In-One-Process You Need for Creating a Fictional World

Are you having a tough time writing a fantasy novel? 

Maybe you get stuck in the world building stage too long and never actually make it to the drafting process. Maybe you skip the world building stage altogether and find yourself stranded in the middle of a story with not even a map to help you out. 

Hey, not judging. It happens to the best of us! 

There’s no need to despair: we’ve got a set of tools that will help you streamline your worldbuilding process to make sure you’re prepared, organized, and most importantly, set up to finish your book with ease. 

Genre: Fantasy or Sci-Fi World building? 

First things first: we need to know what kind of a world we’re building. 

The advice in this article will be applicable for fantasy or sci-fi genres, but I wanted to touch on the two major types of genres you’ll be working with when you’re world building and explain why the difference matters. 

world building

Fantasy World building 

Fantasy and sci-fi are technically the same genre, both slotted under ‘speculative fiction.’ When I talk about ‘fantasy’ worlds, I’m talking about high fantasy. Think Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, The Poppy War, et cetera. 

High fantasy worlds tend to have a focus on the magical. They also tend to take place in a setting that we would think of as inspired by the past—-if you’re looking for a more futuristic feel, sci-fi might be more your speed. There isn’t much focus on science or tech, and it’s mostly alright for magic and mythical creatures to roam around without much real-world explanation. 

Fantasy worlds should still have their own internal logic (sci-fi or fantasy), but high fantasy will be less interested in the tech behind the magic. 

Sci-Fi World building

Sci-fi worldbuilding can be distinguished by its focus on science. When you’re working on your sci-fi story, whether it’s a space opera, a dying Earth piece, or a dystopian novel, you’ll want to focus on science. 

This doesn’t mean everything needs to make perfect scientific sense, unless you’re writing hard sci-fi. But it means that in general, you’ll be more focused on technology, science, and speculation about real-world problems. 

Use a Template 

Whether you’re writing a sci-fi novel or a high fantasy novel, you’ll still need to, well, do some worldbuilding. So where do you start? 

A template can be super useful for getting all of your thoughts organized and externalized. You don’t want to dump all this information into your draft—-exposition dumps are a quick way to turn your reader off—-but it’s also important to have your information handy to reference later. 

Get started with an online world building template. This one from novelsoftware.com covers a huge chunk of questions to get you thinking about all the intricate details involving your world and how it works! 

Having trouble figuring out what to put in those boxes? We’ve got you covered with some things to consider while you’re building your world. 

FREE 25-page Novel Outline Template  Finish your book FASTER by downloading this FREE template that's  pre-formatted, easy to use, and you can fill-in-the-blank!  YES! GET MY OUTLINE!

Geography

Where is everyone? 

The geographic setting of your story will dramatically impact the characters and world. Where a place is determines the sort of resources that area produces, which in turn has a lot to do with the sorts of jobs people will have and the sort of cultures that emerge. 

Look at the real world for examples of this. People living in the Arctic Circle might dress in thick layers for the cold, while people living in the middle of a tropical rainforest might dress more lightly to stay cool. They’ll have different methods of gathering food, different customs surrounding different seasons, and so on. 

Does your story take place on an island? A desert? A spaceship? The place a person lives will change the opportunities and experiences they have growing up, so it’s important to consider carefully. Even though you’re writing fantasy, you still want your world to be believable to the reader, so make sure your characters, animals, and everything else makes sense for their geographic location. 

Language 

There are a few different schools of thought when it comes to crafting a new fantasy language. Tolkein set something of an unrealistic standard here, and a lot of emerging fantasy authors think they’re obligated to craft a new fantasy language, while some insist that you shouldn’t even try. 

So should you make a new language? 

Well, if you want. 

If you’re a linguistics nerd and you really want a new language, go ahead! Just don’t let yourself get so carried away with the made-up languages that you forget to actually write the book, and don’t forget that the story and its characters should remain the most important part of the story. Your readers, by and large, won’t take the time to learn the language you wrote, and making the book too inaccessible could turn them off. 

This is also true when you’re creating new cultures. It’s important to make your cultures believable, consistent, and thought-through, but it’s also important to keep them down to Earth. Generally speaking, a super complicated culture full of complex ritual might be hard for a reader to keep track of. 

Culture 

Culture is steeped into every part of a person’s life, whether they realize it or not! It is the culmination of a ton of factors, including geographic location, religious customs, language, political structures, and so on. 

Here are a few things to ask yourself about your setting’s culture: 

What’s the religion here? How seriously do people follow it? 

What’s the political structure? (We’ll talk more about this in a minute.) 

What sorts of customs and traditions do these people have? 

What sorts of customs and traditions do these people ignore? For example, in our world, we have Presidents’ Day, but people aren’t exactly going out and celebrating the presidents—-it’s more of a neat chance to take a day off work. 

What’s the attitude towards elders and children? Why? 

Characters in the New World 

One you have your world set up, you’re going to need some people in it—-after all, a book needs characters! 

But how do you make your characters feel real and believable in this made-up world? 

The big trick to making a believable world is context. We don’t need to tell the reader every little detail of the world the characters are living in—-in fact, we probably shouldn’t. Instead, having characters who react in accordance with their personality to their environment is what tells us about them and their world. 

In other words, readers will learn about your characters and your world by watching your character interact with their world. 

Here are just a few things to consider when you’re setting up your characters: 

Who’s In Charge? Why? 

Power dynamics are everything in fiction, and especially in a fantasy setting. Sociological shifts of power are the chief source of a ton of societal tension, and if you know how to use this appropriately in your story, it’ll breathe a lot of life into your setting. 

Who’s in charge, and what does the government look like? How did they come to power, and is that power sustainable? How do the people feel about it, or are they divided? If they’re divided, why? 

Who’s privileged in this structure, and who is less so? 

More importantly, how does your character feel about it, and where do they fall in this power structure? 

If you’ve got a dwarf character in a kingdom where the elves invaded and installed a cruel king just a few decades ago, for example, your dwarf character is probably going to have some thoughts and feelings on the current government (and probably about elves in general). 

How’s it Going at Home? 

Another way to get into the dynamics in your fantasy world is to consider life at home. Again, geography is going to impact this a lot—-maybe a family in a port city will spend a lot of time fishing and sailing for resources, while a village in the subtropics will do more foraging and scouting. 

But more than that, consider power dynamics in the house. Who is considered the ‘leader’ of the house? Why? Is this reason political, religious, or both? Maybe no one is in charge at home (yay!), and you’ve got a pretty egalitarian situation on your hands. 

Who are your characters’ parents? What do they do, and do they get along? Why or why not? We ask these questions in any fiction story to make the character feel more real, but it’s especially important in a fantasy novel. 

It’s also important to consider what opportunities your character does and doesn’t have. If your character grows up impoverished, how does that impact their wants? Does it make them strive for wealth, or does it make them bitter about nobility? 

This will also give you the chance to consider what wealth or impoverishment looks like in your world, which will determine a lot about your society as a whole. 

Mapping Your New World 

Maps aren’t for everyone, and that’s okay! But if you’re making a fantasy novel, it can be really useful to have a map handy to check where your characters are. Even if you don’t publish your fantasy map, having it on hand to make sure your characters aren’t going in circles or clearing hundreds of miles on foot in a matter of days is a solid way to avoid hiccups. 

I’m not a particularly gifted artist, personally, and I know a lot of other writers feel me when I say that a map I draw up myself is going to be neither helpful nor pretty to look at. 

Thankfully, we’re living in the digital age, and some kind souls have taken the time to put together accessible map-making methods! Here are a few links to free map-building resources where you can map out your world and all its wonderful details. Enjoy! 

Before you embark on your world building journey… 

There’s no right or wrong way to worldbuild. You might need to get a draft out before you can sit down and fuss through the details, and you might need to complete a full template and map before you can get through a draft. 

But whatever style you prefer, I hope these tips, tricks, and tools are helpful for you! 

FREE 25-page Novel Outline Template  Finish your book FASTER by downloading this FREE template that's  pre-formatted, easy to use, and you can fill-in-the-blank!  YES! GET MY OUTLINE!

Do you have any worldbuilding resources to recommend? Let us know in the comments! 

dr-henry-cloud-interview

SPS 107: How To Write A Perennial Bestseller If You’re “Not A Writer” with Dr. Henry Cloud (The Real Secret To Selling 20 Million Copies)

Writing Books 

Dr. Henry Cloud is a leadership consultant working with Fortune 500 companies and a best-selling author with his books selling over 20 million copies. His first book was a passion project, Changes of You, and then he decided years later to write another book, Boundaries. Thinking that he wouldn’t have to talk about the subject and common questions after writing his book, Dr. Cloud finds the complete opposite. No matter where he goes, Henry is talking about the subject matter of his book.

Dr. Henry Cloud’s Advice on Writing a Book

Dr. Cloud says, “make sure that it’s something you’re good at,” you also want to care about your work and to check to see if your book is solving pain points or issues for someone else. He also talks about writing a book that is aligned with the order of the universe.

How Dr. Cloud Avoided being Pigeon-Holed

Although he has had multiple offers from publishers to create a follow-up book, Henry felt that they didn’t encompass the three reasons you should write a book. He did write several other Boundaries books – for leaders, marriage, children, and dating – a series he co-authored with another writer.

Henry’s Process for Book Writing

Not being an author, Henry finds content for a new book. When he hears the same or similar conversation, he develops a competency that is helpful to others. From this point, Dr. Clark will research or take additional workshops or classes to create his content. Henry specifically points out that “When I see enough that the topic matters, and people are getting stuck with the topic, I want to be helpful.” He field tests all his books before putting them out onto the market.

Listen in on today’s episode to find out publishers want to use your platform when you decide on a sequel to your book and why he isn’t market-driven when writing books.

Show Highlights

  • [01:57] Common excuses why people don’t want to write books.
  • [05:28] Using your book to achieve your life according to your dreams. 
  • [08:11] How Dr. Clark decides when to write a book.
  • [10:09] The process Henry uses to decide when and how he should write a book.
  • [11:34] Henry’s writing process and what he does to write books.
  • [17:24] Applying the 80/20 rule to book writing and marketing.
  • [20:56] How he develops his chapter concepts and topics.
  • [24:54] Learning from his previous publishing and writing mistakes.
  • [29:24] Challenges and roadblocks Henry ran into with his first book.
  • [35:09] Aspects of book writing and life that Dr. Clark is very passionate about.
  • [39:42] Creating book-signing events across the United States.
Sci-fi fans and authors

What’s What In Science Fiction: A Starter Pack for Sci-Fi Fans & Authors 

Science fiction is awesome! 

For those of you who don’t know: sci-fi is a genre that focuses on far-off, imagined concepts, usually with an emphasis on futuristic technology. Sci-fi fans and authors agree, it’s a genre of speculative fiction, and it’s long been one of the most popular genres used by authors to explore wild possibilities about our planet—-and other planets, too. 

Sci-fi fans and Authors

If you’re new to sci-fi, or if you’re a fan looking to explore your interests, we’ve compiled a resource for you here. We’ll touch on some sci-fi authors to check out if you’re new to the genre, touch on some tips for writing science fiction, and even give you some sci-fi prompts to get you started! 

Without further ado, here’s a starter pack for sci-fi fans and authors. 

Sci-fi fans and authors

Who To Know: Famous and Best Science Fiction Writers 

If you’re a writer, it’s super important to read in your genre, regardless of what you write. And if write science fiction, you’re probably a fan of science fiction—-I hope—-so you might be interested in exploring some new stories anyway! The most flattering action is to the connection to Sci-fi fans and authors. We all learn first and act afterwards. This beautiful genre is no different.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the most well-known sci-fi to get you started, as well as some titles to try out with your sci-fi book club: 

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Frank Herbert

Frank Herbert is the author of Dune, which  was originally published as a set of serial pieces in Analog magazine back in 1965. It has since been published as a book, and it’s won a ton of critical acclaim! 

This book is largely considered to be one of the best examples of sci-fi out there. It’s got dense, lush worldbuilding, which makes some people a little scared to get into it. But if you haven’t tried it, give it a look, especially if you’re interested in a masterclass in worldbuilding! 

Ray Bradbury

If you’re a fan of dystopian fiction or speculative fiction rooted heavily in current-day issues, Bradbury’s your guy. You may have read Fahrenheit 451, a novel about a dystopian future in which the government has banned all books, in school. But if that one doesn’t strike your fancy, he’s got plenty of other hits to choose from! 

George Orwell 

Orwell’s another sci-fi dystopian powerhouse. His novels 1984 and Animal Farm have long been used to explore the effects of capitalism on our society (and to torture children in English III). If you had to read his books in school and hated them, I strongly encourage you to give them another try—-his books take a nuanced, detailed approach to a potential dystopian future, and although he wrote them in the 1940’s, they hold up surprisingly well. 

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley 

When she wrote Frankenstein, Mary Shelley single-handedly invented the sci-fi genre—-no joke! Frankenstein is largely considered to be the foundational science fiction text. It hits all the genre touchstones—-science gone too far, a pondering on what technology should be capable of, and what it means to be human. 

That’s a good start into the sci-fi hall of fame. Now that you’ve got a reading list, let’s go over some pointers for writing a sci-fi novel of your own! 

Writing Science Fiction

Sci-fi fans and authors

First things first, we need to make sure we’re on the same page. You may notice that sci-fi and fantasy are often all shelved under ‘sci-fi’ at your local library or bookshop. That’s because the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, and both fall under the ‘speculative’ umbrella. 

We’re talking here about what you think about when you think about sci-fi—-a focus on tech, outer space, that kind of thing. Honestly, a lot of it comes down to genre conventions and tropes. You know high fantasy when you see it. Star Wars might technically be a fantasy story, but it’s probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of sci-fi. 

That being said, these tips are for sci-fi as we think of it, but they’ll probably help you out with fantasy, too. 

Hard vs Soft Sci Fi 

When you’re getting started, it’s important to make sure you know what you’re writing. The best way to do this is to read and figure out what sort of stuff you prefer to read! Here are a few terms to help you narrow down your scope of focus. 

“Hard” sci-fi is technical. It’s focused on scientific accuracy. In a hard sci-fi novel, everything in it should be plausible. It doesn’t have to have happened or already exist—-remember, sci-fi is about an imagined alternate world—-but the science needs to check out. 

A great contemporary example of hard sci-fi is The Martian. It’s speculative (we haven’t landed a man on Mars at all, and the mission depicted in the book didn’t happen), but the science the main character uses to solve his problems and survive on Mars is real. 

“Soft” sci-fi is looser. It’s generally closer to magic—-this is the sci-fi that technically should be classified as fantasy, but it’s still following sci-fi genre conventions and tropes. The Star Wars movies are a great example of soft sci-fi. We don’t know, scientifically, how lightsabers work (and no, the midichlorian explanation from the prequels does NOT count). We have the Force, too, which is functionally just a magic power. What makes it sci-fi is the setting, tropes, and overall feel. 

Find Your Subgenre 

Okay, so hard and soft sci-fi helps, but we still have a billion subgenres to reckon with. Where does your story fit? 

Sci-fi encompasses a huge variety of genres, especially when you consider that much of what we consider fantasy technically is also science fiction, but I’ve got a list of subgenres to help you get a sense of what you might be interested in. 

Alien Invasion

This one’s self-explanatory–alien invasion stories are about extraterrestrial life coming to Earth. E.T., Arrival, and 10 Cloverfield Lane are examples of alien invasion sci-fi. 

Dying Earth

Dying Earth encompasses all those feel-good stories about, you know, the end of Earth. This could be an ecological collapse or an implosion of the planet itself, but the general idea is that the stories concern the apocalypse from a scientific, plausible perspective. 

Science Fantasy 

This one’s a little tricky to nail down. In science fantasy, the world might take some creative liberties when it comes to science and borrow heavily from fantasy, but still contain scientific explanations and sci-fi tropes. 

Star Trek and Star Wars are some examples of science fantasy, but it’s important to note that there’s no hard definition for this subgenre—-it’s kind of a catch-all for that in-between fantasy and sci-fi stuff. 

Social Science Fiction 

Social sci-fi focuses more on contemporary social issues. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is a useful example, as it uses the imaginative lens of science fiction to explore women’s rights issues. This kind of fiction is generally less interested in the specifics of tech and science and more interested in sociological, historical, and political stuff. 

Space Opera 

Because of Star Wars and Star Trek absolutely dominating the sci-fi landscape for so long, most people think of space opera when they think of sci-fi. Space opera involves space warfare! This is all of the intergalactic stuff, and genre touchstones include chivalric romance and dramatic adventures. 

Alright! You’ve got your subgenre, you know what sort of sci-fi you want to write. But there’s still one more tool we can put in your arsenal to help you write your next sci-fi novel. 

Nail Your Premise 

Since sci-fi is speculative in nature, the most important part of it is that initial question: What if? 

The premise of your story is that “what if” question. It’s the thing about which you’re speculating in the story. What if a meteorological disaster caused the end of the world? What if the surveillance state grew to encompass every part of our lives? 

You want your premise to be interesting and full of possibilities. Once you’ve got a solid “what-if,” here are some things to ask yourself: 

How did this happen? 

What happens next? (This will be the plot of your book.) 

Who could solve this problem? (These will probably be your main characters!) 

What are the challenges in solving this problem? (This is your conflict.) 

These questions are helpful when writing any type of book, since all fiction is speculative to some extent. But they’re especially helpful in sci-fi, where it’s important to make sure you’re keeping things more or less scientific and mapping out actions to their logical conclusions. 

Science Fiction Writing Prompts 

Last, but certainly not least, we’ve compiled a few science-fiction writing prompts to help you brainstorm your next sci-fi adventure. These range from sillier to more serious, depending on your preference, and we’ve included a few different subgenres to spark your imagination. Feel free to use these as a jumping-off point for your own ideas! 

A horrible storm wipes out all electricity in the continental US. 

During an intergalactic war, a drug smuggling pilot falls in love with the princess of a rival planet. 

An alien makes contact over the radio with a group of college students out camping during spring break. 

Extraterrestrial life invades a tiny town in the American Midwest. 

All of Earth’s plants begin to communicate, and they decide to kill all humans. 

Imagine a future in which the government has decided to make owning pets of any kind illegal. Why did they decide this? What happens to transgressors? 

With prompts, fundamental info, and some tips under your belt, you’re ready to start your sci-fi adventure!

Let us know what your favorite sci-fi novel is in the comments! 

200+ Fiction Writing Prompts in the 8 Most Profitable Genres  Come up with your NEXT great book idea with over 200 unique writing prompts  spanning 8 different genres. Use for a story, scene, character inspo, and more!  YES! GET MY WRITING PROMPTS!

SPS 106: Hybrid Publishing 101, Audible Originals, And Why You Should Focus On Audiobooks with Phil Jones (Exactly What To Say To Get People To Buy & Read Your Book)

Publishing Books for More Opportunities

Phil Jones says that books are the sprinkles at the top of his business, allowing him to do more of what he does best. “Books have allowed me to develop authority into wider angles” as his books create leadership. Living in an informational age where people worldwide can easily access information, books take the content and value that consumers will pay for.

Writing a Book in Seven Days

He claimed that he could write a book in seven days, so Phil took content he had previously created, made a seven-page pamphlet, put a cover on it, and wrote a forward and author page. One week later, he had 120,000 downloads on Amazon with a free promotion.

From this point, Phil took his success with his small book and blew it up into a full-blown book. He wanted to own his book and wasn’t interested in traditional publishing for his first book, so he turned to hybrid publishing. “I wanted a publishing partner that would help with distribution space, that could give me access to quality editors and help me with pagination.”

Purposefully Marketing Your Book

“You take your thing you’ve poured your life and soul into and turn it into a commodity on someone else’s shelf.” If you’re packaging your legacy work into your book and you remove your freedom of flexibility with that asset, you need to realize the limitations that go along with that type of agreement. Phil recommends not going the traditional self-publishing route if you want the flexibility in marketing your book and keeping control over your asset. 

Listen in on today’s episode to find out creative methods to distribute your book, how he decided which type of distribution to use with his books, and what marketing tactics gave him the best ROI on book sales.

Phil Jones on Self-Publishing School podcast

Show Highlights

  • [01:47] Why put books at the center of a business?
  • [03:45] How Phil decides what type of publishing route to take for his books. 
  • [08:32] Why he decided not to give away his first book rights to a traditional publisher.
  • [09:50] Publisher interest depends on the size of the investment they are making in your book.
  • [11:34] Details of working with a hybrid publisher. 
  • [14:57] How to achieve getting on the short list.
  • [17:15] Which marketing tactics proved the most book sales.
  • [20:45] How to make your book easy to read and share with others by increasing your book’s readability.
  • [24:08] Applying sales and marketing “magic words” and how to use skills to sell your books.
  • [26:56] Success lies in being a marketing agent for the book that you’ve authored.
  • [31:23] Getting paid from a hybrid publisher.
  • [34:49] Your success metric should be to read your book.

6 Elements of Fiction: A Beginner’s Guide

It’s easy to lose track of the fundamentals in the dearth of writing advice currently circulating the web. If you’re looking for some universal, down-to-earth help on making your fiction the best it can be, then it might help to take a look at the basics, starting with the six elements of fiction.

In this article, we’ll talk about what they are, how to practice with them in your own work, and give examples of each. If you’re a beginner, this is a great place to start taking a closer look at the components of your stories. If you’re an expert, this is your chance to hone some basic skills! 

Without further ado, let’s get started!

Save This Resource NOW for Quick Reference Later…

200+ Fiction Writing Prompts In the Most Profitable Genres

Come up with your NEXT great book idea with over 200 unique writing prompts spanning 8 different genres. Use for a story, scene, character inspo, and more!

Elements of Fiction

  • Character
  • Plot
  • Point of View
  • Setting
  • Style
  • Theme

Character 

One of the first elements of fiction most encounter. Characters are the people the reader follows through your story. They’re the ones we watch grow and develop. We get attached to your characters, and even if you’ve got an interesting premise and setting, a flat character can turn a reader off immediately. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re creating characters for your story: 

elements of fiction

Flat vs. Round 

In general, there are flat and round characters. You want round characters, and you want to avoid flat ones as much as possible. 

Flat characters are characters without dimension. They don’t have a strong personality. They might rely too heavily on stereotype or one personality trait. Round characters, on the other hand, have some dimension. They have diverse interests, an interesting backstory, and they feel like real people. 

Your characters should be complicated. Give them interests, motivations, and complex characteristics. People contain multitudes! Nobody in real life is just one thing, and your characters shouldn’t be, either. 

Want vs. Need

It’s important to identify what your character wants—-after all, the story should follow them trying to pursue it! But it’s also important to know what your character really needs, and to know whether these things line up. 

For example, in Avatar the Last Airbender, Zuko wants to recapture the Avatar and regain his honor. What he really needs is to accept himself and help Aang restore balance to the world. 

Plot

A story needs, well, a story. Learning to use this as one of the key elements of fiction, the plot of your novel is made up of the events that take place. Everything that happens is a part of the plot! This is one of the most foundational of the elements of fiction. There are plenty of different ways you can structure your novel to map out the action, but these tips will be helpful no matter what structure you choose.

Cause and Effect 

When you sit down to write your scenes, keep your character’s goals in mind. Why are they about to do what they’re doing? 

It’s also important that something changes in each scene. Often, when a reader says ‘nothing happened’ in a scene, it’s because there was no change at all in the status quo. 

Your character’s actions should impact the plot, and the plot points should be impactful to the overall story. 

Conflict 

Conflict is the driving source of tension in your novel, and it’s what will keep readers hooked throughout the story. In a romance, the conflict is “will they end up together?” In a mystery, it’s usually “who did it?” 

Your conflict comes from the challenges your characters face trying to pursue their goal. If you’re getting feedback that your novel reads too slowly or if you feel that you’re having a hard time figuring out what your characters should do next, throw them some conflict! Give them a problem to solve that’s rooted in their personalities, flaws, and desires. 

Know Your Ending

Some people prefer not to outline, and some people swear by it, but the truth is this: it’s much easier to get where you’re going if you know where you’re headed. 

You don’t have to have the ending exact, but at least having an idea of how it ends—-do they end up together? Did the butler commit the murder?—will help you plot the rest of your novel. 

Point of View 

The point of view in a novel is the vantage point from which we read. It’s the lens being used to convey information to the reader. There are three types of POV: first, second, and third, which third being divided into limited and omniscient. 

First Person 

First person means we’re inside the main character’s head using the pronoun “I.” This is the closest possible point of view, as it means we can never leave the main character’s head for the entire story. We’re locked in, and we’re here for the ride. 

First person is often used in young adult literature, but it’s also pretty common in character-driven adult fiction like literary fiction or realistic fiction. It creates an immediate sense of intimacy just by putting us right in the character’s head. 

Second Person 

Second person is the “you” point of view. This sometimes gets confused with epistolary books, which are actually technically first person, but here’s how you tell them apart: in the second person, “you” is the main character, not the addressee. There will be no mention of an “I,” since we’re reading from the perspective of “you.” 

In an epistolary book, though, we’re reading from the perspective of the person writing the letter. They might use “I,” and they’re addressing “you.” 

Third Person Limited 

Third person limited means we’re reading from the perspective of a specific character, and we’re using he, she, or they. Because the perspective is limited, we can only see inside our narrating character’s head, and we don’t get the thoughts or perspectives of other characters. 

Third person close is a subtype of third person limited. In third person close, we’re in our narrator’s head just as intensely as we might be if we were in first person, but we’re using third person pronouns. 

Third Person Omniscient 

Third person omniscient is the only point of view where we get more than one character’s perspective in a scene. This point of view also uses third person pronouns. 

Third person omniscient isn’t the same as having alternating POV in a novel. You might have chapters of a book from different characters’ perspectives, but in each of these chapters, we’re usually reading from that character’s perspective. 

Because you’re able to see everyone’s perspective, motives, and thoughts, this perspective can make it difficult to have meaningful conflict. But it’s not impossible! 

Setting 

Where does your novel take place? The answer will dramatically alter your characters, plot, and even genre, so it’s important to consider when you’re working on your outline. Here are a few things to keep in mind when considering your story’s setting: 

Time Period

In the same way that we need to know where your story takes place, we need to know when it takes place. Is your story set in the eighties? If so, you’ll need to take that into consideration when you’re plotting your murder mystery. 

Even if you’re writing a fantasy novel, it’s still good to keep in mind when the story happened in that universe. You don’t necessarily need to go the route of J.R.R. Tolkein and have your whole country’s history mapped out, but knowing the general chronology will make a big difference in the feel and tone of your story. 

Location 

This is the most simple element of setting: where is it? 

If you’re writing realistic fiction, consider what city or state you’re working with. What’s life like there? How do the struggles unique to that location play a part in your story? 

If you’re writing fantasy and you’ve got some worldbuilding to do, geography is hugely important. A port city will look radically different from a desert city, and both will be way different than a village in the tropics. 

Style

A style is the words, diction, syntax, and structure that a writer uses. Like everything else on this list, it’ll vary a lot by genre. This one is a little tricky, out of all the elements of fiction this may be the most subjective. Basically, it takes time to hone your specific style. Do you favor shorter, more brutal sentences, like Cormac McCarthy, or do you like more colorful descriptions and a more academic tone, like Donna Tartt? 

There’s two big things you can do to lock down your style. 

First, read as much as you can and as broadly as possible. We often write what we read, especially when we’re starting out, so it’s good to have a wide variety coming in. 

Second, practice writing as much as possible. The more you practice, the more you’ll shake copying other authors’ styles and start developing and honing your own. 

Theme

When we talk about the themes of a story, we’re talking about what the story was ‘about.’ Theme is the recurring issues brought up in a story. A theme of many superhero movies is sacrifice—-our hero has a new ability to stop evil, but at a great personal cost. A theme of Lord of the Rings is the effect of war on people. Frodo is unable to return to the Shire after what he’s seen and has to go West to be at peace. 

Read broadly in the genre you intend to write. What are the sorts of themes being explored? You don’t have to necessarily touch on the same topics, but it’s good to know what sort of tone you want to strike. A romance novel might not be the place for a gritty examination of climate change, for example. 

When you’re writing, keep in mind what this story is about—-not just at a surface level, but on an analytic, symbolic level. What does the end imply? How do your characters change, and how does that impact the themes you’re exploring? 

Conclusion: Every Element of Fiction A Writer Could Consider

Feel free to use this article as a reference point when you’re stuck on a particularly tricky scene or while you’re outlining.

Keeping these six elements of fiction in mind will keep your storytelling fresh, and wherever your story goes, these tips will be there for you!

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write speculative fiction

Tips and Tricks for Writing Great Speculative Fiction

For some of us, reading is the perfect way to escape our current world. What better way to explore what-if’s and secret universes than to crack open a book without ever having to leave the comfort of your own home? speculative fiction offers such an opportunity.

Much in the same way that books are a great way to escape, they’re also a great way to speculate. 

Sure, it’s true that all fiction is speculative—-none of it really happened. That’s kind of the point. But some fiction specifically considers possibilities outside of our real world and understanding. That’s speculative fiction, and it’s what we’re here to talk about today. 

What is Speculative Fiction? 

Speculative fiction is what’s called a mega-genre. It encompasses almost all of what we consider to be fiction, so it’s hard to get a fine point on what exactly qualifies as speculative fiction. But, broadly put, speculative fiction is fiction that imagines a world unlike our own. 

Under this definition, all sci-fi and fantasy qualifies as speculative fiction, as does dystopia and supernatural fiction. Anything containing fantastical, magical, or supernatural elements technically qualifies as speculative fiction. 

Here’s another way of looking at it: speculative fiction tends to ask ‘what if.’ What if we woke up one morning encompassed in a giant dome? What if there was a world controlled by an evil warlock? 

Like I mentioned before, all fiction is going to speculate by nature. But speculative fiction is going to speculate about things that don’t currently exist. 

This definition is a little broad, and it makes this subject tricky to talk about. Thankfully, Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, has a theory that can help us out. 

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Atwood’s Debate 

Margaret Atwood argues that speculative fiction can be distinguished from other genres. The way we distinguish between speculative fiction, she says, is to consider whether the events of the novel could conceivably happen. 

In other words, speculative fiction considers a world where the events depicted haven’t happened… yet. 

Her novel The Handmaid’s Tale is a great example of speculative fiction under this definition. Everything in it is rooted in real-world issues, real-world technology, and real-world people. The idea is that if things continue a certain way, this is how it could go.

Another great example of speculative fiction is George Orwell’s 1984. 1984 considers a world in which the existing surveillance state is expanded until it’s completely and entirely inescapable—-the world is far-fetched, maybe, but it comes from a tangible, understandable place. 

You might notice that a lot of sci-fi and dystopian novels still fall under the speculative fiction umbrella. That’s totally normal—-speculative fiction under Atwood’s definition is usually going to also be either science fiction, dystopia, or both. 

For the purposes of this article, we’re going to be using Atwood’s interpretation of speculative fiction! 

How to Write Speculative Fiction 

We know what speculative fiction is, and we’ve got a few examples. We’re ready to write our own! I’ve outlined five major tips for making your next speculative fiction a success. 

Find a Premise

When it comes to writing any kind of fiction, you want a strong premise. What if an alien crash-landed in the middle of a soccer field? What if a boy accidentally stole a famous painting during a tragic explosion at a local museum? 

Speculative fiction depicts what could happen if an issue is left unresolved. Remember our earlier examples—-The Handmaid’s Tale considers women’s issues, and 1984 takes a closer look at the surveillance state and the effects of late capitalism. 

Find an issue that’s important to you. Maybe it’s animal rights—-what could happen if animal testing were expanded in some horrible way? Ask yourself questions about these issues, left untreated, and go from there. Speculative fiction is rooted in real-world problems, so pull from existing issues. 

Do Your Research! 

Since we’re pulling from real-world issues, it’s important to make sure you’re doing your research! 

Not only can it come off as insensitive if you approach a sensitive subject without reading up first, but it’ll also distort your book. If Margaret Atwood didn’t know anything about women’s issues, for example, The Handmaid’s Tale probably wouldn’t have been as poignant and impactful as it is. 

You don’t need to become a top expert in your field. Using our animal testing example, it’s not vital that you become a veterinarian or labs expert. But reading up on the current state of animal testing, what it involves, and what the current risks are will help you in a few ways. 

First, it’ll give you an idea of where the problem is currently going and what the current dangers are. This basically tells you where to take your story and makes it urgent and impactful, so you don’t want to skip that. Second, reading about your subject will give you the tools you need to write about the issue effectively. 

So don’t skip your research, and make sure you’re getting your info from reputable sources. 

Keep Your Worldbuilding Consistent

Speculative fiction may be rooted in the real world, but it’s going to be distorted somehow. Neither 1984 nor The Handmaid’s Tale is an exact replica of any current city—-that’s kind of the point. It’s about a different universe that will exist if our current universe doesn’t get it together. 

That means you’ll need to do some worldbuilding. What does this universe’s government look like, and why does it look that way? How does life look to your average person? Who are the privileged in your society, and who are less so? 

The answers to these questions will come out in your premise. In The Handmaid’s Tale, for example, it’s obvious why the society is set up the way it is, and it’s clear how it got there. You won’t have women in power in a story about women having no power. Similarly, you’re not going to have a socialist or care-free government in a story about a late capitalist surveillance state. 

Take your premise, expand it to all aspects of your world, and make sure you’re staying consistent! 

Map Out Your Outcome

To build a compelling narrative, it’s helpful to know where you’re going. That’s true for whatever you’re writing, but it’s especially true for speculative or dystopian fiction. 

What’s the thing that will happen if the issue is unresolved? That’s what you’re writing about, so it’s helpful to have it in mind. 

It’s also good to know who wins in the end. It’s not required that speculative fiction have a message of warning, but the reason why these sorts of books tend to have downer endings is because the authors have taken the philosophical question to its logical extreme. 

Sometimes dystopia ends in revolution or justice, sure. But it depends on the world you’ve made, and it depends on the issue you’re dealing with. 

Who ends up in power by the end of it? Why? If power changes hands, how does that happen, and does that actually solve the problem? The Hunger Games does a great job of showing us how a revolution and change of power could actually just refresh the problem instead of solving it.

What Not to Do in Your Speculative Fiction

Inconsistent Rules 

You want to make sure your world is consistent. Like we mentioned earlier, this should all be rooted in reality, and even if your world isn’t the one we currently live in, it should still have its own internal logic. 

Say your premise is that all pets are taken by the government and subject to animal testing. It would sort of ruin it to then introduce a family who has several dogs running around and have no one say anything about it. It would weaken the impending threat, and it would confuse the reader. 

It’s okay to have characters break rules in the universe, but there should be consequences for it. Make sure you know what the rules are, even if the reader doesn’t, and make sure you’re sticking to them. 

Inaccessible Worldbuilding 

Just because speculative fiction takes place in an imaginary world doesn’t mean that it should be unrecognizable. 

You want your world and characters to be relatable. It should make sense how the world got to be what it is, and it should be comprehensible to the reader. A super complicated government system full of complicated made-up names and complex tech might be a little overwhelming. 

This is something you’ll have to mess with a little. Some people love super dense, elaborate worldbuilding, and some people are more interested in the story and prefer to keep all that stuff as simple and clear as possible. 

Know who you’re writing for and write for them. If you’re writing a hard sci-fi speculative novel for hard sci-fi fans, let loose with your intense descriptions of the city’s futuristic sewer system (if it’s relevant to the plot, of course). Just have some people read it to make sure it’s not so complicated that it distracts from the story. 

Disregarding Science 

If you’ve picked up anything so far from this article, it should be that speculative fiction is about what could happen if a given issue goes unresolved. This means that while you’re definitely taking some creative liberties with science or how things work in the real, present-day world, you’re probably better off not disregarding them entirely. 

Let’s consider The Martian by Andy Weir. The Martian is interesting because we watch the protagonist work with the materials he’s got. Sure, it’s a little bit of a stretch, but he’s using actual science to solve his problems. It would be a way different and maybe less interesting story if potatoes started magically growing from the ground. 

This goes back to what we talked about with doing your research. Figure out what’s what and use that to explore your subject. It’ll make for a more believable read! 

You’re ready to go! 

Now that you know what speculative fiction is, how it works, and how to write it, you’re ready to pen the next terrifying dystopian novel. 

What’s your favorite speculative novel? Do you have any fun premises for speculative fiction? Let us know in the comments! 

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SPS 105: Using Partnership Marketing To Sell Books, Change Lives, And Grow Your Business with Pedro Mattos (An Immigrant’s Guide To Affiliate Marketing)

Pedro Mattos has owned and sold several business ventures and decided at one point that he wanted to have more direction in his life, which led him to become a business mentor. He decided to write and publish his own book, I Wish Everyone Was an Immigrant, which covers the dynamics of an immigrant family and why immigrants are successful individuals. “When you can root yourself in your why and you have an audience for your book, you know at the end of the day you’ll impact other people and become successful.” 

Using Partnership Marketing to Sell Books

Partnership marketing benefits businesses as they have the platform and tribe of followers already baked in. “What partnership marketing does is allow us to get in front of those people by creating one-to-one scenarios with companies that are beneficial for us and the company we are partnering with.” Finding pools of people with your avatar is a great advantage for authors and can give you a financial upside for your book sales.

The Four P’s of Selling Your Book

People are already talking to your target audience – do you know who they are? You can find platforms with the people you are targeting and find an opportunity to share with another business.

When coming up with your list of potentials, go to the category that your book is listed in and look at the other authors on your page – they are competing with the same avatars you are looking to have as customers. Learn how to reference people on your author page and talk about how you’d like to speak on that topic with a different twist.

Listen in on today’s episode to find out what two platforms are big wins for authors, why your value-add doesn’t have to be financial for every speaking gig, and how to find platforms to create successful partnerships.

Show Notes

  • [02:22] Pedro gives his background history and why he decided to write his book.
  • [05:03] The importance of immigrants in the workforce and their superpowers they bring to the table.
  • [10:09] The four Ps of selling your self-published book. 
  • [14:18] How to find other authors who are competing with you for book sales.
  • [16:35] Getting quick wins from podcasts and Facebook groups.
  • [19:44] Focusing on one avatar when you are writing your book.
  • [22:58] Referrals, advocates, and reach-outs and why they are important for your network. 
  • [26:30] Writing fiction to solve a problem for a specific audience. 
  • [29:44] Authentic wins and providing value when building relationships.
  • [33:14] Partnership marketing through several channels.
  • [34:32] Advice for first-time authors writing books.

literary fiction

Beginner’s Guide to Literary Fiction

You may be familiar with realistic fiction, a genre of fiction with an emphasis on realistic, believable events. If you read a contemporary story that deals with modern-day issues and doesn’t fall into other genres like romance or crime, you’ve probably got a realistic fiction novel on your hands. Here we’ll explore the elements of literary fiction.

But you may also have heard this term, especially in academic or critic circles. What’s literary fiction? What makes it different from other genres? How can we write it? 

When it comes down to it, literary fiction is a complicated genre, and there’s a lot of nuance we have to keep in mind when we’re talking about what constitutes the best version of it. 

You may already associate this genre with capital a “Art.” Literary fiction are the books that win critic awards, the ones that book clubs fawn over for years and years to come, the gripping coming-of-ages steeped in academic settings or war-torn nations. 

You may also associate ‘literary fiction’ with snobbish academics who treasure obscure, difficult narratives that are really just plain unenjoyable. A lot of people seem to synonymize lit fic with boring, tangled stories with unsatisfying endings that critics love and readers, generally, hate. 

What is “Art?” Who decides? 

I’m here to unpack those questions, and to help you decide whether you should set out to write literary fiction. Spoiler alert: I don’t think it matters whether you decide to or not! 


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What Is Literary Fiction? 

It’s a simple question, but the answer cuts into problems that run deep in our publishing system and, in fact, our society at large. 

Literary fiction, to define it as simply as possible, is a genre of fiction set apart by its literary merit. Literary fiction is commonly realistic fiction, meaning that it deals with real people working through contemporary issues in a modern-day, believable setting, but this isn’t a hard rule. 

The only real rule is that it has literary merit. 

Okay, great. So, what’s literary merit? And who decides? And do works of literary fiction really have nothing else in common with one another except that they have ‘literary merit?’ 

Like I said, it’s complicated. 

Works of literary fiction do tend to have a few things in common aside from literary merit. Let’s take a look at a few common points literary fiction tends to hit. Again, these aren’t rules or symptoms of literary fiction—-this is just to give you a clearer idea of what sorts of work tends to get described as lit fic. 

(Also, just a head’s up: a lot of this is going to overlap with realistic fiction, and that’s okay! Don’t panic! I promise they’re different (sort of), and we’ll get into how and why in a little bit.)

A Believable Story

Much like realistic fiction, literary fiction tends to have a believable story. This means that the story, from start to finish, reads like something that could happen to somebody today in the real world. 

First, this means the story’s going to have a believable cast. Characters in literary fiction will be regular people, just like you and me. They’re not real people–remember, we’re still working with fiction–but they’re believable. You won’t see a lot of centaurs or magic children in literary fiction. 

Similarly, you’ll have a realistic setting in literary fiction. Literary fiction might take place in a real city, like New York City or Cairo or Dublin or what have you, or it might take place in a Midwest town that’s inspired by a real one. Either way, the idea is that the story is fictional, but it could be real. It’s believable. 

This also means that the plot is going to rely on realistic events and actions. It’s down-to-earth and it’s something that could happen to a real person. 

Contemporary Issues 

This one’s also in step with realistic fiction, but literary fiction generally deals with contemporary issues. Historical fiction is a genre unto itself, after all. Because lit fic tends to grapple with bigger questions about being a person in our world–and we’ll talk about that in a minute–those issues are going to hit harder if they’re contemporary. 

This can help us distinguish literary fiction from other ‘realistic’ genres like romance or mystery novels. A romance novel’s primary concern is love. Will they get together? A mystery novel’s more worried about who did it, how it happened–will the detective solve the case? 

In a literary fiction novel, the questions are a little different. What’s it like to go to college as a first-generation student? How do we cope with mental illness in late-stage capitalism? How does it feel to be a gay kid in the modern-day South? 

These stories might contain romantic subplots or elements of mystery, but that isn’t their primary concern. 

Character-Driven Narrative 

Here’s where we start getting into more subjective territory, so bear with me. 

When people talk about literary fiction, they often say it’s character-driven as opposed to plot-driven. This means, basically, that the story is focused more on the character’s development than on a rapidly unfolding plot. They’re often more rooted in emotion. 

Character-driven narratives aren’t found only in literary fiction. Romance is another genre trademarked by character-driven narratives–romance stories are focused almost entirely on how these characters feel. Namely, romance focuses on whether its characters feel in love. 

Most stories are going to be some combination of plot and character driven. Plot, at its core, is the breakdown of events. Events have to happen for your characters to develop, so even in literary fiction, there’s going to need to be some plot. Character-driven just means that it’s less about twists and turns and more about the character’s emotions, feelings, and reactions. 

Think about the difference between a mystery novel, which revolves around solving a murder, as opposed to something like a John Green book, where the subject matter rests more in how the character learns and feels and grows. 

Big-Picture Themes 

Maybe the biggest distinguishing feature of literary fiction lies in its subject matter. Literary fiction asks big questions of its readers and explores enormous questions. How does it feel to grow up? How does heartbreak change you? 

In asking these sorts of questions, literary fiction tries to get at the biggest question of them all: what does it mean to be a person? What are the challenges we face, and how can we overcome them? Can we overcome them? 

Because of this approach, literary fiction tends to be more philosophical than most other books. It tends to rely more heavily on big-picture thinking and uses its specific character and circumstances to comment on society or personhood as a whole. 

You’ll notice that some genre fiction actually does get at some of these questions. And, yeah! It can! Speculative fiction especially tends to interrogate what it means to function in our society. That’s why defining literary fiction can get dicey. It tends to be realistic fiction, but it isn’t always. 

What Literary Fiction Isn’t 

You’ve got some more concrete signifiers to look for to identify literary fiction. Let’s talk briefly about what literary fiction is not, and why it can be a little complicated when we start talking about literary merit and what constitutes ‘art.’ Sounds like a lot, I know, but stick with me! 

Capital A “Art” 

literary fiction

We have to consider what literary merit is and who gives it. Our biggest prizes for artists have, historically, gone to white, straight men, and for hundreds of years, Western culture valued their art as literature over everything else. Literary fiction as a term used to be used to distinguish serious ‘male’ novels over woman-dominated ‘genre’ fiction, and sometimes, that’s still true. 

Different people have different perspectives and different stories bring opportunities for different types of symbolism, which means all of it’s great for broadening  our understanding of ourselves, each other, and our weird little planet. 

So, yeah! The stuff deemed ‘literary fiction’ isn’t the only stuff that we should think of as capital A ‘Art.’ 

Genre Fiction… Sort Of 

Since literary fiction has started opening up for other genres, the lines have gotten blurrier and blurrier. Artists working with magic realism, especially, make it harder to say that literary fiction, as a rule, does not deal with genre fiction. 

If you’re not sure, check the subject matter. A story about a young girl taking apart her oppressive government three hundred years in the future is probably more dystopia than literary fiction. A story about a traveling theater crawling through post-plague America which deals with what art means to people might lean more lit fic. (These examples are The Hunger Games and Station Eleven, respectively). 

Just For Snobs 

Some literary fiction can be stuffy, difficult stories about boring white boys turning into boring white men, sure. But there’s bad art in every genre! You get the occasional cliche, awful fantasy novel or a predictable, frustrating romance every now and again. It doesn’t make the whole genre useless. 

At its best, literary fiction pushes us to contemplate our time on this Earth. And maybe that’s not what everyone wants out of their reading time–some people just want some good old fashioned escapism, and that’s totally fine! 

But just as not every high fantasy story is the same, every lit fic novel isn’t the same, and it’s not just for snobs and MFA bros. 

Should I Write Literary Fiction? 

Well, it depends. And maybe it doesn’t matter. 

If you’re wondering if this is what you should pursue, take a look at the criteria or common traits we listed earlier.

If those sorts of novels are your favorite to read and that describes the sort of story you want to tell, then you should go for it!

And if not, that’s fine, too. 

A quick note for beginning writers: if you’re just starting out, it’s often best to stick with realistic fiction. Not forever, if it’s not your passion! But while you’re getting your bearings, it helps to not get caught up in worldbuilding or magic systems. At the same time, don’t be worried about making capital a ‘Art,’ either. 

And that goes for everyone. Literary fiction is deemed literary fiction, in a sense, by its readers. You can set out to write something that examines the deep questions of what it means to be a person, sure, but honestly, you’re probably best off focusing on writing a good story. 

So write the story you want to write. And in the meantime, what happens, happens. 

Examples of Literary Fiction 

If all of this is still leaving you a little fuzzy, or if you’d like to see some real examples of the concepts we’ve talked about here, I’ll close this out with a list of literary fiction novels to get you started. Good luck out there, and happy reading! 

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt 

Do With Me What You Will by Joyce Carol Oates 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood 

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mendel

Beloved by Toni Morrison 


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A Beginner’s Guide to Writing Realistic Fiction

It’s no secret that right now, genre fiction has the spotlight. For years now, romance has dominated the writing industry in terms of sales, and sci-fi and fantasy have a grip on our media landscape. Every year we get a new slew of sci-fi blockbusters, high fantasy bestsellers, and YA fantasy making big waves in the art world. 

But honestly, that’s not for everyone. 

Some of us just want to write fiction about regular people dealing with real issues without worrying about worldbuilding, fake languages, or mythical creatures. And there’s still a place for that sort of story! Writers like Donna Tartt, Markus Zusak, John Green, and Angie Thomas prove that the market for realistic fiction is alive and well. 

That leaves us with a few questions, though. What is realistic fiction, really, and how does it differ from other dragon-and-magic-exempt genres? And more importantly, how do you write it? 

In this article, we’re here to take a closer look at what realistic fiction is, what makes it unique, and how to go about writing realistic fiction of your own. 

What is realistic fiction?

When we talk about genre, the lines can get blurry pretty quick. Even when we’ve narrowed a book down to a genre, subgenre can keep making it hazy. Does The Fault in Our Stars count as realistic fiction, drama, or tragedy? How do we even start to categorize works like The Secret History, which act as part murder-mystery, part thriller, part coming-of-age, and part realistic fiction? 

Well, the truth is, it depends on how you look at it. 

And when it comes to realistic fiction, it gets complicated. 

At the surface level, realistic fiction is defined as fiction which depicts events which might have occurred to real people in a realistic setting. Basically, if all of it seems like something that could actually happen, you’re dealing with realistic fiction. 

Hold on, you might be thinking: isn’t most fiction realistic fiction, then? What about all those genres like romance, thriller, or crime, where the events could realistically happen? 

Like I said before, these genre divisions aren’t perfect, and there’s some overlap. But other genres like crime, mystery, and romance have their own sets of genre conventions and tropes that readers expect to find. Romance, obviously, will focus on a romance between two characters. A story about a detective trying to crack a cold case is probably going to be shelved with mysteries at your local library. 

But that’s still pretty vague. Let’s get a little more into how we can identify realistic fiction and set it apart from other genres which use believable characters, real-world events, and real-world issues. Along the way, we’ll pick up some tips for writing our own realistic fiction! 

What to include in realistic fiction 

Let’s look at some criteria for what we should include in realistic fiction. 

Contemporary setting

Realistic fiction should be contemporary to the time it was written. Events should happen either in the present or recent past–there isn’t a hard rule for this, but as a guideline, characters should be dealing with issues that pertain to the modern world. It should be relatable to the reader’s present-day problems. 

Believable events

Like we mentioned earlier, characters and events should be believable. This doesn’t mean boring! Lots of extraordinary things can conceivably happen to real-life people, and lots of seemingly everyday things can be described in extraordinary ways. 

For example, a realistic fiction book might describe a boy coming of age in a public school in Texas. Plenty of people grow up in Texas, so this isn’t necessarily extraordinary, but realistic fiction will take a closer look at this narrative and use it to explore real-world issues, family dynamics, et cetera. 

In other words, realistic fiction often makes art out of the everyday, mundane events around us. 

Contemporary issues 

Earlier, we talked about how plenty of genres involve stories that take place in our world and which involve believable events. However, the key thing separating realistic fiction from the rest of it is the subject matter. 

While other genres concern themselves with niche parts of the human experience, realistic fiction addresses contemporary issues. Coming-of-age is a pretty common touchstone for realistic fiction–after all, everyone grows up. Realistic fiction might deal with divorce, loss of a loved one, or social issues. 

The main thing to keep in mind is that these issues should be relatable to the reader and relevant to the world at the time of its publication. For example, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas addresses ongoing police brutality, drawing on real-life, contemporary examples to make the issues real and impactful for the reader. 

How can we apply this to our writing? Well, it sounds simple, but keep the subject matter relatable. We mentioned earlier that realistic fiction makes art of the mundane, and that’s true! It also makes art out of current events and contemporary issues. 

What’s a contemporary issue you feel passionate about? What’s a common experience that you want to shed an artistic lens on? To write a compelling realistic fiction novel, you want to find a contemporary experience and put your own unique spin on it. 

An everyday message 

If you’ve got a story that takes place in a believable setting with believable characters set in the real world with no fantasy elements, you’re probably working with realistic fiction. But it’s also important that the story has a message that’s pertinent to everyday people. 

This might seem obvious, but think about it–some sci-fi or thriller novels seem to take place in a world just like ours, but at the end, there’s a supernatural twist or a takeaway that’s a little out of this world. Especially in horror, the events are technically grounded in reality, but the takeaway might not be something applicable to day-to-day life. 

A book about realistic fiction might have a character learning to cope with mental illness or grieving the loss of a loved one. As I mentioned, it might be coming of age. This obviously isn’t an exhaustive list of the themes realistic fiction deals with, but they all have in common that readers can take those messages and apply it to their own lives. 

This doesn’t mean the messages have to be morally good, or that you have to be teaching your reader a valuable, applicable lesson! It just means that if you’re setting out to write realistic fiction and your main character ends up solving their problems in a dream state or using magic or discovering a secret society living underneath a mountain–I don’t know, could be anything–you’re probably working with another genre. 

What to avoid in realistic fiction 

So, we’ve talked about the elements you need in your realistic fiction book. Now that you’ve got a good idea of what realistic fiction is, let’s talk about what it isn’t so we can really complete our understanding. 

First and foremost: 

Realistic fiction is not literary fiction… but it’s also the same thing. 

You may have heard of ‘literary fiction’ or been forced to read it in school–what is it, exactly? Literary fiction is fiction that attempts to better understand the human condition. Literary fiction sets out to be capital a Art, the kind of stuff people get Pulitzers and National Book Awards for and the kind of thing critics fawn over forever. 

In other words, literary fiction has literary merit. But, it’s also often realistic fiction. 

The thing is, there’s a ton of debate about what deserves literary merit, what literary merit means, and who awards it. It’s limiting to say that only the books that receive critical acclaim have literary merit, and it’s limiting to imply that genre fiction can’t have literary merit. 

If you’re writing a realistic fiction book and you’re wondering whether it’s literary fiction or realistic fiction, the answer is that it depends on who reads it, what they think, and how they interpret it. In other words, don’t worry about it too much. Literary and realistic fiction are often used interchangeably, technically mean different things, and it doesn’t ultimately matter much. 

The really, really mundane.

Here’s the thing: your book shouldn’t be boring, regardless of the genre. 

Don’t Write Boring

Yes, realistic fiction should deal with everyday, relatable issues. It’s the job of the author, however, to transform those issues into an interesting story for the reader. A book about a man who goes to work every day, participates in a totally normal marriage, and dies happy at seventy-six is technically realistic fiction, but it’s not compelling. 

In any story, there needs to be stakes. Just because there isn’t a political revolution or a dragon invasion or a zombie apocalypse doesn’t mean we can’t feel those stakes! Maybe your character is about to graduate high school and leave their long-term boyfriend. Maybe they’re in a tragic car accident and lose their sibling or parent. 

These things happen to people all the time, and they’re full of conflict and interesting story detail. Make art of the mundane, but don’t make your art mundane! 

Supernatural elements 

You might notice that some realistic fiction has a subplot that might be considered genre fiction. The Fault in Our Stars, for example, has a romance subplot, as does most contemporary YA and most coming-of-age. In stories like Turtles all the Way Down, we have a coming-of-age that’s mixed with a murder mystery. Why does that count as realistic fiction? 

The reason, simply, is that even with those elements, these stories are still believable stories set in realistic settings with takeaways that are applicable to the reader. The message of Turtles all the Way Down isn’t that Aza is a smart detective–the murder mystery isn’t the core dilemma. Growing up is the core dilemma. 

A hard rule, though, is that you absolutely should not have supernatural elements in your realistic fiction story. And if you consider the criteria we’ve discussed, this makes sense. How can a story have a relatable takeaway if the characters solved their problems using magic, or if they had some sort of divine intervention? 

Magic, supernatural creatures, fantasy settings, and that sort of thing have their time and place. And if you’re interested in writing about a world like ours with magical elements, maybe you’d be happy writing urban fantasy or supernatural pieces! But it won’t work for realistic fic. 

Examples of realistic fiction 

One of the best ways we can learn to write anything is to read. So where do we start with examples of realistic fiction? 

If you’re interested in YA or books dealing with teen issues, here’s a quick list of some famous books to get you started: 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky 

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen 

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini 

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo 

If you’re more interested in fiction that deals with more adult issues, here’s a starter pack for that: 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng 

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones 

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Conclusion

You know what realistic fiction is, how to write it, and some great examples from a variety of authors to get an idea of how it’s written. You’re ready to go forth and write your own realistic fiction novel! 

Do you have any advice on how to make an engaging, interesting realistic fiction story? Do you prefer realistic fiction to genre fic or vice versa?

Strike up a convo in the comments below!

SPS 104: How To Create A 1 Page Marketing Plan For Your Book with Allan Dib

Allan Dib is the marketing master and the rocket fuel behind high-growth businesses. “When you know how to use marketing to reliably bring in new prospects and customers into your business, you’re going to achieve your business goals much faster and easier.” As complex as marketing can get, getting it wrong can mean wasted time and finances. “When you master the science of marketing, you can reach more people and create more income.”

Why a One-Page Marketing Plan

Working with clients, Allan wanted to create a simple and easy-to-use marketing plan. Clients who didn’t want to create marketing plans before were making simple marketing plans for their business. “I wrote the book I wish I had when I was starting in my first business.” Starting from square one with the definition of marketing, Allan takes the reader through marketing basics before showing them how to create a manageable marketing plan.

Creating a Framework for Your Plan

The first thing Allan asks clients is ‘What is the one-thing you want to become famous for or known for?’ From here, you can create the sections of your framework. “The framework is the cornerstone of your idea.” However, you’ll need to ensure that your idea comes along with actionable steps. You don’t want your reader to leave not knowing or understanding what to do next to accomplish the concept put forth in your non-fiction book.

Viewing Your Book as a Product Launch

There’s an essential aspect to creating a well-known book that others want to purchase – your product launch. Allan says that many people look at their book as a work of art when they need a marketing perspective. To be a perennial best-seller, Allan and his team continually promote and market his book. Every day, he thinks about how he can get his book into more hands. “I use more marketing money and energy now to promote my book than when I first launched it.”

Listen in on today’s episode to find what Allan recommends for marketing and distributing your book, which strategies move the needle the most, and why you should use easy and simple words and sentences when writing your book.

Show Notes

  • [01:24] How Allan came up with the idea of the one-page marketing plan.
  • [04:10] Recommendations for creating a framework for your idea.
  • [08:08] Viewing your book as a product launch instead of art.
  • [10:44] The importance of having a good product.
  • [13:40] Strategies that move books quickly.
  • [16:00] Allan’s advice for getting reviews on Amazon.
  • [17:46] How to put together your one-page marketing plan.
  • [21:32] Creating income after you sell your book by providing amazing customer value.
  • [24:10] Important components of a book marketing plan.
  • [25:30] Target marketing for the newbie business person.
  • [28:21] Creating book bonuses that readers will want to download.
  • [30:10] Making a simple marketing funnel for your book.
  • [37:45] Foreign marketing rights and publishing your book in different languages.