What Is Speculative Fiction? What You Should Know

Posted on Oct 4, 2023

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Written by Sarah Rexford

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If you love fantasy or science fiction you may wonder, what is speculative fiction and does my writing belong in the genre? Speculative fiction, often called spec fic, keeps many readers engaged in a captivating story world for hours on end. 

Some of your favorite authors, past and present, may even be known for their works in the sub-genres of this larger genre. So what is speculative fiction, what are examples of this type of writing, and which authors should you read?

What Is Speculative Fiction: What’s Covered

What Is Speculative Fiction: Defined 

What defines speculative fiction is if it incorporates elements outside of reality: supernatural, created, or ideas with a futuristic feel, etc. If you want to write in this genre, there are a few follow-up questions you should consider after the foundational one: what is speculative fiction? 

For instance, while asking, what is speculative fiction, acts as a foundational starting point, knowing how to write this genre well is paramount to your success. 

There are reasons authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and Suzanne Collins became household names. While the term spec fic was not coined until after Tolkien’s time, his famous trilogy belongs in the genre. 

In fact, while key genre conventions vary based on book genres, there are two major factors to consider when deciding to write speculative fiction:

Exceed The Bounds Of Reality 

What is speculative fiction that engages readers and keeps them turning pages? It’s writing that pushes past the boundaries of reality. Depending on the sub-genre, speculative fiction includes supernatural elements, futuristic ways of life, and magic. 

Establishes Characters With Human Mannerisms 

To keep readers grounded in a speculative world, great authors include characters that showcase different aspects of humanity. Whether you have talking droids with feelings or a ruler of an empire with basic fears, make sure to include human aspects in your characters.

Examples Of Speculative Fiction

For sci-fi fans and authors, let’s dive into examples of speculative fiction. What is speculative fiction that seems to stand the test of time? There are many examples that influence this genre today.

To start, below are a few of the classics:

  • Dune
  • The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Brave New World
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • 1984

If you don’t want to dive into the the tome that is Dune, or are looking for a more current read, you could start with this list:

  • The Hunger Games
  • Maze Runner
  • Divergent

However, regardless of which list you choose from first, take notes on the various writing techniques the authors use. 

Dune became a feature film for a reason. The Handmaid’s Tale succeeded as a series despite its eerily dystopian characteristics. 

In the same way, The Hunger Games took the world by storm, and not just because of its great storytelling. The protagonist is relatable, despite her dramatic role in the story. 

Answering, what is speculative fiction, may seem simple at first: it’s fiction that incorporates otherworldly elements. However, despite its simple definition, writing in this genre opens your creative capacities to an entirely new level. 

Prominent Authors

Writing spec fic is a fantastic way to stretch your creative skills. To do so, it’s important to read the works of prominent authors in this genre, both past and present. 

J.R.R. Tolkien

Readers remember J.R.R. Tolkien as the compelling author of The Lord of the Rings series. Set in Middle Earth, Tolkien includes magic, otherworldly powers, and highlights the forces of good and evil. 

If you don’t have time to dive into the entire series at the moment, consider reading The Hobbit as a launching pad into this classic storyworld. 

Margaret Atwood

Atwood’s 1986 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, has morphed into a world of its own. This futuristic book is Atwood’s most famous story, engaging countless readers worldwide and having been translated into 40+ languages. 

Are you eager to dive into a dystopian society, largely inspired by historical events? The Handmaid’s Tale should be next on your to-read list. 

Veronica Roth

If you want to learn how to build tension in writing and at the same time answer, what is speculative fiction, Roth’s work is where it’s at. Best known for her Divergent series, Roth has authored several other books in the speculative fiction genre. 

She enjoys writing in first person, present tense. This choice allows reader to engage with the protagonist at a deep level and experience the story events as if they are right there inside the storyworld. 


What is speculative fiction as it relates to its sub-genres? Speculative fiction includes many categories under its arguably large umbrella. In fact, while some readers may say they love speculative fiction, they may actually mean they typically read a specific sub-genre. 

You can love fantasy and read your favorite titles over and over, but never feel you connect to dystopia. Regardless, learning a bit about the various sub-genres of speculative fiction helps you as a writer. 

When you know which sub-genre your writing belongs in, you can write within your genre and market more effectively to your target audience. Both of these factors are important for writing success. 

Some of these sub-genres are:

  • Fantasy
  • Science fiction
  • Utopia 
  • Dystopia

If you write any of the above, your manuscript is a tangible answer to the question, what is speculative fiction?

What Is Speculative Fiction: Sub-Genre, Fantasy

Fantasy is an enjoyable sub-genre to write because the writer can choose exactly which literary tropes to include in their story. Do you want to include a wise sage? Do you love many of the elements of our medieval world but want to add a twist? You may want to try out fantasy. 

This sub-genre is great for new writers (the first novel I wrote was fantasy) because you can get as creative as you want while at the same time not get bogged down researching historical fact. 

What Is Speculative Fiction: Sub-Genre, Science Fiction

Science fiction usually incorporates futuristic or advanced technology. Star Wars is a beloved sci-fi series. Space flight, light sabers, droids, and much more all belong in this category. Mentioned above, Dune still emerges as one of the highest-selling science fiction books of all time.  

What Is Speculative Fiction: Sub-Genre, Utopia/Dystopia 

Utopia is the world at its best, while dystopia tackles the world at its worst. Often, a story will appear to be set in one of these two sub-genres, only to later reveal itself as the opposite. Lois Lowry’s The Giver is a great example of this.

Find Your Author DNA

Now that you know the various sub-genres of speculative fiction, you can take our famous author DNA quiz to determine which writer you are most similar to. Just ten questions long, this quiz matches you with your famous author twin. 

Why does this matter? Knowing what author your most resonate with can help you in many ways:

  • Understand your strengths
  • Articulate your weaknesses
  • Learn tips for improving as a writer

In addition, once you know which author you are similar to, you can learn from their writing style and habits. Find inspiration for your own work, and take our author quiz today! 

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