Writing Speculative Stories

Cat Rambo
5 min readJan 21, 2024

Science fiction offers some of the most compelling stories readers can pick up, stories that immerse them in other worlds, other lives, sometimes even other dimensions. In putting together our anthology, The Reinvented Detective, my co-editor Jennifer Brozek and I found plenty of examples of how rich and multi-layered science fiction stories can be.

Here’s some rules about writing science fiction stories that I’ve noted in the course of editing multiple anthologies and writing 300+ stories myself, as well as examples drawn from the anthology.

Something must happen. Like any genre, stories need to have a definite plot arc, where something changes. Usually a problem or crisis is solved, but the change can happen in plenty of different ways. If writing at any length (flash is always full of exceptions to any writing rule), there must be a definite shape to the story, feeling as though it flows from beginning through middle to the end. For example, in Lisa Morton’s “The Gardener’s Journal: Notes from a Mystery,” the detective’s attitude towards a main fact of their existence changes radically as they try to figure out the incident they’re investigating, while in C.C. Finlay’s “The Best Justice Money Can Buy,” a crime has occurred — but the change that must occur involves who will end up punished for it.

Likewise, something has to be at stake. What does your character have to lose, and why do they care about it? In the stories we found that while there was always a crime and a mystery to be solved, the detective always had something beyond that at stake, something that they didn’t want to lose. Knowing what that desire is becomes part of knowing what their motivation is, and once you know a character’s motivation, it becomes much easier to guess what they will do next when writing. In Premee Mohammed’s “Inside, Outside, Above, Below,” hacker Des is just trying to get enough money to avoid poverty when they’re drawn into the struggle between a federal agent and another hacker, A-Cannon.

Your dream must be spun well. Reading is an act of collaboration between reader and writer, helping them spin a dream that may be different in subtle ways for both of them, but which is always satisfying and surprising and thrilling. So make your dream one where the reader can smell the acidic mist coming in over the bogs…

--

--

Cat Rambo

World Fantasy and Nebula-nominated speculative fiction writer/editor. I read and write a lot.