Thus, this page. If you are planning to submit to us, you will greatly increase your chance of an acceptance if you read and follow the guidelines set out here. Please note that we're not trying to provide a definitive explanation of speculative fiction that will apply to all markets and that everyone will agree upon—no-one has been able to do that, ever, and we're not even going to try. This is how we at Third Person Press define it for our purposes.
Is My Story Speculative?
“Speculative fiction” is an umbrella term that encompasses, for us, many types of stories, such as science fiction, fantasy, horror, magic realism, and paranormal (for example, ghost stories). Most of these types include sub-genres as well, like cyberpunk, steampunk, urban fantasy, alternate history...the lists are long and the definitions varied. So how are you supposed to know if your story is what we consider speculative?
It might be easier to talk in terms of generalities for a moment here. Your story is probably NOT what we consider speculative if:
- it takes place or could take place today, in the “real” world as we know it
- it takes place or could take place in the historical past as generally accepted
- it contains elements that initially seem strange or supernatural but turn out to have a logical, scientific explanation
On the other hand, your story probably IS what we consider speculative if any of the following are true:
- it takes place in the contemporary world but adds fantastic or speculative elements
- it takes place in a past that is different from what is generally accepted
- it includes aliens
- it includes faery, mythical creatures, or invented species/races
- it includes magic
- it explores future technology
- it takes an existing scientific fact and extrapolates it beyond what is known
- it takes place on another planet or world
- it includes demons, angels, vampires, werewolves, etc.
- it takes place in the future
- it includes characters with actual paranormal abilities such as telepathy
- it includes supernatural occurrences for which no logical or scientific explanation exists
Other Handy Tips
In addition to the above considerations, we thought it would also be helpful to provide you with some more insight into what might make us fall in love with your story, or regretfully consign it to the rejection pile.
Things We See Too Much Of
- first-draft stories that have not been fully edited and polished by the author
- ghost/paranormal stories that don't really explore any new or interesting territory
- flat or one-dimensional characters
- characters who act without understandable motivations
- “horror” stories that are not really scary or creepy
- penises (Yes, really. We're not prudes, but if this word appears in your story, it had better be relevant and necessary)
- stories with logic or consistency issues
- no-plot stories that are really just anecdotes
- bland writing that does not use sensory appeals (sight, sounds, smells, tastes) to evoke setting and mood
- well-developed alternate worlds, places, or histories
- psychological horror stories that make us shudder
- logical, consistent plotlines
- understandable, motivated characters with a solid story goal
- strong characters who are interesting and fully developed with clear motivations throughout the whole story. It doesn't matter what they do but it has to be clear why they do it.
- stories that bring out new ideas or concepts, or that examine old ideas and concepts from a new direction or in a new light.
- stories that are the quintessence of "Speculative Fiction" - nobody should read it and wonder, "Is this really speculative fiction?" The Rules of Reality as we know them should be clearly bent, twisted, warped, or downright broken.
- vivid imagery and strong ties to setting that illustrate clearly the when and where of the story at all times. This includes movement. Characters should touch or pass objects, look at or examine something around them, walk past, lean on, sit in, kick, smash or otherwise engage themselves with the things in the scene around them. This should not be overdone and always handled with a light touch, but, nonetheless, it serves to anchor the characters in the scene so that the setting is as alive as the characters and the storyline.
We don't want the above to discourage you from sending your story to us. The point of these expanded guidelines is to give you a better chance of sending us a story that we're going to love and want to publish. We don't want to make new writers hesitate about sending us stories—we love working with new writers! But even new writers need to be aware of what editors are looking for, and what elements of a story can be improved by the author before an editor even sees it.
See also: Sherry D. Ramsey's essay About Speculative Fiction
Our blog series: 1001 Ways to Wreck a Story
We hope you've found these guidelines helpful, and we look forward to seeing your stories!