Skip to main content

Defining Science Fiction and Fantasy

Science fiction and fantasy stories take place in worlds that have never existed or are not yet known. Still a little confused about what falls into the realm of sci-fi and fantasy? Let us break it down for you. by Orson Scott Card

Science fiction and fantasy stories take place in worlds that have never existed or are not yet known. Still a little confused about what falls into the realm of sci-fi and fantasy? The genre generally includes:

1. All stories set in the future, because the future can’t be known. This includes all stories speculating about future technologies, which is, for some people, the only thing that science fiction is good for. Ironically, many stories written in the 1940s and 1950s that were set in what was then the future—the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s—are no longer “futuristic.” Yet they aren’t “false,” either, because few science fiction writers pretend to be writing what will happen. Rather, they write what might happen. So those out-of-date futures, like that depicted in the novel 1984, simply shift from the “future” category to:

2. All stories set in the historical past that contradict known facts of history. Within the field of science fiction, these are called “alternate world” stories. For instance, what if the Cuban Missile Crisis had led to nuclear war? What if Hitler had died in 1939? In the real world, of course, these events did not happen—so stories that take place in such false pasts are the purview of sci-fi and fantasy.

3. All stories set in other worlds, because we’ve never gone there. Whether “future humans” take part in the story or not, if it isn’t Earth, it belongs
to this genre.

4. All stories supposedly set on Earth, but before recorded history and contradicting the known archaeological record—stories about visits from ancient aliens, or ancient civilizations that left no trace, or “lost kingdoms” surviving into modern times.

5. All stories that contradict some known or supposed law of nature. Obviously, fantasy that uses magic falls into this category, but so does much sci-fi: time travel stories, for instance, or invisible man stories.


Want more on how to write a good Science Fiction or Fantasy novel? Consider:
The Guide to Science Fiction & Fantasy
by
Orson Scott Card

Image placeholder title

Become a WD VIP and Save 10%:
Get a 1-year pass to WritersMarket.com, a 1-year subscription to Writer's Digest magazine and 10% off all WritersDigestShop.com orders! Click here to join.


Also check out these items from the Writer's Digest's collection:
Writer's Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Beginnings, Middles & Ends

Writer's Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Scene & Structure

Writer's Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Description
Writer's Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Characters & Viewpoint

Writer's Digest No More Rejections
Writer's Digest Weekly Planner

Writer's Digest How to Land a Literary Agent (On-Demand Webinar)
Writer's Digest Magazine One-Year Subscription
Writer's Digest 10 Years of Writer's Digest on CD: 2000-2009

Tyler Moss | Reporting Through Lens of Social Justice

Writing Through the Lens of Social Justice

WD Editor-at-Large Tyler Moss makes the case for reporting on issues of social justice in freelance writing—no matter the topic in this article from the July/August 2021 issue of Writer's Digest.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Intentional Trail

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Intentional Trail

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character leave clues for people to find them.

Sharon Maas: On Books Finding the Right Time

Sharon Maas: On Books Finding the Right Time

Author Sharon Maas discusses the 20-year process of writing and publishing her new historical fiction novel, The Girl from Jonestown.

6 Steps to Becoming a Good Literary Citizen

6 Steps to Becoming a Good Literary Citizen

While the writing process may be an independent venture, the literary community at large is full of writers who need and want your support as much as you need and want theirs. Here, author Aileen Weintraub shares 6 steps in becoming a good literary citizen.

Daniel Paisner: On the Pursuit of a Creative Life

Daniel Paisner: On the Pursuit of a Creative Life

Journalist and author Daniel Paisner discusses the process of writing his new literary fiction novel, Balloon Dog.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 614

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a summer poem.

Give Your Characters a Psych Eval

Give Your Fictional Characters a Psych Eval

TV writer, producer, and novelist Joshua Senter explains why characters can do absolutely anything, but it's important to give them a psych eval to understand what can lead them there.

Writer's Digest Presents podcast image

Writer's Digest Presents: Vacation Reads (Podcast, Episode 6)

In the sixth episode of the Writer's Digest Presents podcast, we talk about what makes for a good vacation read, plus a conversation with authors Steven Rowley and Jessica Strawser and our first ever WD Book Club selection from debut author Grace D. Li.

Trend Chaser

Trend Chaser

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, an attempt to join an online trend has gone wrong.