Applying with Speculative Fiction

As November comes to a close, many of you are revising your manuscripts for upcoming mid-December deadlines. If you’re submitting speculative work (sci-fi, fantastical, dystopian, etc.), be aware that schools tend to be slightly wary of these types of stories. But I want to encourage you to continue working to make these your best work. You can disarm readers who might be suspicious of sci-fi by keeping in mind three things:

  1. A little subtlety can do a lot. Sometimes, the impulse is to tell too much since you have a new, augmented, or distorted world/system/dystopia to present. Use descriptive details to do some of the telling for you. This allows you to incorporate landscape and the immediate physicality of interiors and objects to create a new world while developing your character(s).
  2. Psychology drives the narrative. Paying close attention to the person(s) in the story prevents narratives (not just sci-fi) from being forced to various plot points. Consider where the characters come from, what they  need, what they want, why, and how they will try to get it. Psychological realism tends to elevate sci-fi into literary sci-fi because in the end, we’re interested in complex human truths more than anything else.
  3. Concrete is universal. The only way to pull readers into a world is through the senses, and the only way to engage the senses is through concrete detail. Consider where you can be more concrete in your story, and if there is already concrete detail, examine where more specific descriptions or details will strengthen the work.

1 thought on “Applying with Speculative Fiction”

  1. I’ve heard that University of Kansas, North Carolina State, and Southern Illinois are genre-friendly. And, of course, you have the low-res programs like Goddard, Red Earth, Stonecoast, Seton Hill, Western State Colorado, U.C. Riverside, and so on. I’ve also spoken to the director of the NEOMFA program in norheast Ohio, and he says they are very accepting of genre work as well.

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