On Writing Spec: A Checklist

Hi Friends! Are you not quite sure if you’re writing ‘counts’ as speculative? Well, with just a few days left until our submissions close, our editors have compiled a helpful checklist of dos and don’ts when it comes to spec writing.

Back when we first opened for submissions our Guest Editors Jaclyn and Simon each wrote a little post about themselves and what they look for in ‘spec’ pieces. After that, Jordan wrote a post about speculative writing and its various forms. To round this out as our submissions come to a close, we want to give you a quick checklist to see if your piece is spec before you send it our way.

  1. As Simon points out, all writing is *technically* speculative. However, as a genre, spec writing involves some element of supernatural (be it horrific, fantastic, scientific, or some sort of combination). A good question to ask yourself to determine this is: are there real life people living in this circumstance right now? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then you probably aren’t writing spec (unless you’re writing horror and you answer ‘yes’ because you aren’t sure but maybe there’s a serial killer out there with exactly the same MO as the one in your story…but this probably isn’t the case, right?)
  2. Does your piece have aliens, vampires (sparkling or blood-sucking), time or space travel, monsters of a non-human variety, mythological creatures, witches / wizards, dragons, AI computers, clones, inanimate objects with motives, or portals? We’re willing to bet you’re writing spec
  3. If your piece doesn’t have anything mentioned in point 2, is it a dystopia (or utopia) that doesn’t exist today? Then you’re in luck–you are writing spec!
  4. Are you writing magic realism? If you are using gods or spiritual practices that are still typically worshipped by real people, then no, you are not writing magic realism. The one exception to this is if you are Neil Gaiman and you wrote American Gods (but if that’s the case, then your piece is too long and you need to reread our guidelines).
  5. Are you speculating about mental illness, either vaguely defined or specifically named? If so, please refer back to point 1. There’s a long running history of mental illness being used in spec writing (The Joker, for example), but using mental illness does not make your piece speculative.

Reminder: spec writing has all these cool and otherworldly elements, but it still needs characters with motives and relationships! The best spec works strike an emotional chord and can reach readers through time and space! So, take a look at your work, edit, and then it to us on Submittable before April 15th!

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