Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor
zette@cableone.net

 

Why Write?  And Why Write Fantasy?

By Sandra Miller
2005,
Sandra Miller


Oh, if I had a nickel for every time I've heard those questions.  Isn't writing just the ultimate egotistical pursuit, after all?  And in these troubled times, aren't there much more important things for us to be doing than writing fiction, especially speculative fiction?

I won't deny that writing is egotistical.  It is perhaps the height of vanity to think that words we string onto paper from our minds should interest anyone but ourselves.  It must be beyond vanity to imagine that we should be paid for such a pursuit, or that others should be willing to pay to read our flights of fancy.  But I fight any suggestion that egotism is all writing is.

Writing is a fundamentally positive act.  As writers, we are often uncomfortable with the things we see, with the people and events who surround us every day.  The writer's mind constantly wonders, What if?  And the writer shares the answers with us in their work.  Writers challenge the assumptions and practices of those around them, upset preconceived notions and sometimes force people to reconsider their views.

Writing is a sharing of self.  It is a humbling act; a way of shouting to the world, "These are the things I care about!"  The writer is a mirror in which society is reflected, both the good and the bad.  Unflinching courage is required to write.  The writer reminds readers of the things that are truly important, and can point out when society's actions do not match its professed beliefs.

These things are especially true for speculative fiction.  In writing speculative fiction, we ask our readers to suspend disbelief with a completeness that is not required in more traditional genres.  We push the boundaries in all directions, we comment on things that could not be comfortably discussed without the cover of unfamiliar people in a strange land.  We ask our readers to invest themselves not only in a made-up tale, but a made-up world. 

Speculative fiction is important, even in times like these -- perhaps especially in times like these.  We remind people how necessary it is to use one's imagination, and how it feels to dream.  Universal truths of love and justice transcend the boundaries of genre, the boundaries of societies, and even the boundaries of worlds.  We remind people that even grown-ups need to believe in a certain amount of magic. 

Our world has become a terrifying place in certain respects. Speculative fiction provides a release for some of the tension this modern world builds in our readers.  In fantasy, the kinds of problems we face today may have not yet evolved; in science fiction, our fictional societies have sometimes evolved past many of our problems.  And yet our characters will often face problems that surpass ours.  No matter how bad things are in the world around us, no matter how negative the headlines become, our readers can turn to a speculative fiction work and know that the characters will have problems that are bigger.  And one way or another, those characters will triumph.  We remind people that it is possible to win in the face of terrifying odds, that one must never give up. 

Speculative fiction offers a necessary retreat from modern society.  It is often called "Escapist fiction," and to a certain extent that is true.  The twin genres of science fiction and fantasy allow the reader to move for awhile out of the context of the real world.  Important issues are addressed outside of the familiar settings of more traditional genres.  Speculative fiction is a much-needed respite for the mind of the reader.

Speculative fiction has been poorly regarded by the more traditional genres for many years, carrying the derisive tag "ghetto literature."  This is undeserved, and the twin genres of science fiction and fantasy fill a necessary role in today's society.  I do not feel that speculative fiction authors should need to apologize for their genre, today or ever.

We keep the fires of imagination burning.