Monday 17 March 2014

So why write speculative fiction? Writing Craft Post - Part 2

Photo courtesy of thaikrit/

I’m often asked what led me to write a novel like Angelguard, and particularly, that it features angels and demons in the supporting cast. My most common response is that an angel, called Tagan, introduced himself to me and told me to write a story. I’d suggest for many of us writers, it’s a character that pushes us to write their story.

When I set out on the first draft I knew it would be a story about angels and demons. That was about all I knew. One day I sat down at my computer and for the following nine months wrote on average 2,000 words (because that’s what Stephen King said he wrote each day) to arrive at a monster first draft of 253,211 words and 697 pages. Yes, I had the untrained writer disease of thinking everything was important. But I take comfort from that fact Tosca Lee also writes very long first drafts.

            “Intercession is spiritual warfare” (Mark Batterson)

I didn’t set out with any particular theme or point of view that I wanted to promote. That came later. It was about draft three of four when the significance of prayer in spiritual warfare took root in the story. 

The Power of Story

We all love the essence of story, don’t we? It could be historical, romance, suspense, speculative or other genre. It’s why we spend all those hours at the keyboard.

Photo courtesy of dan/

I read a great guest post yesterday by a speculative fiction author, John Otte, on why he loves writing these stories. For me, I’m intrigued by the supernatural and why in many Christian circles it is rarely mentioned. As John Eldredge says we have become so familiar with the lies of the enemy that we don’t see him.

I asked a friend, Peter, whom I met in a Facebook Group set up by a favourite author of ours, why he read almost entirely Christian speculative fiction. Pete’s a voracious reader who has dived deep into the SpecFic catalogue. This was part of his response:

Reading Christian SpecFic, I get to see the author's heart toward God, his relationship with God, and maybe how he has experienced God in his life. Through this, I find God ministers to my heart. I also learn more about His heart. I learn through the plot or what the situation the character(s) are in how to apply forgiveness, acceptance of others despite their attitude and behaviour, submission to Him, mercy in abnormal circumstances that maybe most of us would not find ourselves in. From this, you can think about how to apply this to your life and circumstance.”

Interesting how Peter’s comment reinforces how John Otte summed up his passion for the genre quoting Aslan in CS Lewis’, “The Voyage of the Dawn Trader”:

“This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

It was only in the later drafts of Angelguard that I established the firm connection between how prayer influences the warfare in the supernatural which then impacts the events in the natural. I hope readers are able to see the connection.

World Creation

Photo courtesy of xedos4/
As I mentioned last week, a key characteristic of SpecFic stories is the creation of an alternate setting or world. Any fantasy or scifi readers will be very well versed in such worlds. Having read enough of Tolkien and Lewis I can only sit in awe at the immensity of the challenge such authors take on. I can’t relate to writing such an alternate world, rather creating characters that are not human, that is, angels and demons.

I don’t profess to be any expert in these beings. Yes, I’ve probably read more novels that feature them and non-fiction books that explore their existence, not to mention studying the various places in the Bible they appear.

We probably all have our own picture of them. I’ve loved reading the comments many have supplied on how mine differ from their picture, whether it’s their language (mine's very human-like) or their gender. I have female angels and demons. Angels and demons are created beings. Certainly I don’t believe there is any reference to a female-looking angel in the Bible, but I believe it was Thomas Aquinas who proposed angels could assume whatever form was needed to do God’s work. So why not, a female?

What’s the best alternate world or character you’ve read or watched?

And we’d love to hear from the authors amongst us who’ve created alternative worlds. How did you go about it? Did you start with the new world, theme or character?

Ian Acheson is an author and strategy consultant based in Northern Sydney. Ian's first novel of speculative fiction, Angelguard, is now available in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. You can find more about Angelguard at Ian's website, on his author Facebook page and Twitter


  1. OK, now I HAVE to read Angelguard!

    1. Rhonda, you won't be disappointed with Angelguard! Ian has written a great story! I was blessed with this!

    2. Thanks Rhonda & Pete. Very much appreciate the support.

  2. Thanks for your two posts. I have enjoyed them and found a lot of food for thought.

    1. Thanks Marion for your encouragement. Bless,

  3. Hi Ian,
    I've been absent the last few weeks so I need to catch up on this discussion. I find your friend Peter's comment very interesting and provoking - I have read none of this genre and perhaps wonder if its time to dip a toe in the speculative fiction waters. What are your favourites? I have to admit that line from The Voyage of The Dawn Treader has always stuck with me.

    1. Hi Catherine - may I suggest you have a look at Peter's review website. As I mentioned in the post, Pete reads very widely in the SpecFic genre, far wider than I do. He's still growing his blog, so why not look him up on GoodReads where you'll get a much better view of his reading list.

      I tend to stick to fave authors. So I read a lot of Ted Dekker, Mike Dellosso, Joel Rosenberg and Frank Peretti. You might like to start with some of Jim Rubart's works. All of his are good, but why not start at the beginning with Rooms. Erin Healy is another favourite. And of course you can't go past the Narnia novels.

      Also, chat with Iola who as you know reads pretty widely across all genres. I'd suggest she'd have a couple of good suggestions for putting your toe in the SpecFic waters.

  4. Replies
    1. Wonderful to have you pop by, Cherie. Hope it's beginning to warm up in Ontario. Bless,

  5. Ian, excellent post! Thanks for writing a series on speculative fiction. Angelguard is sitting on my bedside table. I loved Chapter One, and I'm waiting until I have a chunk of time to sit down and read it through, rather than stopping and starting. It will happen, soon, I hope! :)

    1. Thanks Narelle. I enjoyed writing it. I perhaps didn't write enough "craft" material but I had to write based on my experience rather than attempting to explain elements that I had used myself.

  6. I really enjoyed your post, Ian. I don't think I've read much speculative fiction since the Peretti books in the 90s, but I really enjoyed them. Most recently, I read When Mockingbirds Sing, which I think might fall into the Supernatural genre, but it's a hard one to pin it down.

    All outside my usual reading preference, and I'm now wondering how many great stories I've missed from the speculative shelves! I think Angelguard will have to come next. :)

    1. Dotti, there is such a wide variety of specfic to choose from & as I've mentioned I actually read a very limited section of the range.

      You might like Tosca Lee's historical work. She's a marvellous wordsmith. With the Koorong 20% sale I might grab Billy's novel.


  7. Hi Ian. I enjoyed reading Angelguard (and reviewed it on GoodReads) and I particularly appreciated the emphasis you placed on prayer. I think one of the issues with focusing on angels is that the focus can be taken off the One who they serve - God - or we can forget that "He who is in you is greater/more powerful than he who is in the world." However, your book doesn't do this and it is a great fast paced read as well.

    I also loved you quote from the Dawn Treader - what a great way of thinking about reading :)

    You ask how other authors go about creating a fantasy world? This is something I've done - not so much to write books rather the books came out of years of world building - the world of Nardva. My current Works in Progress (the Akrad series) are set in one corner of that world. And to be honest, I didn't sit down and say okay, I'm going to create a world today, what will be like - rather the world grew up around the characters and their stories. It started with an island and now encompasses a globe (planet) with two moons, many continents, languages, cultures, thousands of years of history. It's a creative synthesis of imagination and drawing on my own knowledge (and research) of history, cultural studies, geography, science, theology and reading of the works of others. I love that aspect of fantasy writing.

    1. Thanks Jeanette for your kindness.

      And thank you for your take on world creation. I'm in awe of what you do. Congratulations. How you manage to juggle all those elements is amazing.

  8. Thanks Ian - of course it helps drawing inspiration from the amazing work of our Creator.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.