Climate fiction, or cli-fi, is a fiction genre that has been growing in reader popularity. Once considered a subgenre of science fiction, climate fiction features the effects of climate change on society and the earth’s sustainability. The literary trend watchers here at Writer’s Relief note that, rather than the sci-fi tropes of faraway planets or aliens, the themes of climate fiction include pollution, rising sea levels, and how global warming can affect human civilization. If you want to write powerful climate fiction that will engage your readers—and maybe even influence change—here are a few guidelines.
How To Write Climate Fiction, Or Cli-Fi
Research The Science
To write a successful cli-fi novel, you need to understand climate change and the effects it can have on our present and our future. Whether it’s the main focus of your story or a jumping-off point for what’s happening, knowing the science behind global temperatures rising, the warming ocean, and shrinking ice sheets will ensure you have a believable narrative.
However, don’t bog down your story with lots of scientific jargon, or readers will become disinterested and apathetic. You want to weave the science of global warming into the narrative in a cohesive way so the reader understands what’s happening without feeling overwhelmed.
Choose The Present Or The Future
Whether you place your characters in the present day or in an apocalyptic future, the setting in a climate fiction novel is important. If you want to inspire readers to take action, placing your story in the present may help motivate people to act while there’s time to make a change. A story set in a future world ravaged by climate change can also create a sense of dread, but readers may not feel as roused to try to reverse damaging effects that won’t be experienced until many years from now.
Know Your Audience
Are you writing climate fiction for adults, YA, or middle grade? Be sure your topics and writing style suit your audience. A middle grade novel should have a “PG” rating and go easy on the scientific terminology. If you’re writing for adults, you’ll want to find an authentic balance between fiction and reality. No matter what age group you’re writing for, keep in mind that your first priority is to write a story that engages your readers—the science lesson is secondary.
Offer Potential Solutions
There’s no simple fix for global warming, but you can offer readers a sense of purpose if you provide possible solutions that could help slow or stop climate change. Your story may be some readers’ first encounter with climate change and how they might be part of the solution, so be sure to incorporate helpful ideas and answers. Include actions that could address the problem now and that might even prevent a crisis in the future.
Write Memorable Characters
Of course you want to get your climate message across, but don’t focus so much on setting and science that you neglect your story’s characters. Relatable, engaging characters bring the story to life and move your plot forward. Readers should feel inspired by the protagonist or recognize themselves in other characters. This empathy is a crucial tool in the fight against climate change.
Read Climate Fiction
The best way to learn how to emulate a genre is by reading great examples! There are plenty of climate fiction books available to inspire you—here are just a few:
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
American War by Omar El Akkad
Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Telling a great story is an unbeatable way to get your message across. By following this writing advice, you’ll write powerful, engaging climate fiction and do your part to help shape our planet’s future.
Question: What climate fiction story have you read?