You might think, “a story that raises awareness about climate change,” or “a story that makes people change their ways.” But the real answer goes much deeper than that. In fact, there are as many right answers to this question as there are climate writers, documenting today’s realities and imagining brighter tomorrows. My name is Shalini, and I’m a climate writer, academic, and visual artist. In April, I facilitated an “Introduction to Climate Fiction” workshop with UBC Climate Hub, where I shared my writing process and discussed what climate fiction is, what it does, and why it’s important – all with the aim of figuring out what makes a good climate story. I’ve been writing, reading, and studying climate fiction for years, and I am currently writing a Young Adult science-fiction/fantasy novel about a girl who has magical powers to solve climate change– at the cost of her soul. The process of arriving at this story took years, marked by periods of existential reflection, fear, doubt, and anxiety, as well as deep joy, excitement, fulfillment, and passion. And through this process, I developed questions that can guide any climate writer. I shared these questions in the workshop as guidelines to help you understand how your climate story works, what your climate story is really about, and how to keep motivated in writing your story. These questions are: Why are you writing a climate story? What makes you passionate about it? What do you want your readers to feel or do after reading your work? What genre(s) are you writing in/against? What voices are integral to your story? In asking these questions, I discovered that good, engaging climate fiction goes beyond conveying realities that we already know (“climate change is bad” and “we need more climate awareness”). Instead, this climate fiction focuses on the vehicles of your message: the characters, their conflicts, and the consequences of living in a climate-precarious world. In the workshop, we explored how Kim Stanley Robinson does this brilliantly in a scene of The Ministry for the Future. Two characters with very different but understandable opinions on how to stop climate change are cloistered in an emotionally charged and tense scene. How do two human beings reconcile the need for order to enact change securely with the absolute chaos and damage climate change is wreaking on us today? Shouldn’t we fight fire with fire when so much is at stake? Stanley doesn’t provide us all the answers, because it’s one heck of a puzzle – not only for the reader, but for anyone who is a citizen of the world. In real life, we don’t have any solid consensus, no right answers. So what better space can there be for readers to sympathize with your characters, reflect on their own beliefs, and to climate dream right alongside you? If you want to learn more about writing engaging climate fiction and my process, you can view the recording of the workshop on Video of the workshop can be found here. In case you’re running short on time, here are some key takeaways: Reflect on what’s driving you to write, what themes and calls to action you want to impart on your readers, and how you want to convey them. Explore what’s already out there! Some great climate fiction books include: Parable of the Sower, The Overstory, The Ministry for the Future, YA titles like The Ones We’re Meant to Find, and even older texts like Mary Shelley’s 1826 apocalyptic sci-fi novel, The Last Man. Understand why you want to write climate fiction and how that will help you stay on track. How have your own life experiences shaped your story? Avoid being didactic with your themes by representing them through your characters and the decisions they must make to achieve their goals. Your readers will be that much more engaged! Consider what voices are integral to your story, and know that diverse representation is an ever-developing process. Connect with other climate writers! This is something that I wish I had starting out (and kind of a big reason for why I wanted to do this workshop in the first place…😁). And you can join me for a Part 2 of this workshop, where we will explore how to develop a resilient and effective creative process for writing climate fiction! Stay tuned for details. If you attended Part 1, thank you very much for coming. It was wonderful to see folks interested in writing climate fiction, and to see communicators in other disciplines interested in incorporating climate storytelling into their work. Keeping climate visible and present everywhere is so important, as is taking the time to write and document our stories during this unprecedented time in human history. To keep updated on the next workshop and more, feel free to check out my website www.shalinicreates.com, and follow me on Instagram @moonlit.wildhaired, where I also post about my novel and my character artwork. Thank you for reading, and hope to see you at the next workshop. Until then, happy writing!
The Climate Hub and Climate Justice UBC are looking for short stories, art, creative nonfiction, poetry, and other media until April 21st for a collective zine project. No more than 750 words or 5 photos per person, please!