Environmental Hazards: Five Challenges of Writing Climate Fiction (Part 3)

This post is part three of a seven-part series discussing my experience writing climate fiction in my novel, Blue Karma.

Challenge #2: Scope and Scale

Cli-fi works because we can identify with it. It’s our own world, reflected in a warped mirror of environmental armageddon. If I’d set Blue Karma on a distant planet, it wouldn’t have the same opportunity to resonate with readers who have felt a misty Seattle breeze, or walked the furrowed earth of the San Joaquin valley. Showing readers drastic changes in the world they know makes the message of cli-fi truly visceral.

Map of continents with a magnifying glass

Focusing the scope of your cli-fi story makes for a richer, more believable setting.

Let me tell you a secret. My original concept for Blue Karma was a collection of vignettes describing water crises all over the planet. It would have illustrated the global nature of the crisis I’d imagined, but at a somewhat superficial level. Ultimately I scratched the idea because I didn’t think that style of storytelling would allow me to develop conflicts and characters as thoroughly, or show the depth of impact on communities. Instead I corralled the plot into a handful of locations—ones I thought many readers would recognize—and examined how my theme reshaped lives in those places.

Think of it in terms of biology. Within the large biomes of realism and science fiction, you can cultivate a thriving niche ecosystem of cli-fi. Don’t be afraid to stay small. Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior deals with ecological issues that play out in a rural Tennessee town, while Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Drowned Cities takes place in a half-sunken future version of Washington, DC (the latter struck me because I’d worked in DC for several years and could easily envision the changes, which kind of proves my point). I found narrowing my scope made for a richer, more believable cli-fi setting. This principle of selectivity also applies to a writer’s choice of catastrophes….which I will discuss in the next segment.

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