Writing cli-fi (climate fiction): Balancing entertainment with environmental messaging.

Saving the World, One Page at a Time


Picture this: You’re curled up on your couch, engrossed in a gripping novel about a future world ravaged by climate change. The characters are so real you can almost touch them, the plot’s got you on the edge of your seat, and oh yeah – you’re learning a ton about environmental issues without even realizing it. Welcome to the world of cli-fi, folks.

As someone who’s spent the better part of a decade with one foot in journalism and the other in creative writing, I’ve got to say – climate fiction writing is where it’s at. It’s like the love child of a thrilling summer blockbuster and an eye-opening documentary, served up with a side of “holy crap, we need to do something about this.”

But here’s the million-dollar question: How do you write cli-fi that’s both a page-turner AND a wake-up call? Well, buckle up, buttercup. We’re about to dive into the nitty-gritty of climate fiction writing, and trust me, it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

The ABCs of Cli-Fi: What’s All the Fuss About?

Okay, let’s start with the basics. What exactly is climate fiction? Well, it’s pretty much what it says on the tin – fiction that deals with climate change and its impact on our world. But don’t go thinking it’s all doom and gloom and melting polar ice caps (although, yeah, there’s some of that too).

Climate fiction writing can span a whole range of genres. We’re talking everything from nail-biting thrillers set in flooded cities to heartwarming tales of community resilience in the face of environmental challenges. Heck, I’ve even read a cli-fi romance where the couple bonds over their shared love of sustainable living. (Hey, nothing says “I love you” like composting together, am I right?)

The key thing about cli-fi is that it takes our current climate crisis and turns it into compelling stories. It’s like holding up a mirror to our world, but with the reflection showing a future we might be headed for if we don’t get our act together.

Why Cli-Fi Matters: More Than Just Another Buzzword

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Great, another subgenre. Just what we needed.” But hear me out. Climate fiction writing isn’t just some trendy flash in the pan. It’s a powerful tool for raising awareness and inspiring action on one of the most pressing issues of our time.

Think about it. How many times have you dozed off during a lecture on climate change? (It’s okay, we’ve all been there.) But a gripping story about a family trying to survive in a world turned upside down by extreme weather? That’s the kind of thing that keeps you up at night – and gets you thinking.

As a journalist, I’ve seen firsthand how hard it can be to get people engaged with environmental issues. But throw in some compelling characters, a dash of suspense, and a sprinkle of “what if,” and suddenly you’ve got people’s attention. That’s the magic of cli-fi.

The Balancing Act: Entertainment vs. Message

Here’s where things get tricky. Writing good climate fiction is like walking a tightrope. Lean too far one way, and you’ve got a preachy eco-sermon that puts readers to sleep. Lean too far the other, and you’ve got a rip-roaring adventure that happens to have some melting glaciers in the background.

The secret? It’s all about balance, baby.

You want to weave your environmental themes into the very fabric of your story, making them an integral part of the plot and character development. Think of it like hiding vegetables in a kid’s meal—they’re getting all the good stuff, but they’re too busy enjoying the overall experience to notice.

Take it from someone who’s tried (and failed) at this more times than I care to admit – it’s not easy. But when you nail that sweet spot? Oh boy, that’s when the magic happens.

Crafting Your Cli-Fi Masterpiece: A How-To Guide

Alright, aspiring cli-fi authors, grab your notebooks (or, let’s be real, open a new Google Doc). Here’s how to write climate fiction that’ll have readers glued to the page AND ready to join their local environmental group.

Know Your Stuff (But Don’t Show Off)

First things first – you gotta do your homework. Climate fiction writing requires a solid understanding of environmental issues. But here’s the catch – you’re not writing a textbook. You need to know enough to make your world believable, but not so much that you’re tempted to info-dump all over your readers.

Pro tip: Think of your climate knowledge like an iceberg. Your readers only need to see the tip, but that tip needs to be supported by a whole lot of hidden depth.

It’s All About the Characters, Stupid

Here’s a truth bomb for you: No one’s going to care about your meticulously researched climate disaster if they don’t give a hoot about the people experiencing it. Your characters are the heart of your story. Make them real, make them relatable, make readers care what happens to them.

I once wrote a cli-fi short story about rising sea levels that went absolutely nowhere. Why? Because my main character had all the personality of a wet paper bag. Learn from my mistakes, people.

World-Building: It’s Not Just for Fantasy Anymore

When it comes to climate fiction writing, your setting is practically a character in itself. Whether you’re writing about a flooded New York City or a drought-stricken farm town, your world needs to feel real and lived-in.

But here’s the kicker – you’re not just creating a world, you’re creating a world in transition. How has climate change affected day-to-day life? What new technologies or social structures have emerged? Get creative, but keep it grounded in reality.

Plot: Make ‘Em Sweat (And Not Just from Global Warming)

Remember, you’re not writing a climate change pamphlet – you’re telling a story. Your plot should be just as gripping as any other genre. Conflict, tension, high stakes—all the good stuff that keeps readers turning pages.

The trick is to make your environmental themes an integral part of that plot. Maybe your character’s quest to find clean water drives the action, or perhaps political tensions over climate refugees form the backdrop of your story.

Theme: The Gentle Art of Not Beating People Over the Head

Look, we get it. Climate change is important. But if your readers wanted a lecture, they’d go to a TED talk. Your job is to explore environmental themes in a way that feels natural and organic to your story.

Show, don’t tell. Let your characters grapple with environmental issues in a way that feels real and personal. And for the love of all that’s holy, avoid monologues about the evils of fossil fuels. Trust me, your readers will thank you.

Pitfalls to Avoid: Don’t Be That Cli-Fi Writer

Alright, now that we’ve covered the dos, let’s talk about some don’ts.

Here are some common pitfalls in climate fiction writing that’ll have your readers running for the hills (and not in a “fleeing from rising sea levels” kind of way).

The Preachy McPreacherson

We get it; you care about the environment. But if your characters start spouting facts and figures like they’re Wikipedia with legs, you’ve got a problem. Remember, subtlety is your friend.

The Science Overload

Yes, you need to get your facts straight. No, you don’t need to explain every single scientific detail. Unless you’re writing for a very niche audience of climate scientists, dial back on the jargon.

The Doom and Gloom Overdose

Climate change is serious business, but if your entire story is one unrelenting cascade of misery, you’re going to lose readers fast. Don’t be afraid to include moments of hope, humor, or even beauty in your climate-altered world.

The Magic Tech Solution

Beware the temptation to solve all your plot problems with some miraculous future technology. It’s lazy writing and it undermines the real-world implications of climate change.

The Cardboard Activist

Your environmentalist characters should be just as complex and flawed as anyone else. Avoid the trap of making them saintly mouthpieces for your message.

Cli-Fi Hall of Fame: Learning from the Best

Want to see how the pros do it? Check out these cli-fi rockstars:

  • “Flight Behavior” by Barbara Kingsolver: A masterclass in weaving climate themes into a character-driven story.
  • “New York 2140” by Kim Stanley Robinson: Brilliant world-building in a climate-altered future.
  • “The Drowned World” by J.G. Ballard: An oldie but a goodie, showing cli-fi before it was cool.
  • “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy: Proof that cli-fi can be literary with a capital L.

The Impact: Can a Book Really Save the World?

So, here’s the million-dollar question: Does climate fiction actually make a difference? Can a novel really change people’s minds about environmental issues?

Well, as someone who’s both reported on climate change and tried to tackle it in fiction, I’d say… maybe. And sometimes, maybe is enough.

Here’s the thing: Climate fiction might not single-handedly solve the climate crisis. But it can change the way people think about environmental issues. It can make abstract problems feel personal and immediate. It can inspire empathy, spark discussions, and yes, even motivate action.

I’ve had readers tell me that a cli-fi story made them think about climate change in a whole new way. I’ve seen book clubs dive into heated debates about environmental policy after reading a cli-fi novel. Heck, I even know a guy who started a community garden after binging cli-fi books during lockdown.

Is it going to save the world overnight? Probably not. But if it gets people thinking, talking, and maybe even acting? Well, that’s not a bad start.

The Future of Cli-Fi: Where Do We Go From Here?

As our climate continues to change, you can bet your bottom dollar that climate fiction is going to keep evolving too. We’re already seeing cli-fi expand beyond the typical post-apocalyptic fare into all sorts of genres and styles.

My prediction? We’re going to see more cli-fi that focuses on solutions and resilience, not just disaster. More stories about communities adapting to climate change, about individuals making a difference. Heck, maybe we’ll even see some cli-fi comedies. (Climate change rom-com, anyone?)

One thing’s for sure – as long as climate change remains a pressing issue, there’ll be writers out there trying to make sense of it through stories. And thank goodness for that.

So, future cli-fi writers of the world, I’m passing the torch to you. Go forth and write. Make us laugh, make us cry, make us think. But most of all, make us care. Because at the end of the day, that’s what great storytelling is all about.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a cli-fi novel to write. This time, I promise the main character will have an actual personality. Wish me luck!

FAQs: Your Burning Cli-Fi Questions Answered

Q: What is climate fiction (cli-fi)?

A: Climate fiction, or cli-fi, is a genre of literature that deals with climate change and its impacts on society and the environment. It’s like regular fiction, but with more sweating and fewer polar bears.

Q: How is cli-fi different from traditional science fiction?

A: While there’s some overlap, cli-fi tends to focus specifically on climate change and its effects, often in the near future. Traditional sci-fi might involve climate elements, but it’s not the main focus. Think of cli-fi as sci-fi’s environmentally conscious cousin.

Q: Can cli-fi be set in the present, or does it have to be futuristic?

A: Cli-fi can absolutely be set in the present! Some of the most powerful cli-fi stories deal with current climate issues. That said, a lot of cli-fi does look to the future, because, well, things are probably going to get worse before they get better.

Q: How do I avoid being too preachy in my cli-fi writing?

A: Focus on telling a good story first. Let your characters and plot naturally explore environmental themes rather than forcing the issue. And for the love of all that’s green, avoid long speeches about the evils of fossil fuels.

Q: Are there subgenres within climate fiction?

A: You bet! We’ve got cli-fi thrillers, cli-fi romance, cli-fi comedy (yes, it exists!), and even cli-fi poetry. If you can write it, you can probably add “cli-fi” to it.

Q: How much scientific research should I do before writing cli-fi?

A: Enough to make your world believable, but not so much that you’re tempted to turn your novel into a textbook. Remember, you’re writing fiction, not a Ph.D. thesis.

Q: Can cli-fi have a happy ending, or does it need to be dystopian?

A: Cli-fi absolutely can (and sometimes should) have hopeful or happy endings. While a lot of cli-fi is pretty doom-and-gloom, there’s a growing trend towards more optimistic stories about resilience and solutions.

Q: Who are some notable cli-fi authors I should read?

A: Check out Kim Stanley Robinson, Barbara Kingsolver, Margaret Atwood, and Paolo Bacigalupi for starters. But really, there are tons of great cli-fi authors out there. Happy reading!

Q: How can I make my cli-fi appeal to readers who aren’t already environmentally conscious?

A: Focus on writing compelling characters and engaging plots. If readers care about your characters, they’ll care about what happens to them – including the environmental challenges they face.

Q: Is there a market for climate fiction in traditional publishing?

A: Absolutely! With growing awareness of climate issues, many publishers are actively seeking cli-fi. Just make sure you’re writing a great story first and a climate story second.


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