Writers' Treasure Creative Writing Tips,Fiction Writing Environmental narratives: Integrating climate change into storytelling

Environmental narratives: Integrating climate change into storytelling

This is a guest article by Indiana Lee. If you want to submit a guest article of your own, be sure to read the guest article guidelines.

Climate change is a global issue that affects billions of people. The consequences of a warming world make for great story beats, too. Hurricanes and floods regularly feature in climate fiction, and people are keen to hear about the experiences of those who live through climate-induced disasters. 

Writing environmental narratives can help you achieve your broader aims as a writer, too. Contemporary authors like Amitav Gosh and Jesmyn Ward have used their novels to improve public understanding of climate change and campaign for change. 

Your novel doesn’t necessarily need to feature extreme weather events or didactic lessons, either. While climate science is clear — the world is being warmed by human activity — there is still plenty of nuance to be explored by authors with a deep connection to environmental issues and a passion for advocacy. 

Climate fiction as a genre

The idea of climate fiction has been around for several decades. Embracing the rich history of climate fiction is key if you want to integrate climate change into storytelling in new and unique ways. Reading up on environmental narratives can help you spot a gap in the literary market, too, as many authors are turning their attention to the world’s single biggest issue. 

Climate fiction isn’t necessarily realistic, either. In fact, some folks even propose that Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune is a work of climate fiction due to themes surrounding ecological disaster, energy harvesting, and environmental degradation. Herbert was well known for his support of movements like Earth Day, too, and famously quipped “I refuse to be put in the position of telling my grandchildren, ‘Sorry, there’s no more world for you. We used it up.’”

There are plenty of contemporary authors who you can draw inspiration from, too. Novels like Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide focus on the delicate balance between environmental protection and human interest. Ghosh’s novel highlights the efforts of folks who work in marine biology and juxtaposes their efforts to preserve ecosystems against the needs of the local population. 

As an author, you can draw from the growing Cli-Fi sub-genre to write powerful true stories. These stories needn’t be entirely true, either, as many authors choose to weave fictional tales in events that happened. This is an approach championed by Jesmyn Ward whose 2011 novel, Salvage the Bones, won acclaim for highlighting the plight of a fictional working-class African-American family in Mississippi. Ward’s novel uses Hurricane Katrina as its setting and slowly weaves a tale that focuses on governmental failings and climate disasters in semi-fictional circumstances. 

Overlooked issues

As an author, you’re constantly surrounded by inspiration. However, if you want to break into the Cli-Fi subgenre, you may want to look further afield. While nothing is stopping you from writing on high-profile natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and wildfires, you may find it easier to gain the attention of publishers and literary agents if you focus on overlooked issues. 

Consider, for example, following the work of fictional characters who pursue careers in renewable energy. Wind turbine technicians and green building architects have first-hand experience with combating climate change and are well-positioned to speak with authority when you turn your authorial attention to global warming. Careers in these fields are growing, too, meaning more of your reader base will already know what, exactly, a solar photovoltaic installer does. 

When writing in an emerging genre like Cli-Fi, be sure to follow the basics of effective fiction writing. Make sure you’re telling character-forward stories and focus on settings that are themed around climate change. Again, this doesn’t mean your characters have to flee from a wildfire, but they should be forced to reckon with ecological harm or the extended impact of carbon emissions. This will help you weave a realistic story that captures the reader’s attention and highlights the human impact of climate change. 

The human impact

The human impact of environmental disasters is well documented in fiction and film. Movies like The Day After Tomorrow are blockbuster-like stories that capture the imagination and use fear of natural disasters to get the audience’s attention. 

However, you don’t necessarily have to feature storms and droughts to write compelling Cli-Fi. Instead, consider focusing on lesser-known, but deeply impactful ecological issues like air quality and pollution. Telling stories themed around these issues is crucial as air pollution poses a serious threat to children, yet is often overlooked in favor of more acute issues like wildfires. 

In reality, children who are exposed to toxic, polluted air are more likely to experience disease and develop long-term health issues. Kids who are exposed to poor air quality may suffer from cognitive impairment and could experience neurological problems. Fiction provides the perfect platform to highlight the real-life plight of folks who live in polluted areas, as you can easily cover a great span of time when weaving a fictional tale in your Cli-Fi novel or short story. 

Conclusion 

Environmental narratives are compelling and serve an important social purpose. They capture the imagination and help the public understand issues like greenhouse gasses and ecological destruction. As an author, consider turning your attention to lesser-known issues to stand out from the crowd and pique the interest of literary agents and publishers.

About the author: Indiana Lee lives in the Northwest and has a passion for the environment and wellness. She draws her inspiration from nature and makes sure to explore the outdoors regularly with her two dogs. Indiana has experience in owning and operating her own business. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @indianalee3.

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