Claire Datnow Blog Posts

The Art and Craft of Eco Fiction

By Claire Datnow

Claire and Butterfy mural

Eco-fiction and climate fiction include environmental and nature themes, which can be written in a wide variety of styles and span all genres including mystery, romance, thriller, coming-of-age, dystopian, utopian, magical realism, and realist fiction. This sub-genre can be as diverse as our natural world. It is multicultural, global—and may include animals too. Environmental fiction explicitly explores humanity’s impact on the natural world.
How do you frame an environmental crisis as a satisfying mystery for young readers? An ecological mystery is a scientific investigation and a mystery combined into an exciting adventure story. In an eco-mystery the role of villain is played by an ecological problem that is harming a species. The characters are affected by the problem, and like good detectives they must carry out an investigation that will identify the causes of the problem and then help to solve it. The characters are the emotional engine of the stories. They include victims who are hurt. Villains who are responsible for the hurt. And heroes that bring promise of reprieve for the victims.
To solve the problem the characters must gather scientific data, theories, facts, policies, and possible solutions related to the issue. Environmental fiction depends on researching the scientific information crucial to solving the mystery. Research includes reading relevant books, scientific papers, interviews with wildlife biologists, specialists in fields related to the topic, and field trips. Although the time spent on research is extensive it is a rewarding an intriguing part of the process, modeled by the characters in the story.
It is critical to balance the nonfiction science elements with an entertaining plot. Writers must avoid hitting the pause button by dumping large blocks of information that halts the flow of the narrative. Do not hit the pause button with information dumps. Compelling environmental fiction weaves scientific, economic, environmental facts and issues beyond statistics, charts, and political ideologies into storytelling by entering the experience the characters’ feelings and the struggles they must overcome. Powerful storytelling techniques are the keys to touching readers' hearts, igniting their imagination, and inspiring them to build a bridge to tomorrow. This is an example excerpted from The Adventures of The Sizzling Six: Monarch Mysteries. Mrs. Mariposa describes what happened to the butterflies overwintering in Mexico, after a big snowstorm:

“Tomas only found out what happened to the butterflies after the snow melted enough to make it possible to take tourists up to the sanctuary. As he guided them up the steep path, Tomas got a very bad feeling. There were no butterflies to be seen along the way. When they were almost at the sanctuary, the wind shifted a strange smell hit them. It was sickly sweet, like rotten pumpkins mixed with stale food.”
“That’s disgusting,” Crystal McCall whispers to her sidekick, Wanda.
“Tomas wondered where the awful smell could be coming from,” Mrs. M says.” When he looked more closely, he couldn’t believe his eyes. What he thought were fallen leaves, turned out to be millions of monarchs. They were all dead their delicate wings covered in ice.”
A gasp runs through the classroom. “Millions!” someone exclaims.
. . . “Is there anything the scientists can do to help the monarchs? Is there anything we can do to help? “Jose swallows so hard I can see his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat. I like that he cares so much he wants to do something. . . .
I’m practically squirming in my seat and blurt out, “There is something we can do!”

Generally, bookstores and libraries do not provide a section labeled environmental fiction or climate fiction, often shelving these books under traditional genre labels, which creates a challenge for marketers. Marketing environmental fiction involves similar steps to marketing any book, including finding agents, publishers, building a web site, posting on social media, book launches, and school visits. It is also helpful to join groups that promote environmental fiction including, The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE), Ashland Creek Press, Writers Rebel, The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE), and the Climate Fiction Writers League.

This article was published in the February, 2023 edition of
XR Writers Rebel