Atwood explains that she put off writing The Handmaid’s Tale for a year or two because writing speculative fiction seemed like a “risky venture.” Atwood describes the risks:
I’d read extensively in science fiction, speculative fiction, utopias and dystopias ever since my high school years in the 1950s, but I’d never written such a book. Was I up to it? The form was strewn with pitfalls, among them a tendency to sermonize, a veering into allegory and a lack of plausibility.
She then goes on to explain the rules she put in place prior to writing The Handmaid’s Tale—rules designed to help her avoid the pitfalls that concerned her most.
If I was to create an imaginary garden I wanted the toads in it to be real. One of my rules was that I would not put any events into the book that had not already happened in what James Joyce called the “nightmare” of history, nor any technology not already available. No imaginary gizmos, no imaginary laws, no imaginary atrocities. God is in the details, they say. So is the Devil.
from “What Writers Can Learn from Margaret Atwood’s New Introduction to The Handmaid’s Tale” by Jay Schiffman at tor.com