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WHAT IS FANTASY?

June 20, 2012

            Fantasy would seem to be an easy genre to define, right? Elves, Orcs and Dwarves, swords and sorcery. However, that only covers one particular sub-genre of what has become a sometimes confusing and blurred genre that is now categorized in bookstores and many publishing houses as fantasy/sci-fi.

            Why lump those two seemingly different genres together? They both use elements of the fantastic and the unreal. Uh, wait a minute. What is it we write? We write fiction! Duh! What we write is already fantastic and unreal. We basically lie for fun and profit. The difference is that most other genres are based on reality where fantasy and science fiction are based on, how should I define this… unreality?

            Science fiction revolves around the future, outer space, aliens, advanced technology, at least in most cases. Whereas, fantasy tends to be based on something past, medieval with swords, sorcery, and creatures. In my opinion, the reason these two genres are lumped together is that they are both so far from reality, they’re lumped together in unreality. Also, the artwork is pretty bitchin’.

            Where science fiction tends to use technology based on science, fantasy uses technology based on magic, or as I spell it, magick. To me, magic is what magicians or illusionists do on a stage. Magick is what wizards and magick users do in a fantasy world.

            Within the fantasy realm are many sub-genres including, but not exclusive to sword and sorcery, urban, dark, epic/high, mythic, and heroic.

            Dark fantasy usually has some kind of horror element to it. For instance, an icky bug story in a fantasy setting would be one example.

            Sword and sorcery fantasy focuses on the heroes fighting with swords and magick in epic battles against foes and usually contains a romantic element. The focus is on the battles and the hero overcoming some obstacle.

            Urban fantasy is a fantasy setting that takes place or starts in the modern world and shifts to the fantasy world. It may go back and forth between the two and an element of time or dimension travel may play a part. This is a genre that potentially blurs the lines between science fiction.

            Epic/high fantasy is exemplified in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. These are epic save-the-world settings that involve all the stereotypical trappings and span a world or worlds.

            Mythic fantasy is inspired by folklore and a good modern example that blurs the lines between urban and mythic fantasy is the TV show Grimm. It takes Grimm fairy tales and puts them into a modern cop show setting.

            Heroic fantasy tells the tales of heroes in mythical lands. Unlike sword and sorcery, the plots tend to be more complex and set with more intrigue, rather than just swordplay.

            Whatever brand of fantasy you decided to call your story, it’s your world. Just make sure to create your rules and stick with them. Remember, it’s your world so you can do what you want, but whatever that is, don’t break your own rules or your readers will notice and call you on it. Take notes, create an encyclopedia of your world. I’m not talking about outlining the story, but an encyclopedia of names, places, things and rules of your world. Refer to it often as you write!

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2012 3:44 am

    Now that I’ve read your fantasy/sci-fi essay I’ll have to revisit each one of my 38 children’s stories and redefine them in their proper genre. But I find my mind is still totally blurred from your many definitions that are still boggling my mind. I believe you’ll have to write a dictionary and name it REDEFININGS and pore out to your hearts content your incredible knowledge to the world. I hope you don’t die in an insane asylum like Ravel who sang his rhythmic Bolero to the end of his days. Don’t endlessly keep uttering those magic or magick words or you could have a similar fate.

    Felick

    • June 20, 2012 6:41 pm

      Hi Felix, don’t worry about trying to pigeonhole your stories too much. Some of the best selling stories out there often fall into multiple genres.

      • June 21, 2012 2:43 am

        Martin,

        Exactly. A lot of stories blur the lines. Like James Rollins told me, mix things up. An agent or publisher will want to know the main theme of the story but if you throw in some other genres to mix it up, well…

        Any book is a tough sell, but as long as you know what you have and can talk confidently about it, your halfway there.

        Fred

    • June 21, 2012 2:40 am

      Felix,

      Hah! You don’t have to change a thing. Your books are solid childrens. There’s a huge difference between childrens books and fantasy. Never fear, you haven’t crossed any lines. You’re safe!

      Fred

  2. June 27, 2012 3:16 pm

    I did a similar post on my blog earlier this year regarding historical fantasy, which blurs the line between history (reality) and fantasy. This is the genre I gravitate toward. I have re-blogged your post! Thank you for sharing :)

    • June 28, 2012 2:53 am

      Lorageneva,

      Thank you so much! I’m glad you liked my post and welcome to my web site. I really appreciate the good comments. I’ll be sure to check your site out and feel honored you reblogged it.

      Fred

  3. June 27, 2012 3:36 pm

    Reblogged this on lorageneva and commented:
    This post is exploring a similar subject to my post about Historical Fantasy.

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