WHAT IS FANTASY?
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!