Thursday, April 1, 2010

Genre: Fantasy

Fantasy, that genre I seem to love so much and yet the one that is so all-encompassing that most everyone would be able to find something to like in it.
A definition:
“The definition of this fictional genre could be described as something that contains rudiments that are not realistic...Fantasy is often characterized by a departure from the accepted represents that which is impossible (unexplained) and outside the parameters of our known reality.” (Found here.)
“An imaginative or fanciful work, especially one dealing with supernatural or unnatural events or characters.” (Found here.)
There are many different forms of fantasy.  Some basic characteristics are:
  • Internally consistent setting
  • Mythology and folklore are inherent in the structure of the world and may play an important part
  • Internal and consistent logic
  • May or may not be in a world created just for the book

“Fantasy stories are set in other worlds or other realities...Magic is a huge element of fantasy stories.”
These are just some basics.  There are, of course, plenty of variations and other elements that could be incorporated into it all.
High fantasy
  • Also known as epic fantasy.  Set in invented or parallel worlds.  So, my book Oracles Promise would have been considered high fantasy.  In this case, high doesn’t mean literary or over-intellectual.
  • The setting can either be corollary to the real world or a world that “exists” entirely separate from the real world.  Examples of the former would be Narnia while Tolkien’s Middle-Earth is the latter.
  • Generally more serious in their tone and have a grander scope than other sub-genres.
  • One hero’s POV.
  • Often authors of high fantasy will tell multiple stories from their world since it is so time-consuming and intensive a process to create a new world.

Sword and sorcery
  • Not to be confused with the company, this sub-genre is more adventure and personal struggles than on the grand scale, humankind and all its cohorts are in danger sort of issues of high fantasy.
  • Swashbuckling heroes.
  • Usually incorporate a strong romance and either a very prominent magic or supernatural something or other.

Dark fantasy
  • Combines fantasy elements with horror or Gothic elements.
  • Humanity threatened by forces that humans don’t, can’t, or won’t understand in their fullest apparitions.

Low fantasy
  • Less emphasis on the created world, on the fantastical elements
  • Often take place in real-world locations
  • Perhaps a less derogatory-seeming term would be urban or paranormal fantasy.

From Query Tracker: “These [urban fantasy] stories deal with magical or paranormal elements in a real world, contemporary (or urban) setting.”
Comic fantasy
  • Tone is funny, as is the intent
  • Set in created worlds
  • Parodies other fantasy works and worlds in some way

Looking for fantasy books?
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Booklist
Fantasy 100- Top 100 Fantasy Books
Further reading
My recommendations:
High fantasy
Tamora Pierce (for YA)
David Eddings (for adult.  Just stay away from his Dreamers series.)
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Urban or Paranormal
Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven series
Charlie Fletcher’s Stoneheart trilogy
What about you?  Do you have any recommendations for books we should be reading in the fantasy genre and its sub-genres?


  1. I'm kind of in the urban realm right now, though there might be some sword and sorcery crossover :)

  2. I think any list of fantasy should include Terry Pratchett. It's parody, fantasy and fun all at once.

    Word verification: worst. Are you kidding me?

  3. I highly recommend George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. He's required reading for a course I'm taking and he is an absolute master of characterization. I believe HBO recently bought rights to make a show about his Thrones series. At any rate, he's on my "must read" list for fantasy writers.

  4. Love this post! I'm a huge fan of fantasy so this post is perfect for me, not to mention this is the genre that chose me!

  5. Jen, isn't it funny how that happens? Glad you enjoyed the post.

  6. I don't right fantasy, but I enjoy reading it. Interesting post.

  7. Awesome post!! I popped over from Lydia Kang's blog - glad I did. There are a lot of familiar faces over here. :-)

  8. From an agenty perspective, I'd be wary of conflating "paranormal" and "urban" as describing the same sub-genre. In my experience, paranormal is just shorthand for "paranormal romance." And while some urban fantasies fall very close to para-rom, and vice versa, they do have clear differences at their extremes. Makes me want to make a Venn diagram. ^_^

  9. This was really helpful, thanks! I'm currently writing a fantasy novella, and I've never written fantasy before. Scary!


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