Today, we’re talking about the fantasy genre, as promised. We’ll do a brief history of the genre, we’ll go over some of the differences between science fiction and fantasy, and then we’ll have our writing tips at the end. It’s the same deal as last time. If I have missed something in this post that you think is super important, please let me know, and I’ll add it in.
What is Fantasy?
Let’s start off with our definition:
Fantasy Genre: typically features the use of magic or other supernatural phenomena in the plot, setting, or theme. Magical or mythological creatures often feature, as well as races other than humans, such as elves, dwarves, or goblins. The worlds within fantasy books are usually medieval in style, both in terms of technology and culture.
The Differences Between Science Fiction and Fantasy
What does this mean in terms of science fiction? So, the main and crucial difference between the two genres is the use of magic and the types of technology used. Science fiction is going to be using science as their magic. It is the principle guiding the story. The technology is going to be advanced and man-made. You’re going to have other races or civilizations, but they will be “advanced” with their own technologies. You’re not going to be getting a diverse set of cultures. Robots and technology are more common than other species.
Fantasy on the other hand is going to be using older technology and will have magic on its side. Magic is one, or the, main driving force of your universe. Everybody has it or is trying to get it. Your creatures and/or other species are going to be more plentiful and diverse.
Those are the main differences between the two genres. To put it in really simple terms, science fiction is going to be grounded in reality and can be possible, but fantasy is not grounded in reality and hence cannot be possible.
The Different Types of Fantasy
Like science fiction, there are two types of fantasy that your tale can fall into. The first is high fantasy and the second is low fantasy. Let’s take a look at both of them in a bit more depth:
Let’s start with a definition:
High Fantasy: take place in different worlds, with different natures, that are mostly unconnected to the real world. Will generally include these elements:
- An imaginary world (usually an entirely imaginary world, but can be a parallel world or a world-within-our-world)
- A battle of good versus evil or another epic theme, with terrible consequences, if the hero fails.
- Multi-volumed works with a complicated plot, a large cast of characters, and an expansive timeframe.
- Non-human races such as elves and dwarves and/or magical creatures such as dragons and unicorns and/or monsters such as orcs and trolls
- Medieval technology and feudal structures
Tolkien is generally considered to be high fantasy.
Again, let’s start with a definition:
Low Fantasy: take place in worlds that largely resemble the real world, with some fantastic or supernatural elements added. They are based on the idea that there are things in the real world that humanity does not know about. These can include species that have remained hidden for the most part (vampires, werewolves, the Loch Ness monster, etc) or things that operate on different physical laws we have not discovered (magic). Will Generally include these elements:
- Resembles the real world for the most part, but…
- Includes supernatural species or magic within the real world.
- Is one in which knowledge of the supernatural elements is kept secret from ordinary people.
- Feature interaction between people in the real world and the supernatural elements.
Think Harry Potter, City of Bones, or Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
The History of the Fantasy Genre
Alright, so finding a cute little video explaining the history of fantasy as a genre didn’t work, so you’re stuck with me giving you a brief run down today. I am just going to stick to the literature side of things today. I’m not going to explore the history of the genre in film, TV or other mediums.
- Ancient times: This has been around for as long as humans have been telling tales! Your mythology, fairy tales, and folklore are all included under this genre and even pop up, to this day, in our modern fantasy novels. The big guys you want to look into here are Homer’s The Odyssey (9th Century BC) and Beowulf (700 AD).
- 1595-96: William Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer’s Night Dream is published and performed. It includes magic and fairies and contributes to the genre.
- 1726: Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathon Swift is published. It features four different worlds for each section of his satirical novel.
- 1865: Lewis Carroll published Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice is transported into a world of pure imagination, filled with interesting and new creatures and nonsensical, surreal events. We also have a lot of magic at play.
- 1894: William Morris publishes The Wood Beyond the World. A simple romance set in a medieval never-never land, the hero flees his loveless wife and eventually ends up battling a dwarf to free the maiden he loves.
- 1923: Weird Tales magazine was published and gave writers, such as Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian), Fritz Leiber (creator of “low fantasy”**), and H.P. Lovecraft recognition.
- 1937: J.R.R. Tolkien publishes The Hobbit. This is the start of what is known as contemporary fantasy. This is what we identify with “beginning” of fantasy.
- 1949: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction was first released and brought science fiction and fantasy to the fore and in wider circulation.
- 1954: J.R.R. Tolkien publishes The Lord of the Rings. His books have been giving a shape to how future fantasy novels are going to look.
- 1977: Terry Brooks publishes Swords of Shannara and fantasy novels are finally making it onto the bestseller’s lists.
- Late 1980’s and Early 1990’s: David Eddings, Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin are selling a lot of books and remain popular authors.
- 2000’s to present: We’re getting a lot more humor within the genre and they’re continuing to break boundaries and keep the genre fresh.
Writing Tips for Fantasy
Next up on our list of topics: tips on how to make fantastic fantasy story (pun maybe intended?)
Read extensively in the genre, sub-genre, or low or high fantasy. Get to know how they look and feel, what the differences are. It’ll help you create a good story.
World-building is integral to your novel.
So you know how I said last week that science fiction needed some world-building, but it wouldn’t be super important. Well, it is, but not half as important as it is for fantasy. Your entire world is essentially made up. You need to know it inside and out. So, here is the link to my world-building post that has a guide of questions to ask about your world. It is by no means a complete list, but it does give you a good start and will get you thinking.
Incorporate a bit of mythology into your story.
Many fantasy writers do this because it has a bunch of fantastic and mythical creatures mixed into those stories. Tolkien pulled from German, Nordic and archaic English myths and legends when he was building Middle Earth.
Have a magic system in place.
Essentially this means, how do people use magic in your world, and how does it work? For example, reading spells aloud is a magic system. Your imagination is your guide here.
Avoid cliches or make them new and interesting.
There are a lot of tropes that get used in fantasy over and over again. If you can come up with something different and new, then that’s great! If not, well you’re going to want to put a new twist on it. That could be a death of a character that shouldn’t die or they change their path in some way.
This could be finding magic in weird and new places. For example, in Harry Potter, we have platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station and you get there by running into a column.
Keep your world relevant.
Use real-life problems as your themes. You’re creating a completely new world with beings we’ve never seen before. You’re going to lose your readers if they can’t identify with your characters and their world at all. So using things from “our world” in your story will help get your readers into the story.
World-building is important, but so are your characters.
Don’t forget to make outstanding characters! Your world is only as good as your characters are. If you have a great world but boring characters your readers aren’t going to finish your book!
Your world is going to have rules and they need to be followed. There’s nothing more frustrating by being told that you can only practice magic this one way, but then in the next scene or chapter you’re breaking that rule. If you do break a rule there must be a really good reason.
Violence has consequences.
This one I’m taking from George R.R. Martin himself. If you’re going to be having big medieval fight scenes, then show the horror of this and don’t leave the gory details out.
Don’t limit your imagination.
Let it have free reign and have fun with whatever your brain comes up with. It’ll be unique to you and you can expand on the worlds and fantasy novels already out on the market.
That’s all that I have for you today! I hope this was helpful! Next week we’ll be talking about setting and then we’ll be going more in depth on world building.
Stay safe, everyone.
Until next time.