WU! Workshop: Fantasy Genre

Fantasy genre 1


The Fantasy Genre


According to “Cliffnotes,” Fantasy fiction is a genre of writing in which the plot could not happen in real life (as we know it, at least).

As “Cliffnotes” is wont to do, a very succinct description. Factual but an injustice to this wonderous genre. The very word conjures up mysterious adventures, characters, creatures and most of all magic. Fantasy is a tale about the impossible.

The fantasy genre is part of speculative fiction which includes science fiction, superhero fiction, and horror/paranormal fiction. These speculative subsets differ from fantasy in one major component, plausibility. The characteristics of these genres need to reflect a familiar world. We measure the concept of space travel against our knowledge of physics. To have a superhero character, people of “normal” abilities must exist. Fantasy does not need that restriction. Trees can talk. Horses can fly. And magic exists.

Neil Gaiman in Stories: All New Tails writes, “I love the word ‘fantasy’… but I love it for the almost infinite room it gives an author to play: an infinite playroom, of a sort, in which the only boundaries are those of the imagination.” 

Fantasy need not be realistic. However, there are common characteristics that must be present.

Characteristics of the Fantasy Genre 

  • Magic: Fantasy must include a system of magic and that system have established rules that are followed. This element of the story alone separates fantasy from other genres. Creating a unique magical system is one way to set a story apart from others. Remember, magic is a character in your story, create a memorable one.
  • Characters: The development of characters, while very important in all genres, is paramount in fantasy. The scope of a fantasy story lends itself to larger than life characters and to quite a few of them. While you will always have your hero and evil villain, you may have many main characters and strong secondary characters to drive the story.
  • The Challenge: The core of your story is the challenge facing your characters. Conflicts that both drive them toward and keeps them from their goals create tension and interest in your reader. With an extensive cast of characters, conflict can be internal, between friends or between enemies. To create a cohesive story, there should be one arcing storyline which includes all your characters striving for the same goal.
  • Environment: Where does your story exist? When you create your imaginary world consider its terrain, flora and fauna, its social structure, educational systems, entertainment, military, and how it is governed. The more intricate you construct your world, the more drawn your reader will be to it.

In addition to these basic characteristics, fantasy also has many sub-genres, each of which brings unique characteristics of their own. Marcy Kennedy compiled a list of the most popular fantasy subgenres on her webpage, www.marcykennedy.com.

Fantasy Sub-genres:

Historical Fantasy – Historical fantasy takes place in a recognizable historical time period and in a real-world location. This sub-genre encompasses things like the King Arthur legends and Robin Hood. It’s more about how the author plays with history, myth, and legend than it is about magic.

Epic Fantasy – Epic fantasies are what most people think of when they hear “fantasy.” They’re defined by a large cast of characters, multiple POVs, and complex plots. They’re set in a fictional world, and the plot often revolves around the rise and fall of kingdoms. The ultimate epic fantasies are George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Urban Fantasy – First of all, urban fantasy is set in a primarily, well, urban/city setting. You can’t set your fantasy in a medieval-esque pastoral setting and call it “urban fantasy.” It’s darker, grittier than most other fantasy, and you’ll usually find it populated with demons, vampires, werewolves, witches (not the Harry Potter kind), or zombies. Kelly Gay’s The Better Part of Darkness is an urban fantasy example. Urban fantasy is often confused with paranormal romance. While they can and do often have blurry lines, the best way to tell them apart is to ask if the core conflict is about two people falling in love. If the main focus of the story is on the relationship, then it’s a paranormal romance. If the main focus of the story is somewhere else, on some other conflict, even if it has a romantic subplot, it’s still an urban fantasy.

Superhero Fantasy – Secret identities, superhuman powers, and villains who are more than a little unhinged are part of what makes superhero fantasy so much fun. Superhero movies like X-Men, Spiderman, The Green Lantern, and Captain America are all great examples of this genre.

Traditional Fantasy – Traditional fantasy is basically a teeny, tiny epic fantasy. It’s set in a secondary world (i.e., not our world) like epic fantasy, but it has a smaller cast of characters, fewer POV characters, and a plot that focuses more on a single character (or small group) and their unique struggle than on the creation or destruction of worlds/kingdoms. Magic in some form is usually a key element of traditional fantasy. A classic traditional fantasy is The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle.

The fraternal twin sister of traditional fantasy is sword and sorcery, where the plot focuses more on the swashbuckling adventures and daring doos of the main character than on the magical elements. In other respects, they’re the same. Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora is an iconic sword and sorcery fantasy.

Contemporary Fantasy – This sub-genre of fantasy sets the story in our modern-day world (as opposed to historical fantasy) and, although they can have dark elements to them, they also aim to give their reader a sense of joy and wonder. Contemporary fantasies often involve a “world within a world.” If you’ve read any of the Harry Potter books, you’ve read contemporary fantasy. (Urban fantasy is actually a sub-genre of this sub-genre, but it’s easier to consider it as its own sub-genre. Confused yet?)

Alternate History – Don’t let its name fool you. Alternate history plots actually usually fall into the fantasy genre rather than the historical fiction genre because at some point in time the history of the story world diverged from the history of our world. What if the Nazis won World War II? That became the inspiration for The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick. Depending on the focus of alternate history plots, they can also be categorized as science fiction.


Regardless of the type of fantasy that you choose to write, remember the world you are entering is full of magic, wonder, and the impossible. It is your job to take your reader there with you.







Deborah Ratliff is a Southerner with saltwater in her veins and love of writing. A lifelong mystery fan, her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published soon and a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. She has also written numerous articles on writing. Deborah serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/D-A-Ratliff-594776510682937/notifications/

Blog: https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/



Spoon-Feeding Your Readers (The Self-Editing Guide Part 6)

When reading a story, we use our imagination to “see” the scene unfold. It is almost as if we are blind and the writer is offering up their eyes for us to look through. But imagine losing your sight at say fifteen. You’ve had so many experiences with this lost sense, so many memories, that you recognize a closing door at just the click of the latch. You know someone is crying or fighting allergies at a mere sniffle. The softer the sound, the more likely they’re trying to conceal it from you. That is why if someone was sitting beside you describing a scene as it unfolded around you, you wouldn’t need them to list every detail. Only the things that can’t be understood without sight would need to be explained. It is almost the same when writing a scene for your readers.

To Prologue or Not to Prologue-2

When you sit down to write out a scene, keep in mind that your readers are not coming into this unprepared. This isn’t the first book they’ve ever read; it’s not the first bit of life they have ever experienced. Your readers are starting your book with a vast amount of past encounters to use as prompts for the information you will put in front of them. Quite rarely have I ever had a reader say I confused them by not listing that the character grabbed the door handle, turned it, pushed the door open, slipped inside, turned around, pushed the door to until it clicked, and then let go of the handle. Haven’t we all opened and closed doors at some point during our lives? You probably do it a few times on a daily basis.  Offering a bit of description to make a scene richer is okay, but overcompensating in fear of losing your readers will only leave them rolling their eyes and wondering if you think they need you to hold their hands through it all.

Instead, focus on what matters. Describe what the reader might not be used to seeing or what they can’t infer on their own. More than likely they’ll be skimming over the stuff I just listed anyway, and you really don’t want your readers to skim even once in your story. You want to make every word count in one way or another. I used to be afraid I would lose my readers if I didn’t list every step in my character’s task, but I had to learn to trust them. A rule of thumb is if it’s boring to you, it’s boring to your readers. So always refer to that when deciding whether to push through writing a scene that feels more endearing than entertaining.

Another aspect of this is emotion. When you show another character’s emotion through the main character’s senses—as in a stray tear, a cleared throat, an almost unnoticed sniffle—you don’t have to follow up with a detailed paragraph. You don’t even have to explain why the character is feeling the way he or she is. If it isn’t an opinion from the main character, you shouldn’t be adding that kind of info anyway (Remember, whether in first or third person POV, you’re looking through the main character’s eyes. Including an outside perspective the main character doesn’t share would be illogical).

Instead, show the emotion, show the reason behind it—if it’s to be revealed at that point in the story—and then move on. Don’t bog your readers down by coming up with new and creative ways to tell them the character is upset. They are readers, and they are human. That means they are used to imagining and experiencing similar scenes and will know what is happening by the first sentence or so.

This is also one of those mistakes that can tremendously slow down a fight scene and leave readers feeling like things are happening in slow motion. You don’t want your reader skimming over a major battle just to get to the outcome. The final battle should be more than satisfying. It should be full of action and relevant detail that pull the reader in, making them eager to turn the page—but only after reading each word.

Now that isn’t to say you should skip over the movements during a fight. This might be the one time you should show every step. The reader needs to visualize how the character gets from point A to point B, and considering they’ve probably never fought against an undead alien or superhuman, they can’t imagine the moves or magic your character will use against him without you walking them through it. List these things or it will feel rushed and unrealistic. However, stopping the scene to add paragraphs of narrative while the character seems to slip into some unshakable reverie will only pause the scene, pull your readers out of the action, and leave them wondering when things will ever move forward. Try showing the character’s emotions instead of having her speculate the internal battle she’s experiencing.

If you want to write a book your readers can’t put down, learn to trust them. This will help keep your action scenes engaging and your emotional ones moving. It will propel your story forward at a healthy pace and keep your readers from feeling like you’ve repeated yourself because you felt they needed things broken down. In this case, less is more.

Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

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