What is fantasy writing?

So, fantasy novels. Some people love them. Some wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole. Some think they are only about either fairies/gnomes/something similar, or over sexed vampires. This, of course, isn’t true at all, but I can see why such a notion would put people off. It would put me off (a cursory glance at the first few pages of Twilight would make anyone run for the hills).

As you probably know by now, if you have read some of my other posts, I like (most) fantasy novels. I like reading them as well as writing them. I prefer books that are a little bit out of the ordinary, where you’re not sure what might happen because anything could happen – the laws of logic don’t have to apply. Now I must stress that I don’t see that as an excuse for sloppy writing, poor character development or obvious plot devices shoved in to move along a slow moving story (“And then, inexplicably, the magical something-or-other exploded, rendering it useless, meaning the characters must move on to doing something different.”) You know the kind of thing I mean.

As author Lisa Tuttle points out in this article, there does seem to be some confusion as to what fantasy writing actually is, or can be. Here, Tuttle lists some examples of fantasy novels that break the mould – ones that challenge preconceived ideas about what the genre really means. I’ve written before about some of these misconceptions, highlighting the website of one particular publisher that features this charming image, just in case you weren’t clear about the fact that they do not, under any circumstances, want to receive any fantasy submissions.

I like fantasy, but don’t tend to read books that feature unicorns (not since I was a child at least). That kind of fantasy – the kind that this particular publisher does not want – isn’t really my kind of thing. But it seems to me that there are several quite distinct categories of fantasy novels, and it is impossible to think that you could place all novels that fall within this genre into the same category. For example…

  • Epic – Game of Thrones
  • High – Lord of the Rings
  • Low – The First Law trilogy
  • Sorcery – Conan the Barbarian
  • Dark – Ghormenghast
  • Romantic – The Outlander Series
  • Urban – Neverwhere
  • Magical realism – The Wind Up Bird Chronicle

The list goes on… The novel I’m about to finish writing – the third part of a fantasy trilogy – probably is best categorised as low fantasy.  It is set in an imagined world, but there is little magic and it is not the key part of the story, and there aren’t any human-esque characters (for example elves, demon like creatures etc). The (very) basic premise of the story is as follows: four island communities, which have remained virtually isolated from each other with very little contact, have always been ruled by another, fifth island. One of those under this rule suddenly breaks free, with catastrophic consequences for the others. There are elements of politics, military action, a love story, mystery, historical intrigue and betrayal. Typical ingredients perhaps. But I have always seen this as a story about five unique communities – unique in traditions, landscapes, and people, who struggle to get on with each other – as much as anything else.

So, as I come to the end of the final part of my own fantasy story, I am hoping to discuss it more via this blog, and perhaps get some thoughts and opinions on it, and on which kinds of fantasy story you all like (and don’t like). To start with, here are some of my favourites, in no particular order:

  • The Chronicles of Narnia
  • The Graceling trilogy
  • The Song of Ice and Fire series
  • The Time Travellers Wife (the genre of this is debated, sometimes classed as sci fi, but I see it as fantasy)
  • The Tales of the Otori series
  • His Dark Materials
  • The Wind up Bird Chronicle

Which are your favourites?


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