If we’re going to write it, we should at least know what our options are, right? And let me state that since you are at a fantasy writing site, I am assuming that you are interested in writing some kind of speculative fiction.
First off, let’s try and define “fantasy fiction” a little more. It’s often lumped in with science fiction and called “speculative fiction,” which also includes horror, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction. We’ll find out more about general sub-genres a little later in this article.
There is sometimes difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and science fiction, since in recent years there have been so many crossovers. My novel Witchcanery is one such crossover. It is mainly fantasy, dealing with witches, wizards, Mother Earth, and golems. Yet the reason that Mother Earth gets so upset is the ecological devastation that humans are unleashing on their own planet. That’s based on scientific fact and reality. Another crossover aspect of this novel is the fact that the witches and wizards in my story are actually star travelers who came to Earth centuries ago to try and help Earth people achieve maturity. Although that’s not a huge part of the story, it still smacks of science fiction.
Many people try to say that science fiction is based on science and fact, things that, however unlikely, could be true. They say that fantasy is purely imaginary and couldn’t happen. I object to that definition, since many fantasy stories involve telepathy, telekinesis, and other exercises of the mind. Growing evidence supports that these activities actually exist and are fact. That blows that description of fantasy. So where does that leave us? Once again, we have no clear demarcation between the two genres.
Generally speaking, for our purposes then, let’s say that science fiction is based on science and known fact and could happen; fantasy is based on imagination involving magic, beings and places that have little relationship to the real world.
How can we pin down more closely what it is we want to write? Let’s take a look at the fantasy sub-genres outlined in this list provided by Wikipedia:
- Dark fantasy – fantasy that includes elements of horror (this is also the sub-genre where we find vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and things that go bump in the night).
- Epic fantasy / High fantasy – fantasy set in a fictional world where the quest is generally one that affects the entire world (Lord of the Rings is a good example).
- Low fantasy – fantasy/magic set in the real world (Support Your Local Wizard by Diane Duane is a good example).
- Magic realism – a literary form of fantasy where “what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something ‘too strange to believe.'” [Matthew Stretcher] (Think of all the movies where scientists uncover something that will destroy the world if it gets loose, which it usually does).
- Mythic – fantasy based on myths, fables, folklore, legend, etc. (the TV shows, Hercules and Xena, Warrior Princess were good examples of this sub-genre).
- Paranormal fantasy – fantasy based on paranormal and supernatural activities, generally set in the real world (The Sixth Sense – movie – starring Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment).
- Superhero fantasy – fantasy involving superheroes such as Superman, the X-Men, and Spiderman, plus “mystery men” such as Batman.
- Sword and sorcery – fantasy involving swashbuckling adventures by a hero/ine revolving around a personal quest, usually on a fictitious world, and often with a touch of romance to it. (Jennifer Roberson’s Sworddancer series books are good examples of this.) Note that “sword and sandal” is a sub-sub-genre and is a fantasy involving the personal quest of the hero/ine in a historical environment, often Biblical in nature.
- Wuxia – a Chinese term covering the adventures of martial artists, such stories and films being hugely popular in Chinese communities around the world. It was banned in the Republic of China for a while for about 20 years but was unbanned in the 1980s. All the Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan stories/movies are wuxia fantasy.
Now, let’s take a look at our beloved books, the ones that we couldn’t put down, that kept us reading late into the night, that we read and reread over again. How are they classified? What is it about those books that we love? Perhaps it’s just the sub-genre, the author, the main characters, the plots.
What you can do is pick maybe 10 of your favorite books and fit them into the above sub-genre categories. Chances are, where most of them fit, is where you will find the most fulfilment writing. And hey, you already know what that sub-genre feels like because you have read many of them. Apply the craft of writing that you have learned so far to this particular sub-genre and you’re off and running.
My own writing, wholly fantasy except for the non-fiction I turn out, is centered more on either epic fantasy (Battle Cleric the Novel) or low fantasy (Witchanery). I admit that I LOVE writing epic fantasy…it’s definitely my thing. What’s yours?