What Makes Fantasy Great: Hard or Easy to Write?

Well, Veminox Arc Three, the Cleaning of Veminox, is about to come out this December! As I put together the entries, I’ve been thinking about fantasy as a genre, as something I write, and as entertainment for people. Here are some thoughts on it.

If you’re passionate about fantasy fiction, you may find this interesting.

What Kind of Genre Is Fantasy?

In fiction, there are a lot of different genres out there, enough that you can divide them into some clear groups based on their key goals as categorization tools.

1: genres that imply a specific mood. Horror, thriller, romance, comedy, tragedy, these genres imply that, somewhere along the way, you will encounter certain events and feel a certain way during the course of the story.

2: genres that describe the time and place, in essence the setting, where the work originated, such as classical and contemporary, or British lit. While these umbrellas don’t really tell you what to expect in the work, they are useful categorization tools for people with a specific interest in a real time, place, milieu, etc.

3: some genres, necessitated by the growing world of entertainment, were created to designate the intended age of the audience. Young adult, elderly, middle grade, etc.

4: genres that tell you what to specifically expect in the writing, if not in the story itself, and the author’s goals. Genres like literary, philosophical, commercial, and experimental will inform the reader about what to expect on a micro level, how the writer delivers their story and what the story is meant to do.

5: content specific genres. These are more about what the author is going to put in their story, and how. Allegory, coming of age, mystery, magic realism, etc. Science fiction, like other content specific genres, can offer all sorts of moods and serve all sorts of audiences and goals, but the content is key: sci-fi must offer speculative ideas based on our current understanding of scientific concepts.

Fantasy is an example of type 5, content specific. The content requirement is that it must deal in non-real, impossible elements. It may mix them with pieces of the real world, and often does, but it is essentially the counterpart to science fiction. While science fiction presents a possible and therefore relatable world, fantasy presents an unreal, YET relatable world. It becomes believable, not in the logical sense of scientific ideas that we understand, but in the behavior of characters, or the thoroughness of worldbuilding.

The reason why I find fantasy so impressive and interesting is because I am forever on the fence between finding its rules too easy and too constricting.

You see, with fantasy, you aren’t required to make sense. Not in the literal, scientific way. Want to write about a world with flying buildings? If your world has magic, you can get that past the reader with little to no direct justification for how it’s possible.

As long as you are internally consistent.

In other words, you don’t suddenly have a building that doesn’t fly in the exact time when you need to have characters to get stuck on the ground. Plot convenience is the enemy of believability in fantasy. The world must feel like it exists for no one in particular, including the author or the reader. The world is just a place, indifferent to everyone and behaving consistently no matter which characters are involved. If it feels like the rules of the world are bent for convenience’s sake, the spell is broken. It is obviously a story, and not a very good one.

So with fantasy, you don’t have to make sense, right? Wouldn’t that mean that writing fantasy is easier than other genres, like science fiction, where you do have to make sense? Not exactly.

There’s a thing called decision paralysis. It’s when a person needs to make a decision, but has been given enough options to feel stuck in considering them all. With fantasy, more possibilities means more potential decisions you could make in every given scene, as a writer, and that can be a lot to keep in mind all the time. Trust me, nothing is more aggravating than finishing a block of entries in Veminox only to look back with my editor and realize “Couldn’t Claudia have just cast XYZ spell right here?” and then have to go back and deal with that. I try to make sure I never get in that position as I write, which can be more overwhelming in the moment.

This becomes more complicated when you consider that fantasy can mix with type 2, 3, and 4 genres. Fantasy mixed with civil-war era America is going to demand both a close adherence to any fantasy rules and proper historical accuracy. Young adult fantasy is one of the biggest genres of all time, and plenty of fantasy stories fit under the literary umbrella as well.

I believe the basic premise the reader is expecting when they open a fantasy book is what helps fantasy blend so well with different genres. When someone hears “it’s a fantasy”, part of them already knows they’re in for something impossible or outlandish. That makes it easier to welcome really bizarre combinations of genres or wild premises. Veminox, anyone?

As a writer, though, it also means that I’m pulled by all sorts of influences. I can read one fantasy book and think “This author did XYZ really well. I want to do something like that in my own stories now.” but by the time I’m actually writing that, that feeling could have faded and I’ll be inspired by something completely different, a fantasy story with a whole other plot and goals.

So when I hear about fantasy, and that it’s either easy as a genre or hard as a genre because of the lack of limitations, I can agree with both sides. But that’s where it ends. How I feel about fantasy as a writer will change every day, depending on what specifically I’m trying to write.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though fantasy is very different from science fiction, there is still a science to fantasy. An author who cannot make his fantasy setting feel real or believable is essentially stuck, drowned in a well he dug with his own hands. It is both easy to dig, and also easy to dig too deep. It’s a balancing act.

What’s your take on fantasy as a writer, or as a reader?

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