Definition – Examples – How to Write
Hello Lovelies, and welcome back to the blog. We are learning about the fifth Pillar of Genre, Fiction. Last time, we went over a definition for Horror, and we talked about some examples of how to write it. This week, I want to dive deeper into the next of those subgenres, that of Fantasy, my absolute favorite genre ever. It is also, appropriately, my longest blog to date. I have a lot to say on this topic. Let’s get started.
Fantasy is a genre of literature that features magical and supernatural elements that do not exist in the real world. Although some writers juxtapose a real-world setting with fantastical elements, many create entirely imaginary universes with their own physical laws and logic and populations of imaginary races and creatures. Speculative in nature, fantasy is not tied to reality or scientific fact.
I am a huge fan of fantasy and it is incredibly difficult for me to narrow down books in the genre that I want to recommend. As with science fiction, I am going to try to keep the list down to those books that I believe are absolute genre essentials.
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I cannot start this list without mentioning the author responsible, in my opinion, for many of the current genre tropes. The Hobbit is set within Tolkien’s fictional universe and follows the quest of home-loving Bilbo Baggins, to win a share of the treasure guarded by a dragon named Smaug. The Hobbit has never been out of print since its first publication in 1937, lending to its legacy that now also encompasses many adaptations for stage, screen, radio, board games, and video games.
I personally read this book for the first time in intermediate school. My love of reading was beginning to expand, and I took The Hobbit on a family vacation, and rarely put it down. I still love to quote from its pages, and I find that The Hobbit is a far easier read than much of Tolkien’s works, and a perfect starting place for anyone new to the genre or new to Tolkien in general. Where the actual Lord of the Rings can be dark and quite dense at times, The Hobbit is adventurous and lighthearted. Honestly, a good time all around.
- A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin. In a hard switch, I have to also mention A Song of Ice and Fire. But not just any of the books, nor even the series as a whole. So much that was predicted has come to pass, and yet there are still so many more things that need to be concluded. Westeros seems too good to be true. After centuries of bitter strife and fatal treachery, the seven powers dividing the land have decimated one another into an uneasy truce. Or so it appears.
Truly the crowning achievement of the series, Book #4, A Feast for Crows, is absolutely Martin’s finest so far. The narrative will sweep you up into a frenzy and have you dying for 1000 pages more.
- Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson. If I had to pick one fantasy novel from Brandon Sanderson, I knew it had to come from his Stormlight Archive series. Some may balk at this and say that was a mistake because he’s written Mistborn, he helped finish the Wheel of Time, and he’s been known for his inventive magic systems ever since his debut novel, Elantris. People are crazy about Sanderson, and for good reason. And generally, people are not crazy about Oathbringer in particular. It rates 4.58 stars out of 5 on Storygraph, lowest of the series so far because it doesn’t feature much of the person whom most consider to be the main character of the series, Kaladin Stormblessed.
I, however, adored this entry into the Stormlight Archive. This is the Dalinar and Shallan book. I don’t like Shallan, and yet her story, coming into her abilities and realizing her truth was so powerful for me. Dalinar’s backstory finally has answers, more of them than we could have hoped for. I could not put this entry down and swept through thousands of pages in mere days. This may not even be my favorite thing Sanderson has ever written, but it is top-notch storytelling and honestly will not disappoint.
- A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. Ged was the greatest sorcerer in Earthsea, but in his youth he was the reckless Sparrowhawk. In his hunger for power and knowledge, he tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tumultuous tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.
If you ever watched the Studio Ghibli Film of similar titling and thought that maybe there was more to the world than they had time in the movie to show, you were right. The movie is based on a series of novels by the legendary Ursula K. Le Guin, whose prose is some of the most beautiful and emotion-evoking you will ever read in your life. The first book in particular tells you all the things you wanted to know about Ged, the wizard from the film, before he meets the little girl.
- Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale by Holly Black. Yes I know, you expected me to put Terry Goodkind on here because he is my penultimate favorite, but the literal “man on a quest” story isn’t the only kind of story being told in fantasy, thank goodness. Plus I didn’t want to recommend one of Holly Black’s newer novels, even though they are exceptional, because they get a little too angsty at times for me to recommend as an entry read. I’d however recommend you go back to where it all started, because you might not be aware that all of her faerie novels take place in the same working universe. Plus they recently got new matching cover art that is absolutely gorgeous and I’m considering rebuying the trilogy because I am in love with the aesthetic.
Sixteen-year-old Kaye finds a white-haired young man bleeding to death in a rain-drenched New Jersey wood and saves his life. From that moment nothing in her life will ever be the same. Soon she is plunged into an inhuman world of conflict and betrayal that demands a terrible sacrifice to win the kingdom. Cleverly combining romance with the resonance of myth, Holly Black masterfully evokes the dark heart of her conjured realm where Kaye must fight for her lover and her survival – a place of wonder, to be sure, but also of trickery, decadence, brutality and blood.
How to Write Fantasy as a Literary Genre
If you are interested in writing fantasy, I want to provide you with the following tips for starting that journey.
- Start with what you have. Writing fantasy can seem like an enormous endeavor, especially with authors like Tolkien who was a linguist and invented multiple different languages for the sake of his stories. Sanderson also writes 400-500,000 word novels as single entries, and his series is planned to be at least 10 books long. How can you hope to compete? You start from where you are, what you have, and what interests you most, and go deep.
Love maps, start there. Love worldbuilding? Dive deep and figure out exactly what it means that you’ve made certain choices about each nation, city, or town. What are the specific implications of choosing those things for your characters? If you’ve started with characters, make them extremely unique in their personalities. If you started with plot, really flesh out what happens in the story. Start with what you have, and build out from there.
- Choose a Point of View that makes sense for the type of story you’re trying to tell. High Fantasy is almost exclusively told in third person omniscient. Young Adult Fantasy is told in First Person. If you’re telling an Epic, you may have multiple characters, whereas if you’re telling a story that revolves around one character, you’re probably only going to have one point of view.
- Keep the rules consistent. Not all Fantasy deals with magic. Even when it doesn’t, or there’s a soft magic system involved (one where the rules aren’t explicitly explained), there are still rules of the world and of the way people govern themselves. Once you’ve made a rule, you need to be aware that you’ve made it, and keep it internally consistent.
If the Orcs are against the Dwarves because the Dwarves are tearing up the mountainsides where the Orcs like to live, they will not then later make a war pact with them for any amount of gold or treasure, nor even to save their Orcish race from extinction. Not at least without a lot of work on your part as the author to mend the rift between them in a sensible way.
- Take your time, but don’t take all your time. What I want to say here is that you might spend 40 years of your life building a world on the back end and only write a single novel. You may do so much work on worldbuilding that you get stuck writing in that world for the rest of your writing career.
Of course, if that sounds awesome to you, that is definitely your decision to make, but I want to caution you that it is possible to get stuck worldbuilding in something you don’t want to be working on for the rest of your life. There may be other stories you want to tell, and other characters you want to explore. If that’s you, I would encourage you to dive deep into 3-5 aspects of the world that seem the most interesting and relevant to the story you are trying to write and let the rest of it slip away. We’re still not sure the explanation for Thestrals or Time Turners is right, but as fans haven’t we all just decided we’re going to hand wave it away and ignore that Cursed Child exists at all? I promise that not everything has to be figured out by you for people to still enjoy what you’ve written, and that’s totally fine.
- Feeling discouraged is so easy, but if you must compare yourself to anyone in the genre, read their worst stories, not their best. I will get a lot of hate for saying that I personally didn’t enjoy some of Fantasy’s most popular books. I don’t enjoy the Wheel of Time because I feel that Robert Jordan’s writing of the series gets long-winded, the characters never accomplish the things they are supposed to, and it’s generally not fun for me to invest time and effort into a 13 book series that does not advance the plot until the last 3 books when Sanderson takes it over and has to close the series.
I also don’t enjoy the Mistborn trilogy. Fans of Sanderson love this and recommend it as a first book to read. I personally found it to be boring and formulaic. While the magic system was intriguing, the relationship fell flat, and both the character and story arcs didn’t feel like they were adequately and satisfactorily seen through to their ultimate conclusions. Nothing made sense as to how anyone was doing anything, or how anyone’s stories unfolded, and it felt very frustrating to read.
I’ve read almost every Shadowhunter novel Cassandra Clare has ever written, and unless it has something to do with Jem, I’m honestly not that invested. But you pretty much have to read the whole book, every book, to find out if he and Tessa show up for a few chapters or not.
All of this to say that you and I are both allowed to not like something. That even big-name authors, even books that are popular in Fantasy, are going to be not liked by somebody for some reason. Furthermore, those big-name authors got big with much humbler entries. A Modern Faerie Tale is not Folk of the Air. Elantris is not the Stormlight Archive. We do get better over time and with paid professional editing services behind us. Our first draft is not our last draft, and it’s allowed to be crappy and it’s allowed to need improvement.
If you are feeling discouraged, you are in good company. We are all discouraged. You only ever lose if you quit. Do not quit on yourself or your story. Please keep going. Please keep writing. The world needs the story that only you can tell.
Next week, we are starting NaNoWriMo and talking all about how to approach writing a novel in a month! Stay tuned for more on NaNoWriMo, coming your way throughout November!
- What is your favorite work of fiction?
- Do you have a favorite type of fiction subgenre?
- What genre is your favorite to read in, and do you write in the same genre or a different one?
- What is the most important reason writers should be aware of genre and its conventions?
- What questions would you like to see me answer in a blog post or podcast episode?
Leave your answers in the comments section for this post!