Genre Breakdown: Fantasy


Perhaps what we love most about Game of Thrones and Harry Potter (just a few examples, there are plenty more) is that they tell stories that sweep us completely out of reality. That is, of course, what fantasy is supposed to do: we don’t imagine what the world will be like when these kinds of things happen. Our imaginations allow us to wonder what life would be like if, for example, magic were real.

Possibilities are literally endless for fantasy writers, but making your fantasy story stand out—or even making sure that’s the genre you’re most comfortable writing in—is where a lot of the decision-making comes in.

What makes a novel a fantasy novel? 

Fantasy (isn’t calling it fantasy fiction kind of redundant?) is the genre in which you can, quite literally, break all the rules. It is potentially a complete break from reality: characters may have magical powers, fly with dragons, walk with elves, live in an environment or world completely built from the author’s imagination. Yes, though we often wish we could live in these fictional words, unlike sci-fi, which is a bit more believable and realistic, we never can.

Magic of the unexplainable variety is common in fantasy novels (think Hogwarts; Middle Earth; any Disney classic featuring a fairy or witch). Many settings are more medieval, but it’s not necessarily a requirement. Basically, if you don’t want your story to abide by any laws of physics or realism, fantasy is the genre for you.

Recent books and their authors 

Starborn by Lucy Hounsom

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

A Crown For Cold Silver by Alex Marshall

How to write successfully in this genre 

Probably the most important thing to note about writing a good fantasy novel: you have to let your imagination take the story where it wants to go. Don’t hold yourself back. At least, that’s what Game of Thrones mastermind George R. R. Martin advises. In other genres, you have to limit yourself to what might realistically happen to your characters in a familiar setting. Writing fantasy, anything can happen.

However, it’s also important to remember that you still have to make your fantasy characters believable: they still somehow need to be able to relate to your readers, especially when they have a tough obstacle to overcome. Also don’t be afraid to throw in twists on fantasy clichés—good and evil are not always black-and-white; there is not always just one hero.

Play off of myths and legends, but craft them into something new, something we’ve never seen before. Be creative. World-build until you get lost and have to find your way back again. Go as far as your mind will take you. Write something your readers will wish they could escape to, mixing in just enough relatable character traits to make them feel represented in the world they must navigate on their own.

Want more genres? Check out Genre Breakdown: Science Fiction.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.