Genre 101|Fantasy

Genre 101-Fantasy

Writing Fantasy is like exploring a new world with each new story. Every stroke of the pen or keystroke bringing them to life.

What Is Fantasy?

Horror seeks to scare. Science Fiction deals with the fantastical through the lens of science. Even when it handwaves most of the science away. Fantasy is the genre of the that doesn’t try to explain things away via a horrific supernatural entity or science.

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A Very Brief History Of Fantasy

Elements of what we would call Fantasy are almost as old as the written word itself. In fact, I would call it the oldest of the Speculative Fiction genres if we’re including the mythology of the world in our definition of Fantasy and works like Beowulf.1 There’s even debate about when the genre actually starts based on the argument about that writers like Shakespeare, the writer of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, may not have believed the magical goings on they wrote about were possible.2

Flash forward to the Victorian Era and the most widely accepted start of Fantasy as its own genre, the works of the Scottish writer George Macdonald.3 Before then the genre is is more amorphous, after it slowly becomes much more defined and, eventually culminates in the works of authors like Marie Brennan, J.R.R. Tolkien, and N.K. Jemisin.

What Do Fantasy Writers Write About?

Racism. LGBT+ issues. Gender roles. Dragons and Orc-like creatures. A gnome living in Boston and teaching at a school for magical being as the 9th grade English teacher etc. Basically, anything a Fantasy writer wants to write about.

Fantasy is a vast genre with room for just about anything. One of my own stories deals with a young woman coming of age and trying to find a romantic partner. Not exactly the most innovative by other’s standards. But the culture also is one where three and four person relationships are normal for them, and the gender of each partner is completely up to those in the group. As of the writing of this post, I’m still working on it and thoroughly enjoying the experience.

How Long Does A Fantasy Story Have To Be?

That depends on the story. But just like when determining the length of a Horror story, I like to use the Nebula Awards, Hugo Awards and a smattering of what I can find online about Flash Fiction to help me determine length. And, of course, the length requested by an agent you plan to query or a publisher is always important as well. But as a general rule…

Flash Fiction is under 1,000 words.

Short Stories are up to 7,499 words.

Novelettes are between 7,500 and 17,499 words.

Novellas are between  17,500 and 40,000 words.

Novels are more than 40,000 words.

It’s worth noting that most places will not take a 40,000 word novel. It will simply be too short for consideration from a first time writer. Novels of this length tend to be included in story collections for established writers instead of as stand-alone bodies of work. And collections are far less common than standalone novels or anthologies in the Fantasy genre. places the appropriate length for a Horror novel at 90,000 to 100,000 words long with a true upper limit of 120,000 words.

Top Three Tips For Writing Fantasy

This section is one of my favorite. The tips aren’t drastically different from what you’ll find in the Horror post, all good writing tips can be applied to a variety of genres. But finding new ways to communicate or reinforce the tips in the minds of readers making their first steps into the genre is something I enjoy doing.

Below are my top three tips for writing Fantasy:

1) Read Fantasy stories.

The more you read in the genre you write, the more knowledge of the genre you have. And the less likely you’re to use beloved old tropes in a way that isn’t innovative.

One of my own stories is what I like to think of as Literary Adventure Fantasy. There’s a quest, which is pretty standard for a great deal of the genre. But my quest is more personal in nature and is about a young woman coming of age being sent out into the world to find the first of two to three other members in the triangle/quads that make up a family unit in her culture. Old trope, a new take on it.

2) Invest In A Good Fantasy Writing Book.

A good book on the craft of writing Fantasy is worth its weight in gold, in my opinion. Especially when it comes to world building and helping those new to the genre with what can be an overwhelming task.

3) Write what excites you.

This one is self-explanatory. A good story is one that excites readers and you are your first reader. If you don’t like the story/idea, then there’s no point in submitting to an agent, a magazine, or directly to an online publisher.

Venues To Start You Off

There’s a multitude of venues to submit Fantasy stories to. In fact, there’s even a good deal of overlap between Fantasy and Science Fiction publication. Remember to always read a publication before sending your work out to them. They are, in no specific order:

1) Strange Horizons’ specialty is Fantasy and Science Fiction stories. The stories are always awesome and they take works up to 10,000 words with a preference for those under 5,000. There’s also no lower limit so anything too short for most publications can be submitted to them as long as it is Fantasy or Science Fiction.

2) Beneath Ceaseless Skies is a great publication for those who love adventure-based Fantasy. Perhaps even more interesting to some, they specialize in Literary Adventure Fantasy specifically. All the work at BCS is beautiful and complex. They take stories up to 14,000 words.

3) Flash Fiction Online is a great place for flash pieces. It isn’t the place for a Fantasy story that is violent or has graphic sex, but more traditional stories will do well there. Not to mention Literary Fantasy between 500 and 1,000 words.

That brings me to recommended reading.

Recommended Reading 

Reading is important for a writer, Fantasy or otherwise. Below are three books, one non-fiction, and two fiction that are among my favorites. You’re under no obligation to read them, but I have found they’ve been invaluable to my enjoyment of the genre and my continued education within it.

Writers Workshop of Science Fiction & Fantasy edited by Micheal Knost is a collection of essays on a whole range of topics, bringing together writers such as Neil Gaiman, Nisi Shawl, and Elizabeth Bear. Published in 2013 by Seven Star Press, it’s a whopping 530 pages of information spanning from world building to gender in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan is a fictional memoir set in a fantasy world about a female naturalist. The world itself is awesome and, if you purchase the paperback version there are pictures and diagrams sprinkled throughout that are simply done wonderfully. This book is a must for those who would love to read about a Victorian style setting.

Which brings me to my last recommendation, The Lord of The Rings. Written by J.R.R. Tolkien and loved by millions of readers for decades, LOTR, as it is known to fans, is one of the definitive examples of 20th-century Fantasy fiction. I reread this one every year and own the 50th-anniversary edition which bundles them all together as they were meant to be, in one large story.

What are your tips for new Fantasy writers?

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