Ask a book lover this question: ‘What is Fantasy? What kind of answers would you get? A story set in a world far from ours, with dragons and elves? And where the protagonist, dressed in brown leather, can swing a sword while looking for his princess in a long, blue dress?
Many people who have to answer the question ‘What is Fantasy’ will probably think along these lines. Especially the people who, as they will say themselves, have nothing to do with Fantasy.
That doesn’t apply to me.
For me, Fantasy is so much more than that. It’s not just that world with dragons and elves. It’s not just Lord of the Rings or a variation of them.
Then what is Fantasy?
Freely translated, Fantasy is nothing but fantasy, it’s imagination. And that goes beyond that world. It’s all that comes into your head. It’s a dream that you as a writer can put down on paper, or you as a reader can read in a book.
Fantasy is bigger than the normal, everyday world, but that doesn’t mean that the story necessarily has to take place outside that normal, everyday world.
There are plenty of Fantasy books that (partly) take place in our own world.
In an earlier blog I already discussed the different subgenres in Fantasy. As a (novice) writer it is sometimes very difficult to categorize your own story. Actually it shouldn’t matter. In fact, linking a category to your story can even do it short.
Because… if, for example, 6 of the 10 people you ask think that a Fantasy book is about sword-swinging men in leather suits, in a world full of dragons and trolls, and your story isn’t about that… Chances are they won’t even pick up your book.
I labeled my book Fantasy, subgenre Portal Fantasy. For me, that covers most of it. And yet I also think of genres like Magical Realism or Romantic Fantasy. It even looks a bit like Alternate Fantasy. Dividing your story into a genre is important: making the wrong choice can scare off any fans of your book.
The same goes for the target group of your story. In Fantasy it’s often either for adults (Lord of the Rings) or for teenagers (e.g. Harry Potter). While Fantasy can be great for all age groups. It’s all about imagination. Fantasy is art in the form of stories; not for everyone, but certainly inspiring enough to take a closer look.
My book An Impossible Truth has been categorized as a Young Adult book, but this doesn’t exactly correspond to the generally accepted rule that the main character in a YA book is always a teenager. Sophia is 26 and dreams about a world in which she is 16.
Here, too, you don’t want to be too strict with yourself. If I had wanted to write a book for Young Adults and I had taken this rule about the age of the main character seriously, my story would have been very different. (And not nearly as good as I think it is now!)
So what is Fantasy?
The bottom line is that Fantasy is bigger than one type of story. There are so many subgenres, websites like Den of Dragon give you a lot of information about Fantasy, it doesn’t do it justice. It can be a drama, a horror, or a love story. Or all three!
Most writers like to explore the limits of their own imagination. In order to do that, you don’t want to commit to certain rules for writing in a genre.
That’s something that happens a lot in the world of writing. “You’re writing a Fantasy book? Something like Lord of the Rings for sure? Not really my thing.” It’s almost like saying, “Oh you’re a man? Something like Donald Trump, right? Not really my thing.” How drowsy does that sound?
Just tell your story
Give Fantasy a chance. Write what you want to write and don’t let genres hold you back. That pigeonholing limits your creative mind. Writing can sometimes be difficult enough without having to follow all kinds of rules. In the first place, writing is nothing more than telling your story. And a Fantasy story is nothing more than a dream you’ve had, which you tell your sister or your friend or your neighbour. Dreams have no rules either; what happens in your dream is what happens.
See your story that way. Don’t let rules stop you. Just write. You can always become critical at a later time. For example, when your story is finished.
Fantastic writing pleasure!