It is one of the least popular genres in terms of sales, despite the popularity int he movie and tv industry. Literary novelists take a rather disdainful view of the restrictive conventions of genre, especially fantasy, so why write fantasy at all? If you want to get rich from this hobby then I would not expect to do it by writing a fantasy novel or series, the likes of GRRM and Rothfuss and Tolkien are rare jewels. However, as a hobby (that is more serious than simply sitting back and watching some reality TV, right?) it is a wonderful genre to explore and this blog is going to discuss some of the reasons why.
It is a gateway to stories that can go beyond the natural conventions of the world we know – it is escapism. As a writer and reader fantasy allows us to break the bounds of this world and explore the limits of our own imagination. That is not to say there are not rules and structure, but these things are created by YOU, therefore you get to decide what the rules of your fantasy setting are. There is a reason why fantasy has the repetitive metaphor of portals – reading or writing in a fantasy setting is like stepping into another realm, be it through a wardrobe or a door on a beach, on the other side adventure and escapism awaits!
Understanding your genre is an asset to you as a writer – it helps you gauge what your readers may expect (you are one of them after all!), allowing you as a writer to develop a satisfying story. If you do not understand fantasy and its rules and precepts then you will struggle. Yes, it is good to have your creative voice and style, however fantasy lends itself to a certain type of story, it has defined conventions and the better you know these rules the better you will be at writing it. Read, read, read! Research! This goes for any genre and style, but I think sometimes people think fantasy simplistic and a flight of fancy, something that can be easily grasped and picked up and put down on a whim. Truthfully most fantasy fans invest heavily in it and they can spot a newb a mile off. Some are elitist snobs but most of us are just so happy you want to delve into our dark, dangerous, fantastic little worlds that we will do anything to keep you here indefinitely, mwahahahah!
The strength of the fantasy genre is that it defines a set of literary tools, structures and conventions within which writers can anchor themselves and use as a solid and familiar foundation that help them develop a better story and to execute those stories with confidence and purpose. The classic love story, the adventure, the mythology of gods and mortals, good versus evil, these are all familiar structures yes? They should be. Almost every story in the bible, in ancient myth and epic poems are based on these. Even Shakespeare used the Morality Plays as an anchor, the playwright being a fantasy writer also. Though back then he was simply a playwright, fantasy/religious myth was pretty much the only genre. As such it has hard and fast rules that identify it – these conventions are something I will blog about another time maybe.
Untainted metaphor – this allows you to deliver a message (be it political or a social commentary) without having to confront a reader’s personal biases. For instance, in Dragon Age the elves are racially abused and this addresses the very real world concept of racism.
“Fantasy stories can – and often do – deal with crisis, pain, loss, and inequality… valid and challenging issues we are confronted with in the “real” world as a society and as individuals.
Using a Fantasy venue for the story allows writers and readers to engage with those issues without the intimately personal associations they would have in a realistic setting.” – Myke Cole
This leads me nicely in my next blog about writing/RPing the taboo, so I will leave you all on this note:
Fantasy is not just a flight of fancy, it is not easy to write, but it is challenging and fun and has the paradox of being a haven for creativity and limitless possibilities while demanding lore, structure and reason within the settings we invent.
Is is worth writing in this genre? It sure as hell is! So few things give us the escapism that this genre offers, so few authors the gritty realism alongside the awesome of otherworldly fantasia.