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How many fantasy categories do we need?

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I was on Duotrope the other day looking for a market for one of my short stories and was completely frustrated and confused by all the categories for fantasy stories they list. But they aren't to blame. They are only a reflection of the markets they serve. But it makes me think, how many categories do we need?

They list the following (this is not a complete list)
contemporary, dark fantasy, gothic, heroic, light fantasy, urban, science, magic realism, and historical. They also include the following categories which I thought were their own genre: superhero, paranormal (thought this was part of horror) vampire (again, isn't that part of the horror genre?) and steampunk.

They didn't list swords and sorcery, which surprised me, or epic fantasy, but I guess the latter is heroic.

I understand the need by publishers to identify the type of content they want I think we need some better, clearer labels because right now it feels like I'm ordering coffee when I describe the kind of fantasy novels I'm writing.

"Yes, I write novels in the tradition of the Lord of the Rings, Witch World, Deryni Chronicles, EarthSea, the Wheel of Time, or Pern, with some horror elements, and a medieval setting as a compared to a modern/urban one."

Does that make my novels heroic, epic, sword & sorcery, dark, and/or gothic? I have no idea. I just want we could simplify the whole mess and move on.

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Updated January 3rd, 2011 at 04:39 PM by feitelberg



  1. expatrie's Avatar
    I'm of the impression that Duotrope's categories are by demand of the markets, themselves, for one. (Not that that's what you implied).

    As to your work, sounds like S&S to me, which I'm positive was a category, I haven't been round duotrope much lately. But I'd still agree that the way to pitch your work is to stay with the comparison to familiar books. A single book is not epic (my opinion), so you can't be pitching epic yet, and series isn't really a category, so S&S, still.

    Vampire is probably a split off thanks to Twilight, since it's pretty non-horror from what I've heard--and thus a few markets are trying to cash in on that readership with stories in that..... er..... vein. And paranormal, FYI, is probably shorthand for either paranormal romance (vampires in love etc.), or paranormal suspense. Not sure.

    The publishers have those categories so all the readers who want something rarefied can get exactly what they want.. I.e. I want something exactly like Twilight, but different.

    Check out MZB's magazine, whatever it's called, and see what they're classifying that as now, because I thought it was swords & sorcery in the past, and doubt the type of stories they go for has changed, so that will tell you what happened to S&S. I don't see the horror elements, if they are not major, as being enough to switch it to horror, since that's about the only choice left for you.

  2. Querus_Abuttu's Avatar
    "...right now it feels like I'm ordering coffee when I describe the kind of fantasy novels I'm writing."

    It can be like that, that's true. Of course, it depends on where you order coffee. If you go to Denny's you'll only get one kind. If you choose to go to Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, etc , (what's popular and chic) then yes, you'll have a full list to choose from, but you can still order plain coffee. The same goes for submitting your stories. You always have the option of choosing purist magazines or publishers who will publish a strict category of fiction, but then you take a risk of having it 'not quite' fit what they are looking for.

    And yet, I personally have trouble when category options are so limited for submissions that my piece doesn't fit into anything they have listed. I don't know if you can make categories any 'clearer'. If anything, I think they will only get more complex.

    Writing is both art and science, and falls into many categories just like other forms of art and science do today. It used to be planets and stars were categorized simplistically, that physics was the end all be all before its quantum hit space and that only a few basic forms of dance were worthy of the stage. Our worlds have changed and with that change, variety, mutations of style and a penchant for breaking the rules and coloring outside the lines have taken hold of our once monochromatic universe. As for me, I relish in the options, the changes and selections, but I still write for one person. Primarily me.

    Whether I call it "weird fiction" (a personal description of my writing) or check mark the multiple horror, urban fiction, Gothic, fantasy, sci-fi blocks on the submission form, one thing remains. I enjoy telling the story no matter what the 'label', and that above all will keep me typing and sipping coffee, whatever the flavor I choose for the day.
    Updated January 1st, 2011 at 02:53 PM by Querus_Abuttu
  3. nonbeliever's Avatar
    I think the 'punk' characterisations are a surprisingly good way of categorising fantasy, as they often, to me at least, set out the mood of the book, and the world it's sending you into. A 'medieval-punk' (not quite sure if that's the word) book is always going to have a different tone to a steampunk story.