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  1. #1
    Registered User Mikael Shamsie's Avatar
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    Fundemental Kernel of Fantasy

    Hi everyone,

    I've been working on a fantasy novel for some time now and it's got me wondering what the core of fantasy is (I probably should have thought about this much sooner). So my question is: what is that thing that's fundamental to the fantasy genre as oppose to another fictional genre? As fantasy readers what's that one thing that's make or break when you're perusing for fantasy books? Thrillers need suspense, sci-fi needs scientific concepts, what does fantasy need?
    Any and all feed back would be awesome. Thanks.

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    It could be worse. ~tmso Moderator N. E. White's Avatar
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    Hello Mickael and welcome to the forum!

    Good question. I know there are some folks who do not make a distinction between science fiction and fantasy (the reasoning being that any sufficiently advanced technology is essentially like magic anyway), but for me, I think what makes a fantasy are the following:

    1. Set on some other world (whether in our universe or not)
    2. The people (humans or not) that we are following have some sort of ability that we don't have or can sense the world in some way that we can't (this is especially where I see sci-fi and fantasy blending)
    3. The story usually centers around some world-shattering event (well, I guess that's sci-fi, too)

    Hmmmm, maybe...I know it when I see it?

  3. #3
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Fantasy fiction needs fantastic elements -- the magical, supernatural, divine, paranormal.

    If you would like to give yourself a headache, you can check out this conversation we had on that:
    http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showt...SF-and-Fantasy

    But essentially, while fantastic elements make something fantasy fiction, that isn't what usually makes it or breaks it for fantasy readers. A percentage of fantasy readers will read any kind of fantasy story. Other percentages will not read every kind of fantasy fiction -- they only want certain types of stories, whether it's secondary world, contemporary urban, fablist, grimdark, fantasy horror, historical/alt history fantasy, futuristic fantasy, portal fantasy, comic fantasy, etc. And they don't browse out of that area very often. (Whereas fantasy authors tend to bounce around a bit during the course of their careers.) So trying to triangulate conversations among fantasy fans can be kind of like trying to jump over a herd of agitated cats.

    So if you give us an idea of which area your fantasy novel is roughly in, we might be able to come up with some more interesting aspects. (Although it's pretty wide open what you can do in any area.)

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    KMTolan kmtolan's Avatar
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    For me, the only separation between fantasy and any other story would tend to be as KatG mentioned - magic, impossible creatures, and such. That said, your job as a writer isn't going to be much different. Even in fantasy there are going to be limits, rules, and costs if any of it is to be believable. You're still looking at all the usual motivations for characters and the same growth patterns. You're just plunking these things down in a more interesting environment.

    Fantasy doesn't have to deal with wizards, dragons, or sparkly vampires. I keep encouraging folks to go with a totally non-European trope just to blaze some new trails among the deep ruts.

    Readers want a good story and characters they can relate with. That doesn't change.

    Kerry

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    Registered User Mikael Shamsie's Avatar
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    Thanks for the replies, I really appreciate it.

    The fantasy I'm working on isn't your standard dragons and wizards fantasy (not there's anything wrong with that). The only fantastic elements it has come in the form of these god-like beings who were once a part of the world, vanished following a cataclysmic event, and are now coming back to the world over a thousand years later, where people are mostly ignorant of them.

    So I guess my next question is how much fantasy is enough fantasy (if you're looking for a more grounded fantasy series)? ASOIAF for example, is at times completely devoid of fantastic elements, but the promise of fantasy is enough. Do you find that in most cases such an austere approach works? Thanks again.

  6. #6
    KMTolan kmtolan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mikael Shamsie View Post
    So I guess my next question is how much fantasy is enough fantasy
    No formula, sorry. No "magic" approach (couldn't resist) to writing fantasy. This is the point where I'd be concentrating more on the story I want to write, and less on "what's successful". Writing in any genre's a roll of the dice. You comfortable with minimal, then write that. Want to go overboard? Keep it cohesive and credible, but have at it.

    Characters and story, set in a world the reader will enjoy. Not too hard, eh? (grin)

    Kerry

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    It could be worse. ~tmso Moderator N. E. White's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mikael Shamsie View Post
    ...how much fantasy is enough fantasy (if you're looking for a more grounded fantasy series)?
    Well...since I am opinionated...here's my opinion:

    I want the fantastical element (whatever that is) to play a key (and ongoing) role in the story for me to call the story a fantasy (whether I like it or not depends completely on the writing execution).

    So, for instance, I'm reading Ben Aaronovitch's Foxglove at the moment. It is an urban fantasy. Magic is integral to the story. It is a part of the city's history, part of the police force, part of the crime network, part of the countryside, a part of everything.

    But, conceivably, the author could easily write that story without magic. Without it, Peter Grant is just a normal constable. I'm sure he would still be a riveting character (because he's funny and cool and self-effacing all at the same time), but without the ability to do magic and make balls of light, the story is just meh to me. It would just be another police procedural that I'm not all that interested in reading. Nothing wrong with a good police procedural. There are a lot of good, mainstream police procedurals out there that do very well (though, to be honest, I couldn't list any since I don't read them). But by Aaronovitch adding magic to the story, it takes the whole series to a different level that - for me - is far more entertaining than if it was written without it.

    So, you say your story has gods that have returned from a long absence. Okay, but so what? Do they do anything special? Does their return drastically alter the landscape? Do they shine so bright people can't look directly at them? Do bolts of lightning spew forth from their collective asses or what?

    If not, then as a reader, I probably wouldn't be all that interested in your story. You (or your publisher or anyone else) can label it as fantasy, but I probably wouldn't think of it as a fantasy.

    However, that's not to say a hundred million other people wouldn't like it. I haven't read the series, but folks say that the vampires in the Twilight series didn't really do anything all that vampire-like, but those books were a huge success. (shrugs)

    As Kerry said, it really depends on your story and whether you can get your readers to connect to your characters. So, write what you want and good luck!

  8. #8
    Registered User Mikael Shamsie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kmtolan View Post
    No formula, sorry. No "magic" approach (couldn't resist) to writing fantasy.

    Kerry
    Of course you're right. I know objectively speaking there's no one right way of writing fantasy. I suppose I was just looking for people's general sense of things.

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    KMTolan kmtolan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mikael Shamsie View Post
    Of course you're right. I know objectively speaking there's no one right way of writing fantasy. I suppose I was just looking for people's general sense of things.
    I have no sense.

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    Registered User Mikael Shamsie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by N. E. White View Post

    So, you say your story has gods that have returned from a long absence. Okay, but so what? Do they do anything special? Does their return drastically alter the landscape? Do they shine so bright people can't look directly at them? Do bolts of lightning spew forth from their collective asses or what?

    If not, then as a reader, I probably wouldn't be all that interested in your story. You (or your publisher or anyone else) can label it as fantasy, but I probably wouldn't think of it as a fantasy.
    This was exactly the kind of feedback I was looking for. Thanks

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    It could be worse. ~tmso Moderator N. E. White's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mikael Shamsie View Post
    This was exactly the kind of feedback I was looking for.
    Great! I'm glad I helped, but just to muddy the waters, I'll probably go and contradict myself in another thread (or maybe later in this thread). Sometimes, it is odd what stories we end up gravitating towards and what labels we decide to attach to them.

  12. #12
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mikael Shamsie View Post
    Thanks for the replies, I really appreciate it.

    The fantasy I'm working on isn't your standard dragons and wizards fantasy (not there's anything wrong with that). The only fantastic elements it has come in the form of these god-like beings who were once a part of the world, vanished following a cataclysmic event, and are now coming back to the world over a thousand years later, where people are mostly ignorant of them.

    So I guess my next question is how much fantasy is enough fantasy (if you're looking for a more grounded fantasy series)? ASOIAF for example, is at times completely devoid of fantastic elements, but the promise of fantasy is enough. Do you find that in most cases such an austere approach works? Thanks again.
    So it's secondary world fantasy with gods. Gods are very popular in fantasy fiction, as is the idea of the magical or the divine coming back into a world (or Earth.)

    A Song of Ice and Fire is chockful of fantasy elements, more than many other fantasy novels, but it seems like less to a lot of folk because it's a very large story with massive battle scenes. But it's not the amount of fantastical content that draws readers to works as fantasy fiction. It's just the existence of it in some way in a story. Novels like Patricia McKillip's The Forgotten Beasts of Eld or China Mieville's Perdido Street Station are not dripping in fantastical elements. Fantasy novels are not required to be built like D&D game campaigns -- which were modeled on fantasy fiction and existed long after fantasy fiction already had a burgeoning category market. There are thousands of fantasy titles put out every year, so there's not really a kernel. It's a spectrum.

    I'd suggest reading some titles like N.K. Jemisin's Inheritance trilogy and Dreamblood duology series, Felix Gilman's Thunderer duology, Joe Abercrombie's First Law series, Max Gladstone's Craft series, all of which deal with gods/near gods in secondary worlds. It will give you some idea of the breadth there, plus they are good novels.

  13. #13
    Registered User Mikael Shamsie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    So it's secondary world fantasy with gods. Gods are very popular in fantasy fiction, as is the idea of the magical or the divine coming back into a... I'd suggest reading some titles like N.K. Jemisin's Inheritance trilogy and Dreamblood duology series, Felix Gilman's Thunderer duology, Joe Abercrombie's First Law series, Max Gladstone's Craft series, all of which deal with gods/near gods in secondary worlds. It will give you some idea of the breadth there, plus they are good novels.
    My bad if it came off as if I was saying the idea of Gods are unique to my book, and you're quite right that it's a spectrum as oppose to a kernel. I'll be sure to check those books out (I've delayed reading Joe Abercrombie for far, far too long). Thanks for the fantastic advice.

  14. #14
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mikael Shamsie View Post
    My bad if it came off as if I was saying the idea of Gods are unique to my book, and you're quite right that it's a spectrum as oppose to a kernel. I'll be sure to check those books out (I've delayed reading Joe Abercrombie for far, far too long). Thanks for the fantastic advice.
    I didn't think you were believing using gods to be unique, just that you are nervous like a lot of writers are about the market and what's expected. There are in fact fantasy readers who prefer to read stories with very high amounts of fantasy material and like wizards, and there is another segment that only likes "low magic" stories and looks for those. (I always find it funny that some put Martin in that category, given how much fantastic material there is in the books.) The market is sufficiently broad enough that authors don't really have to worry about trying to satisfy both ends, and really, you don't have a lot of control over how your book is interpreted by others anyway.

    For fantasy, stories use a fantastic element or several to twist reality as we know it into the unnatural. The twist may be a large complicated one or it may be a small, subtle one. Both have long traditions in fantasy fiction. So fantasy readers are looking for that twist, the shift in the world from natural to supernatural, but they will all have their own range of preferences.

    Sub-categories of fantasy in the category market are based on setting. And in secondary world, the setting is obviously very important. How central it is to the plot versus serving as an alternate place background varies. Fantasy authors tend to mash time periods and cultures from Earth in one form or another, plus aspects that they make work in their worlds. In your case, the setting sounds like it is central, since it is a setting in which the unnatural existed, disappeared and is now trickling back in again.

    A lot of secondary world novels are pre-industrial, to give them a folklore/fairy tale setting. But a goodly percentage are set in a later stage of technology from Renaissance guns to computers. There are also portal and multiverse novels where a person goes from one world to another or to many others, frequently one of them being our Earth. That's a somewhat different twist and usually involves contrasting technologies. Some fantasy readers don't like those and others love them. Stories with gods often involve portals and multiverses, especially if they are contemporary fantasy set on Earth. (And to that end, Neil Gaiman's American Gods might be a good one to look at, even though it isn't secondary world.)

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