Friday, September 16, 2011

Moving target: fantasy genres

I drafted a short pitch for my WIP for the crit blog Unicorn Bell and got to the end where you put the title and the genre and I had to stop and wonder... what subgenre of fantasy am I writing? There are so many. And so many lists, it turns out.

Pick a shelf, any shelf...
I am definitely NOT writing: 

Bangsian Fantasy: fantasies based primarily in the afterlife. Some lists cited The Lovely Bones, which I know nothing about. I thought of What Dreams May Come.

Comic Fantasy: Xanth and spoof fantasies.

Arthurian Fantasy: based on the traditions of King Arthur. Many worthy titles in this subgenre. 

Urban/Contemporary Fantasy: hardly needs an introduction anymore.

Fairytale Fantasy: I've enjoyed a lot of short-form re-tellings and re-imaginings of traditional fairytales, but not the novels.

Prehistoric Fantasy: Clan of the Cave Bear with magic, I suppose. This is a genre I don't know much about. 

Steampunk: Fantasy? or science fiction? Either way, my WIP is not steampunk.

Alternate History/Historical Fantasy: I often see it shelved as science fiction, though I've always thought of it more as fantasy. Maybe the confusion stems from high-tech elements that often turn up in the stories.

Sword & Sorcery: a venerable subgenre, home of Conan the Barbarian and my beloved Fafhrd and Grey Mouser -- but no, I'm not writing an S&S.

Low Fantasy: Definitions disagree over whether this involves the real world with magic (wouldn't it be Urban Fantasy?) or a secondary world with little in the way of the supernatural. I've got too much magic in my WIP to qualify, I think.

Near misses:
Heroic Fantasy: Quest-based fantasies. There is a short quest in my WIP, actually, but it was just to get the ball rolling.

Dark Fantasy: the horror/fantasy hybrid. While I do get graphic with the blood and gore, it's not my intention to frighten the reader.

My possibilities include:

High Fantasy: many definitions cite a "good vs. evil" theme, as seen in The Master's work, Lord of the Rings. Some only mention an alternate world where magic and mythical beasts are standard issue. I do have magic and some mythical beasts, but it's not a good vs. evil, have-to-save-the-whole-world-from-darkness situation.

Medieval Fantasy: Wikipedia's definition puts this on a level than encompasses other fantasy subgenres, which makes it more of a flavor than a sub-genre. Other definitions make it sound more like a type of alternate history. My WIP is heavily based on medieval research because I wanted realism, but it's definitely Not Earth.

Romantic Fantasy: Emphasis on Romantic, and generally sold as such. I'd have to be an idiot to overlook the romance element of my WIP, but I'm not a fan of the Romance Genre (not to be confused with romance in general) and I'm not writing for it.

Magic Realism: Listed as a sub-genre in some places and defined as a style in others. I'm inclined to go with the latter. Realism is a hangup of mine, you may have noticed, and it carries over to magic too.

Epic Fantasy: the definitions I've found sound a lot like a combination of the definitions of High Fantasy and Heroic Fantasy. Personally, "epic" refers to length. LOTR is epic. Winston Churchill's five-book account of WWII is epic.My WIP may be epic in length when the dust settles, but it's not Heroic Fantasy and not entirely High Fantasy.

Hard Fantasy: YES (I thought at first) and read this. OMG YES. But then I looked at the titles Wikipedia cites and they're all either SF/F hybrids or alternate histories. Blah, not what I wanted. Some other places cited George R.R. Martin and Jacqueline Carey. Now we're talking.

That is the kind of attention to detail I'm striving for in all my writing, whether science fiction or fantasy.  Spaceships must observe the laws of inertia. Shapeshifters must obey the law of conservation of mass. Magic with scientific rigor. Why haven't I heard more about this? (Because I need to read more, yes, I know. Bad writer.)

Hard Fantasy. I'm declaring my allegiance. It's not a contradiction in terms.

Later, maybe I'll add Hard Erotica -- which is not a contradiction, it's merely redundant. 


Annalise Green said...

Oooh, interesting! I hadn't known about all these specific names. I think I tend to write mostly Dark Fantasy and Magical Realism. Good luck with your WIP and critting!

Claudie A. said...

I wander a lot between the subgenres, but most of the time I hit either high fantasy or political fantasy (or both at once).

Then there's my last WIP. Which is... hum... low science-fiction? Yeah. XD

The Golden Eagle said...

I didn't know there were so many Fantasy subgenres. :P

Daniel R. Marvello said...

Excellent job unearthing all of those subgenres. Your list is one of the most complete I've seen. I recently went through a similar search, and finally arrived at "Fantasy Adventure" for my WIP. Before that, I was calling it "Swords and Sorcery."

Liz said...

Oh my god that's a lot of options. I knew they all existed but I didn't realize how many there were until I saw them written out like that. The only one I hadn't heard of before is Bangsian.

Chantele Sedgwick said...

Holy crap! I didn't realize how many there are! And you write a ton! :)

Sarah McCabe said...

Wow. I think there are way more subgenres than there needs to be. A lot of them don't really seem like a proper separate category, there's too much overlap.

I'm with you though on writing fantasy with attention to detail and logical rules.

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