Fantasy is an enormous literary genre that, on the surface, seems to stand a world apart from other types of literature. Yet if we look closer, we find that it’s actually quite similar to other genres and has many of the same core components.
Fantasy combines supernatural elements in a fictional world to create a story that is often both immersive and magical. It can feature any number of creatures or elements, from the familiar (fairies and trolls) to the more exotic (dragons, unicorns, and other mythical beings). The use of magic is what separates fantasy from other subgenres, including science fiction, historical fiction, and crime drama.
Whether it’s a mystical weapon, a magical potion, or a magical ring, any device that provides an element of surprise or delight is a must-have for a fantasy. This is one of the reasons J. K. Rowling’s series has so many dedicated followers, and it’s also a reason why a good fantasy book can be a wonderful form of escapism.
While fantasy is often seen as a children’s genre, there is no age limit for its appeal. In fact, it is particularly useful for children as a tool to develop their imagination and ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes. This is why the Harry Potter at Home program launched in 2020 – to help parents ‘cast a banishing charm on boredom’ during the pandemic, but also to show how important children’s books and reading in general are for mental health.
For adults, fantasy can provide a way to escape the everyday, through the creation of new worlds and characters. It can also be a good way to explore social issues, as seen in works like Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, which explored the real-life implications of high-tech surveillance and is a powerful example of how fantasy can make us think about our own world.
A common mistake is for authors to confuse fantasy with other genres, especially science fiction. The line between science fiction and fantasy is becoming increasingly blurred as both genres expand to embrace more elements of the other. For instance, the long-running TV series Doctor Who has both a sci-fi and fantasy bent, with a hero who saves civilizations and planets with the power of his sonic screwdriver.
Whether you’re writing fantasy, sci-fi, or crime drama, knowing what makes your genre unique can help you write your own masterpiece. But there are other things you need to keep in mind, too. For example, it’s important to avoid the deus ex machina, which refers to the hero suddenly appearing at the climax of a story and solving all the problems with ease. While this can work for some stories, it is usually a sign of lazy writing that alienates readers. So take the time to understand your genre, and you could have a blockbuster on your hands.