Saturday, 27 June 2009

7. What's a Genre?... Am I Heroic... or Hack n' Slash?

OK, reader:

If all this hasn't popped your bubble; It's time to decide which type of Fantasy you intend to write... or have written; and study the different types of Fantasy which are all lumped together under the somewhat insipid noun: "Genre." This is important information which should be decided before the first paragraph is even written.

Fantasy afficionados have an overwhelming desire to pigeon-hole fantasy subjects into specific sub-genre categories. Why?... I haven't a clue; but it's a fact of life, and you'd better be damn sure your masterpiece is targeting the correct niche audience.

Just to confuse the issue a little more; there is yet another category: Cross-genre... (Also known as Hybrid.) These include:
"Romantic Fantasy" where the romance is most important; and "Fantasy Romance" where the fantasy elements are most important.

(As you can see from the two examples above; it really isn't rocket-science... just common sense.)

Then, of course; there is:
"Science Fantasy;" which is either a science fiction story that has progressed far enough from reality to "feel" like a fantasy: or a fantasy story that is attempting to be science fiction. This can be broken down further into: Fantastic Science Fiction or Scientific Fantasy.

OK; Confused as to what your masterpiece is? Here are the main sub-genres:

A rip-roaring, fast-paced story with lots of action as the main character faces a series of difficult challenges. It will often, involves a CHASE or a QUEST. Adventure is more important than the struggle between good and evil; and there's not much in the way of world building.

A believable historical fiction where something happens... or does not happen; resulting in a totally different outcome. It might include fantastic elements, or be wholly unrealistic, except for the end result ; e.g: Germany crushed Britain in World War II, due to Occult intervention, and won the war.

The central characters are transported from this world to another, where magic works and other fantastic elements are present.

Stories about King Arthur, Merlin, Knights of the Round Table. (Mists of Avalon by Marion Bradley; Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff are good examples.)

Fantasy with a Christian theme or focus. ( Lilith by George MacDonald; and The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis are examples.)

Stories that poke fun at typical fantasy conventions.

Fantasy story set in our world in contemporary times, often in an urban environment, but may be anywhere. Can be humorous or an adventure story. May also be dark or urban (see below.) JK Rowling's "Harry Potter" series is a "Hybrid"... (see above)... within this sub-genre.

Since horror has negative associations/connotations, some authors and publishers prefer this phrase instead. Often, the horror here is not as horrible as that found under the horror category. Stephen King is considered by many, to be a dark fantasy author.

Also sometimes called HIGH FANTASY or HEROIC FANTASY. Fantasy stories of heroes in imaginary lands with complicated world building, many characters, and focussing on the battle between Good and some Enormous Evil. The hero usually has unusual and perhaps, unsuspected strength, but it takes time for this to be revealed. Often, the hero is involved in some sort of quest. Tolkien's Lord of The Rings is the model for all of this sub-genre. Popular with readers, several authors have written and continue to write these works. Many are derivative. Robert Jordan is perhaps, the best known current writer in this category. It is the most popular part of the whole Fantasy genre.

(My novel: "A Bright, and Shining Land" falls firmly into this sub-genre.)...

(One more Shameless, Self-publicity plug... but, why the hell not? It's my Blog!)

But, I digress...

Stories based upon folk or fairy tales, normally European; but, not always. A novel based on a retelling of the tale of Beauty and the Beast would be a good example.

HEROIC. (Sometimes called SWORD AND SORCERY; but, see entry below.)
Traditional fantasy stories focusing on a hero who overcomes all. Beowulf could fit into this sub-genre. Typically, it contains less world building and more action/adventure. Note that the boundaries between different fantasy categories are often very fuzzy.

The story takes place in a reasonably accurate rendition of a real time and place, but with the addition of magical elements.

Fantastic story with notable humorous elements, often satirical comment on society and manners. May also be called LIGHT FANTASY. Terry Pratchett is the best known current author. Robert Asprin is another.

Fantasy story based upon legend, myth, or folk tale.

Fantasy stories where the laws of magic receive considerable attention. These laws impact how magic is practiced and the results of that practice

Fantasy story focused on war and warfare, often in a medieval setting. Here, warfare with its strategy and tactic is a primary element rather than being part of the story.

Magic may be good or evil. It usually requires special abilities from birth, and rigorous training. SORCERY is usually evil and blood-thirsty.

Fantasy built upon suspense and a mystery. For example, the detective might be a person in a world where crimes are committed via magic.

Fantasy story with emphasis on mind over body power such as telepathy, telekinesis, shape shifting, and immortality. Some of these stories may be better placed in the horror or dark fantasy category. Werewolf and Vampire stories are well-known examples.

Fantasy story built upon religion or religious practices. This may include conflict between gods or characters who are members of a religious order.

Fantasy story using many of the elements and conventions of the romance genre. Here the romance is more central to the plot than the fantastic elements.

Fantasy story based on myths, legends, and sagas, usually European. Examples might include stories about King Arthur and Robin Hood as well as Greek and Roman Mythology.

Fantasy stories that include explicit sexual scenes similar to those found in romance novels but involving fantastic characters and situations. Laurell K. Hamilton is a well-known author. Sometimes, these are called "Hot and Dark Romantic Fantasies."

SWORD AND SORCERY. (Sometimes called "Hack n' Slash.")
Fantasy story with a hero or heroine, usually darker and more brutal than the HEROIC FANTASY. The hero excels at swordplay and uses a variety of weapons with unusual skill. The hero faces sorcery and triumphs because of strength of will and unusual good fortune. The setting is usually medieval with limited science and technology. Howard's Conan the Barbarian is the archetype. A fast paced plot with underdeveloped characters is typical. Often rooted in the pulp fiction conventions of the 1930s. Lacks the "serious purpose" of HEROIC FANTASY.

Fantasy story limited to animals who act like humans; or with talking animals... (who may communicate telepathically)... playing a major role. Watership Down, about the rabbit civilization, is a classic example.

Gritty, often dark stories set in an intensely urban environment where contemporary ordinary people do what they do, but fantastic creatures are there as well. Vampires are popular in this sub-genre.

So; that just about covers the sub-genre minefield. Your masterpiece may fit seamlessly into a specific pigeon-hole, but more likely... it will fall between two... or, perhaps, even three.
No-one said this game was going to be easy!

Next time:

One day, I'll actually get to see My Copy!

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