Truth becomes fiction when the fiction's true;
Real becomes not-real where the unreal's real.
The above quote is from the Chinese classic, Dream of the Red Chamber, and if you look at Wikipedia's list of top selling books of all time, six out of the top eight are fantasy, or have strong fantasy elements, so I'm not alone in being a fan of the genre. But why is fantasy, and I'm using the term loosely as there are many sub-genres, so popular?
Human protagonists experience a range of emotions, which enables readers to engage with them, and even those that are not, for example, robots or little furry animals, exhibit some or all of the same feelings. Whether your character is Leopold Bloom, Bilbo Baggins, Scarlett O'Hara or Miss Marples, readers must want to follow their journey, and find out what happens to them. A character's relationships, and their success or failure in this area of life are part of the emotional appeal of a story.
The term plot is used to describe the sequential events that take place within a story, and follows the standard dramatic arc of increasing internal and external tension, climax and resolution. From folk tales and myths to Greek tragedy, through Shakespeare's comedies to modernist novels, you find this convention. The reader's expectations about character and plot are present whether you read or write crime/detective, magic realism, rom-com, fantasy, fan fiction, or the genre known as literary fiction, and if you tick these boxes, you have a chance of satisfying readers.
For me, the setting of a fantasy novel offers a greater opportunity to bend the rules, although sub-genres such as urban fantasy or postcyberpunk, take place in the world as we know it, or use elements of our world with plenty of gritty kitchen sink realism thrown in. We owe a great debt to the myths and folklore of our ancestors, which we are adapting and passing on to the next generation. Tolkien's use of Norse mythology in Lord of the Rings springs to mind.
A more tricky aspect of genre writing is the framework created by established books which generates limitations. Fairies, elves, and space explorers are generally good, whereas trolls, goblins, and aliens are the standard baddies (except E.T. of course). On the other hand, you could have fun playing with these accepted norms, and feature a teenage troll worried about his complexion, although I'm sure the robot who constantly cracks bad jokes has been done. It's a delicate balance for genre writers to follow these conventions and yet introduce something new and original. If a writer is successful in doing so, their contribution is added to the cannon for later writers to follow.
As a reader and a writer, it's the otherness of fantasy that is its greatest appeal to me, and because the genre is generous, it can include romance, mystery, and be a thrilling tale of suspense on as epic or small a scale as the writer wishes. Sometimes the further we travel in our imagination away from the external world perceived by our senses, the more understanding we gain.
In January I'll start outlining book three of my urban fantasy trilogy, Samsara, (Books One and Two are available), and until then, I'm editing a science-fiction/fantasy nanowrimo novel. Some years ago, I wrote a fantasy novel, and digging the manuscript out from the depths of a drawer, and reworking it is on the to do list. Although I've written in other genres, I keep returning to fantasy and my first love—sci-fi.
I was very happy to be interviewed earlier this month by the fantasy author, Kellie Steele, and you can find the interview on her website, as well as information about her debut novel, White Ghost and the Poison Arrow.
snow lies on the ground
one red apple left hanging -
blackbird finds a feast.
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To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.