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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » What makes fantasy, fantasy?

   
Author Topic: What makes fantasy, fantasy?
enigmaticuser
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Working on query letters for my manuscript "New Arbor Day" and I'm finding it difficult to name its genre. To me, it's fantasy because fantastical things happen. But, there's not even any enchantments per se. I have no elves or wizards, but the things that happen happen according to a set of rules that are not bound by science.

So what makes fantasy fantasy to you?


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Reziac
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Sometimes there's a fine line... I think if your underpinnings can be derived from physical sciences (currently understood or not), it's SF; if your foundations come from some other source, it's fantasy. But even there, sometimes it's "feel". Anyway, yours sounds like it's probably fantasy. And it wouldn't be the first to have no enchantments or elves or wizards, but still be fantasy.

(I typed random nonsense the first time

[This message has been edited by Reziac (edited February 20, 2011).]


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Pyre Dynasty
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You did it the second time too. Just kidding.

Sounds like fantasy to me. Fantasy isn't as little a box people think it is. Perhaps it's magical realism?


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LDWriter2
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There are many types of fantasy. I have seen a list of ten different types of fantasy. Check out one of the magazines that take fantasy like Realm of Fantasy and Fantasy Magazine. Maybe a name will fit what you have.

I know that not all types have magic or elves(singing or not) etc..

I tried to come up with an example but can't think of any right now but I know there are many. But as one person said there can be a fine line with some stories.

In fact there are a couple I have seen listed that I have no idea what it is. One spelled something along the lines as fabulist.


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Wordcaster
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Great question.

For me (not anything other than my subjective mindset), it is:
-a story that takes place in medieval times that is not historic OR
-a story from any time period that contains speculative elements that cannot be explained with science or are used to create a horrific antagonist (horror genre)

Nothing official, but my initial thoughts. I don't believe, for instance, Arthurian legends require Merlin's magic to be classified as fantasy.


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MartinV
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I have a story in mind of writing soon and I cannot place it. It's a completely made up world with ancient to medieval development (swords, arrows) but no magic (or gunpowder). Nothing paranormal happening, except in people's imagination perhaps. The best I can do naming it is 'pseudo-historical fiction'.
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Robert Nowall
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If it's set in an imaginary land (even if the land is based on something real), it's fantasy.
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Reziac
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Oh good. I always try to type random nonsense, but I wasn't sure I succeeded the second time.

I'd agree that generally, being "set in an imaginary land" is sufficient to make something fantasy, tho then there's that habit of a couple centuries ago of making up small countries to set perfectly mundane adventures in... so now what? Are those fantasy or adventure?

Fantasy vs SF vs mundane fiction is a lot like porn vs erotica. Sometimes you can't quite describe why, but you know what it is when you see it. I've read paranormals and UFs that have loads of fantasy trappings but are as much mundane fiction as they can get; I've read historicals that border on fantasy (Cadfael leaps to mind; despite being very historical, it's almost like its own world), and then there's stuff like Gormenghast, where nothing fantastical happens, but the entire setting IS fantastical, despite being merely ... exaggerated mundanity. As Wikipedia says,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gormenghast_(series)

quote:
The series is usually described as a fantasy work. However, the books have no magic and no intelligent races other than humans, which is unusual in high fantasy such as The Lord of the Rings. Another valid classification would be to place Gormenghast in the genre of the fantastic, with marked gothic and surrealist influences. It may also be considered a fantasy of manners.

The marketing dept. is going to do whatever they want regardless, but when in doubt, methinks you have a better chance of being seen on the SF/F shelf, either end, than in the mundane section. (Where I never look, unless I'm trawling for a fresh Craig Thomas.)


[This message has been edited by Reziac (edited February 21, 2011).]


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Montag
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It sounds like you have trouble differentiating between SciFi and Fantasy. I have always observed and been taught that the difference between the two, no matter how thin, is always in how they approach their topic. Science Fiction usually takes one virture or vice of society and blow it out of proportion then work in that reality. They also tend to be a story that is potentially realistic. This is why space colony stories like Dune and Speaker for the Dead are science fiction, they could easily happen. Fantasy on the other hand is non-realistic. It often happens in its own universe. Terry Brooks's Shannara series is a great example of this. While he does connect it with the current world it is highly unlikely.

One key factor to look at is science versus magic. Science plays a much larger part in scifi because it needs a solid realistic basis. Magic is almost exclusively seen in fantasy because the author can really do what ever he/she wants.

If you were to give some aspects to your story I'm sure the community would be glad to help you (:


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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And then there is OSC who has said that he writes fantasy with science as the magic--and I submit that there are many so-called "science fiction" writers who do the same. (In other words, the scientific trappings are there, but the science is treated more magically than scientifically.)
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Meredith
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Just started WILD INK by Victoria Hanley (about writing YA fiction). She had an interesting take on this:

In fantasy, spirtual or magical powers or strong character traits are used to solve the central conflict.

In science fiction, it's more likely to be technology or science.

Now, she's a YA fantasy author and I think her bias is showing just a bit, there. I can think of sf where strong character traits are key. Still, I thought I throw it out there.


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DRaney
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OSC says in How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Writers Digest ~ "A rustic setting always suggests fantasy; to suggest science fiction, you need sheet metal and plastic. You need rivets."

Strongly recommend you check this book out. Mr. Card spends a great deal of effort helping the reader understand the difference as it is 'out there' in the real world of publishing.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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That "rustic" association with fantasy is one of the reasons Walter Jon Williams wrote his METROPOLITAN and CITY ON FIRE books. They were about a magical substance called "plasm," and the setting was totally urban. He considered them fantasy, but they were so urban that most of his readers considered them science fiction, even though there was nothing scientific about them.

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited February 22, 2011).]


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Robert Nowall
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quote:
"A rustic setting always suggests fantasy; to suggest science fiction, you need sheet metal and plastic. You need rivets."

A lot of Clifford D. Simak's works take place in what could be described as "rustic settings," yet they're SF...


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enigmaticuser
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quote:
If you were to give some aspects to your story I'm sure the community would be glad to help you (:

Well it's set in the slightly near future, 2014. And all of the characters had regular jobs. One day trees start attacking infrastructure. The result is devastating (find a power line that couldn't be compromised if a tree could move or throw things). Of course, people at first don't know what's going on (who is going to suspect trees?). The problem becomes worse as people are basically being 'herded' into cities where of course resources are limited.

Into this setting our characters emerge who have unique powers that they didn't ask for. Kind of like heros but all abilities based on exaggerated already human capabilities (one character for example, finds she just doesn't get tired).

The characters must rally some people and travel to a real place, where an unreal (and impossible) location has been compromised. It's basically one of Earth's "utility rooms." The trees are not working by themselves they are controlled by people who have accessed the "program" under which natural life runs.

I guess the more I think about it, it really sounds like fantasy to me. This has been a fruitful exercise.


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Grayson Morris
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Is your story set in the US? Here in the Netherlands (and thus potentially in many other places), power lines are underground -- just wanted to let you know, in case the trees in your story are wreaking worldwide devastation on the power lines.

[This message has been edited by Grayson Morris (edited February 22, 2011).]


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Pyre Dynasty
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Trees have roots, they've been known to rip out whole sewer pipes.

The "control room" and "program" make me think more sci-fi, like the earth is a computer. Also the "powers" seem to be derived from evolution not magic, which also seems more sci-fi. But at the end of the day it's just a sign in a bookstore, I don't know one person who would get angry is the end of a novel marked fantasy turned out to be sci-fi.


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Meredith
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Science Fantasy???
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Grayson Morris
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PD, good point; we had some tree-root trouble once with our plumbing, so I should have thought of that myself.
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rstegman
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could be written as fantasy or science fiction.
It really comes down to whether you "scientifically" explain what is happening.
One can have a sword and sorcery story as science fiction if one explains where the powers come from. It also helps if there is a space ship involved.
Having "utility rooms" in our realm could be scientific or magic. Consider if the god that created the universe makes the known universe with the people side seamless, but on his his side are utility rooms wires conduit electronics, typical of a scientific experiment. He accidetally leaves an access portal unlocked and someone finds it.

An alterative is that partical physics experiments create a hole to outside the fabric of the universe. The nature of the fabric of the universe is that any changes to the nature of the fabric, changes the rules of the universe, either locally or "globally" In this case, the change effects only the planet. One then explains how the error changes the physics, likely adjusting the nature of plant fibers.

The real difference is how it is explained. If it just happens and no one can explain it, it is fantasy. If they can explain the changes, it is science fiction.


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Crystal Stevens
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Most of the time what OSC wrote in "How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy" would be correct. But my latest story takes place in a more primitive society and is definitely science fiction and not fastasy. This society is very much aware of starships and people from other worlds. That's what the story's about... cultures differences. There are swords in this society, but they are very much aware of laser pistols. They don't want to advance. They are quite content with a more simplistic lifestyle.

The reason it's science fiction instead of fantasy? Mainly no magic and their connection with societies much higher tech than their own.


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History
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In On Fairy Stories, JRR Tolkien states that most good fairy-stories are not "stories about fairies" but about "the adventures of men in the Perilous Realm or upon its shadowy marches"--Tolkien, J. R. R., Tree and Leaf, Unwin Hyinan, London 1988. p. 14.

Adventures in a world not our own, that contain either lands that do not exist in our reality or peoples and creatures, or natural or supernatural laws that are inconsistent with our reality, or even events that are inconsitent with known history.

This is fairly broad as genres go, and over the 20th century Hugo Gernsback first separated stories derived from or concerning scientific potentialities and called them "science fiction", and later there were additional subgenres named: epic fantasy, sword and sorcery, etc. and further and further divisions to the present day (dark fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal fiction, etc).

I find they all, however, have the same central component: an acknowledged separation from what is known reality and natural law and, despite all other potential goals desired by the author(s), crafted for entertainment.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
I don't know one person who would get angry is the end of a novel marked fantasy turned out to be sci-fi.

Considering raising my hand, at least in the case of one book series.


****** SPOILER ALERT ********

Depending on whether you consider UFO stories to be science fiction or fantasy, I found the ending of Tanith Lee's BIRTHGRAVE series/trilogy a little disappointing partly because it turned from something that had been "fantasy" all along to something more like science fiction, and not very good science fiction (IMHO) at that.


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Robert Nowall
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I suppose it also depends on the "science" in the science fiction. I once read a book called The Sand Pebbles, essentially the saga of a US gunboat in Chinese waters in the 1920s or 1930s, of which the writer (whose name escapes me for the moment) said it was science fiction---the science being cultural anthropology. (Quote and actual "science" named subject to verification---much like the name of the writer.)

Me? I try to get things right, but, essentially, I make it up as I go along and do not generally reserch or calculate things out...


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djvdakota
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What is fantasy? Anything in which anything happens that can be termed fantastical--without actually being SCIENCE fiction. ;-)

Beyond that, fantasy is whatever the marketplace defines it as. Which is why reading as many of the magazines you're interested in selling to helps you send to the most promising potential markets for your story and saves editors a lot of time by not having their slushpiles clogged with stuff they just aren't interested in.

Here are a couple of links to some lists of fantasy sub-genres, if that helps.

http://www.cuebon.com/ewriters/Fsubgenres.html
http://www.sfwriterstoolkit.com/fantasy-sub-genres/

But my question is, why would you need to classify it to a potential market? If it's a fantasy market they'll know where to classify it--if, indeed, they need to. If they're a general fiction market it's probably enough to classify it as fantasy.

A general fiction market, IMO, will buy a well-written story, no matter what the genre. I would think that the only reason they would need a classification is to send it to the right slush editor. You don't want your high fantasy story going to a literary fiction editor, for example. And it's doubtful they'd have separate editors for each sub-classification of fantasy.


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rstegman
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djvdakota,

The reason one classifies for a potential market is to know what market one is aiming for. Publishers, short and novel, aim to certain markets. You must aim for the publisher.

WE are told to read a lot of books if we want to write. There are two reasons for this.
One, so you know what is out there and what you would like to write,

Two, To know what is published so you can aim your writing for a specific publisher.


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LDWriter2
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Speaking of forms of fantasy . I kind alike the way Fantasy Magazine puts it. After listing the usual forms of fantasy it says, "and anything and everything in between".


And I had forgotten this but I was reminded the other night that Realm of Fantasy has this " and the ever-popular Òunclassifiable.Ó "


Pretty much says it all I think.


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Meredith
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I just thought of something I read . . . well, let's just say a long time ago. I can't find my reference right now so I'll have to just give do the best I can from memory.

It was from the preface to my copy of the Mabinogion. I know it's around here somewhere, but I haven't seen it in a while.

Basically, it said that the main conflict revolved around the use, disuse, misuse, abuse (I think there were a few more verbs ending in -use, but you get the idea) of some form of magic.


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djvdakota
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rstegman, yeah, I know. But it seemed to me the question was about classifying your work IN your query letter. That's why I asked, "Why would you want to classify it TO (not FOR) a potential market?" As in, what is the point of telling the market the genre of your story? That's different from KNOWING the genre of the markets you're sending to.

I don't see classifying TO a market as necessary, unless the market specifically asks for it. Some markets have different readers for sci-fi and fantasy, for example. Otherwise, if you're sending fantasy to a fantasy magazine I don't see that it's necessary or useful to write a query that says, "Dear Editor, I respectfully submit my urban fantasy story..."

Knowing your genre is, of course, valuable to know what markets to send to, but I don't know that one needs to split hairs for specificity. If you know your markets you should know who to send to. If you do your homework--including perusing market websites, Ralan's reports, actually reading an issue once in awhile--you'll do fine.


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