Sunday, June 17, 2012

What is Fantasy?

The following article is by guest blogger Kira Morgana and is used with her permission.

What is Fantasy?
A Lecture by Miss F. Writer

Cue ABBA song –

I have a dream, a song to sing.”

Don’t all Fantasy writers? We slave over our keyboards, burning our fingers with the force of the dreams in our heads. Characters, dialogue, action, romance, horror, comedy, growing up – it all happens in Fantasy.

*Mr. Pernickety Agent raises his hand*


Wait a minute, Miss Frustrated Writer. Fantasy is just about dwarves, elves and humans fighting an evil overlord with the aid of medieval weaponry and Magic.”

Ah. The classical definition of Fantasy. First brought into the publishing mainstream by the Master of High Fantasy, JRR Tolkien.

(Look we can argue about where Fantasy came from later – I’ll stick a pin in it and maybe you can just let me get on with this please?)

Just because THE LORD OF THE RINGS exists and it’s author is considered the founding father of the Fantasy Genre doesn’t mean that it is the be all and end all – the only definition of FANTASY

*Rolls eyes to heaven*

That is what we in Fantasy circles tend to call Pure or High Fantasy and it follows generally accepted rules or guidelines that Papa Tolkien created by writing LOTR and many copy cats have followed since. Some with more success than others. I won’t name them because we all know them.

There are a lot more definitions of Fantasy than that. Lets head over to the Dictionary channel for a more precise version first –

Thank you for that Miss F. Writer. The precise definition of Fantasy according to the Collins English Dictionary is… ah there are more than one – which would you like?”

All of them please Ms Presenter.”

Very well – here you go:

  1. Imagination unrestricted by reality.
  2. A creation of the imagination, especially a weird or bizarre one.
  3. A series of pleasing mental images, usually serving to fulfil a need not gratified in reality.
  4. A whimsical or far fetched notion
  5. An illusion or phantom
  6. A highly elaborate imaginative design or creation

Did you want me to go into the Thesaurus Definitions?”

No, thank you. That will do nicely.”

There you go. Where on earth in there are dwarves, elves and magic mentioned? I can’t see them. The only thing that I can see even repeating is the word Imagination. Oh you can’t see it? Here allow me:

  1. Imagination unrestricted by reality.
  2. A creation of the imagination, especially a weird or bizarre one.
  3. A series of pleasing mental images, usually serving to fulfil a need not gratified in reality.
  4. A whimsical or far fetched notion
  5. An illusion or phantom
  6. A highly elaborate imaginative design or creation

There does that help?

So the publishing world’s definition is a much more narrowed definition. Too Narrow.

I believe that the first definition is more than sufficient to back me up on my next point.

You have a point to this? I thought you were just ranting.”

*Rolls eyes again*

Yes I have a point, I have several. Don’t worry, I’ll go through them at the end, Miss New Writer, so please try to stay awake.”

Where was I? Oh yes:

Cue ABBA -

To help me cope, with anything,”

Imagination unrestricted by reality.

An incredibly important phrase that. Now what is Reality? – and no, I don’t want to start an existential debate on this, lets all just agree that REALITY is the EVERYDAY WORLD that we humans live in and move on quickly.

Now this Reality is a hard one. We go out to work to make money to feed ourselves, put a roof over the head of our children / DVD collection / Goldfish and to pay the bills that Living requires. We might even enjoy our jobs but they are still hard work and at the end of the day everyone likes to get away from Reality.

Rich people can do this physically but the rest of us usually have to rely on other releases from Reality. So what do we use?

Yes, Miss New Writer?”

Our Imagination?”

Excellent answer. I’m glad you’re still awake and listening.”

The majority of people are too tired at the end of the day to use their own imagination so they rely on the imagination of the Writer. Be it a Computer Game, DVD, Music CD, TV Show or Book, they all still require a WRITER to have put in the requisite hours in front of a keyboard, writing the Fantasy that that Player / Viewer / Listener / Reader is relying on to remove them from the Reality of their lives.

Do you understand yet? Fantasy = Imagination, simple.

Now let’s…

*in a weary tone*

Yes Mr. Pernickety Agent?”

When I receive a manuscript or an introduction letter from a Writer asking for my backing for their creation, if I see the word FANTASY, I immediately think of the industry definition.”

Is that why you don’t take on FANTASY or Science Fiction writers?”

Well yes. I get so many of them. They all think they’re the next Tolkien, Clarke or Rowling and I’ve learnt over the years that the Fantasy market is a very fickle genre to go into. So I stick with the tried and tested genres.”

And they are?”

Romance, Crime, Thriller / Horror but Contemporary Fiction mostly.”

Thank you for that Mr. Pernickety Agent. You’ve just made my next point for me.”


As I was saying – in the Publishing Industry some Fantasy Genres are more popular than others (i.e.: they make a lot of money) and I’m not just talking about the current Twilight / Vampire craze.

Romance is the most popular. Well what real woman, stuck in a tired relationship or single life, doesn’t dream of being swept off her feet by a handsome, kind, rich man (or woman – I have no gender issue here) who will take her seriously as a person and treat her as if she’s spun glass, possibly even bring her to orgasm for the first time / properly?

Then there’s Crime. CSI has a lot to answer for here – Crime Readers all dream of being the one to bring the Serial Killer in to face Justice.

(Justice is a topic for another argument – lets stick another pin in that shall we?)

Crime Readers want to know all the ins and outs of the method used by the police to bring criminals in, possibly considering that moment when they can put two and two together faster than the experts (don’t go there) and be hailed as a Hero for saving the City from another rapist or murderer.

After all, that’s what Crimewatch is for isn’t it? Letting the public solve the crimes that have happened recently?

Then you have the Thriller / Horror.

Humans, when you get right down to brass tacks, are sick, twisted, individuals and the people who really enjoy being scared or made to feel slightly sick tend to be those who are most into what makes a human tick both physically and mentally.
I personally think it’s something left over from childhood and Stephen King or the creators of Freddy Kruger, Jason and the Puzzle Killer would not have made so much money, if this impulse to see how far you can scare yourself was something that wasn’t ingrained in our psyche.

Cue ABBA -

I have a Dream, A Fantasy / To help me through, Reality.”

That’s what the Reader (the most important person to a Writer and a Publisher) actually wants.

Oh by the way. I hate the phrase “Contemporary Fiction”. All it really means is a Fantasy set in the “Real World”. Every Fantasy Writer has at one time or another set a story in the “Real World” and if they are a writer with a Fan base, it usually confuses the crap out of the fans because it feels different to so called “Normal” Fantasy. David Eddings has done it – read “High Hunt” if you don’t believe me and so did Terry Brooks, that’s what the Knight of The Word books are.

So we come back to the Industry definition of Fantasy. In some ways, I curse Tolkien and all those who have made the Fantasy Genre what it is because it means that as a Fantasy Writer I don’t even get a look in.

Still don’t believe me? Try reading one of the Literary Magazines that don’t deal specifically with Fantasy or Science Fiction. How many of that genre story can you count in their pages? One… possibly. If the Editor is feeling generous.

There are really only two proper types of Writing: Fiction and Non-Fiction. So what are these?

Back to the Dictionary Channel for the official definitions:

Non Fiction – this doesn’t have an actual entry but it can be broken down into ‘NON’ and ‘FICTION’.

Non – Prefix.
  1. Indicating negation,
  2. indicating refusal or failure.
  3. indicating exclusion from a specified class.
  4. indicating lack or absence

Fiction –
  1. Literary works invented by the imagination, such as novels or short stories.
  2. An invented story or explanation.
  3. The act of inventing a story.
  4. From the Latin Fictō – a fashioning, hence something imaginary

So therefore Non – Fiction means – Not imaginary. Factual.”

Thank you Ms Presenter.”

Non-Fiction is obvious really. It’s dry facts. A textbook about a particular subject, sometimes with pictures and occasionally dressed with some emotion depending on the passion of the person who has written it. All with the aim of instructing and / or teaching the Reader something about that subject.

Believe me, I’m a Teacher, I know a textbook when I see one – even if it has a title like “A Dummy’s Guide to Parentcraft” and has funny anecdotes to reinforce its points.

Not everyone can write Non-Fiction, it’s a tough thing to do, especially as there are so many ‘Experts’ out there. It’s like a Jungle, one factual slip up and you invite the Tigers in for Tea…

Fiction (for a writer’s purpose anyway) is best summed up by that first definition –

Literary works invented by the imagination, such as novels or short stories.

Hmm. There's that word again. Imagination. That thing inside the Brain / Soul of every human being that requires feeding. Just because the publishing Industry chooses to break “Fiction” down into Genres based on the overall theme of the books it publishes does not mean that they are not Fantasy.

Got my point yet? I can see that Mr. Pernickety Agent is still looking confused.

Miss New Writer. I can see that you have been taking notes. Can you please enlighten Mr. Pernickety Agent as to what I am trying to tell him?”

Ok, Miss Frustrated Writer.

*clears throat and stands up with notebook*

  1. Fantasy is not just about evil overlords, elves, dwarves and Magic.
  2. The dictionary definition of Fantasy is - Imagination unrestricted by reality.
  3. Fantasy equals Imagination
  4. The Reader is trying to escape the Reality of their own existence.
  5. The Reader is the most important person to the Writer and Publisher
  6. The dictionary definition of Fiction is - Literary works invented by the imagination, such as novels or short stories.

Did I get all that right, Miss Frustrated Writer?”

Yes, Thank you.”

*Miss New Writer sits back down with a large smile on her face.*

My point, that Mr. Pernickety Agent clearly cannot grasp, is that All Fictional Writing is Fantasy. Therefore he should not dismiss a writer out of hand simply because he or she states that they write Fantasy! It should be (amongst other things) the quality of their story telling ability and clarity of voice that should make him decide whether or not to back that particular writer.

Do you understand now?

Cue ABBA -

If you see the wonder of the Fairytale / You can take the Future, even if you Fail.”

© Kira Morgana 2009


Dellani Oakes said...

Excellent article, Kira! It opened my eyes to the fact that I write fantasy! It's set in a future world, but it still qualifies. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. ~ D

Sheila Deeth said...

Thanks. Lots to think about as we write out spherical stories and slot them into square books.

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