Writing Fantasy for the First Time

Writing Fantasy for the First Time

Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab.
— George R. R. Martin

I had a fun little premise for my most recent short story: Let's follow the life of a sentient dinosaur - a member of a small enclave of dinosaurs on an island that formed a small civilization. The story takes place in the days leading up to the meteor impact that ultimately wipes them out - and they are in the bulls-eye of the impact site.

Writing this was a blast as I had a chance to create my own little non-human world, complete with custom words and terminologies that the reader would grow to understand as they read. I created customs, mannerisms, and conveyed their understanding of the world around them that was very... reptilian with a dash of self-awareness. Though I ended up with two different endings, the one I went with I felt was the perfect way to capture what happens when a creature like this realizes they are doomed, with no way out.

Satisfied with my story, I sent it over to my CP who already knew what I was working on thanks to my enthusiastic gushing about it in the days leading up to its completion. When she finished it, our conversation went something like this:

CP: "Dude, this isn't science fiction."

Me: "What do you mean? It involves dinosaurs and takes place on Earth."

"Despite that, this has all the hallmarks of a fantasy story, and should be sold as such."

"Really? But I wasn't trying to write fantasy..."

"Well, you just did - congratulations!"

(I'm sure I paraphrased ninety percent of that, but I'm sticking with it!)

This led me to do a bit of research into the distinctions between science fiction and fantasy, something I hadn't really thought much about because most of the books that entered my life were sci-fi. Today, I'll share some of that information with you...

Because I wrote my first fantasy story!

There are two notable traits found in most fantasy stories that immediately sets it apart from just about all other genres:

  1. The story is set in a completely fictitious world or universe (the "secondary world") with little to no connections to our own (the "primary world"). This level of world-building encompasses every facet of life, from languages used to the geography of the continent/planet. Any societies you create would be unique to your world, with parallels to what we understand as civilization, but the similarities would end there. You may have mythical or legendary creatures be very real, their additions impacting life for humans and other metahumans (elves, dwarves, orcs, etc) in ways we can only imagine.
    • You would think that having any story set on Earth would eliminate the "fantasy" tag, but given the sheer distance of time between our present day and the extinction of the dinosaurs (~66 million years ago), it is very safe to say that Earth was a fundamentally different place, to the point where it could be considered a secondary world.
  2. A magic system. Yup, we're breaking all the natural laws that governs our universe the moment we use the "M" word. If you've ever played Dungeons & Dragons or read/watched Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, that level of natural manipulation is what magic can do. In fantasy, magic is a core part of the world, with its use either being relegated to the most powerful and trained minds or something so simple that speaking a few mantras would be enough to summon the undead.
    • No magic in my short story, but fortunately you don't need magic for a story to be considered fantasy. In fact, there's a whole subgenre of fantasy designed with this in mind: low fantasy, a subgenre where magic is de-emphasized in favor of a more realistic world with some fantastical elements. In my case, that fantastical element would be the sentient dinosaurs ("personified animals", though I hesitate to drop that tag on them).
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
— Arthur C. Clarke

Many people compare science fiction with fantasy. It makes sense because they are both, in the end, branches of speculative fiction. And in fact, if you go far enough into the future with your story you could start to blend the genres together. However, it's worth sharing the distinction between science fiction and fantasy. It is all about the focus given to technology:

  • Science Fiction's focus is on the future of technological development, from realistic extrapolation (artificial intelligence) to the fantastic (faster-than-light travel and communications), and having a story and its characters utilize all of those developments. More importantly, anything that happens usually abides by our understanding of the universe.
  • Fantasy, as mentioned before, involves the fantastical, from mythical creatures to societies that revolve around elements such as natural law-bending magic and access to otherdimensional realms.

Which genre do you enjoy reading, and why? What is it about those worlds that attract you so? Share below!

My Editor Is Awesome*

My Editor Is Awesome*

The Writing Zone: Stage 10 - Conducting Research

The Writing Zone: Stage 10 - Conducting Research