The fantasy genre is important. Now, maybe I’m biased as a fantasy writer, but I do believe that. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Harry Potter/ contemporary fantasy person, or more of a Middle Earth/ classic fantasy fan. If you like the classics you could go with “The Once and Future King,” one of my favorite books of all time.
Now, you might not think fantasy is for you, at all. If you’ve read some fantasy, and have discovered it’s not for you, great! This post isn’t necessarily for you (but maybe you’ll enjoy reading it anyway). The post, as you see in the title, is about why the fantasy genre deserves a shot…. especially for writers. If you’ve given it one, well, that’s all any fantasy writer could ask.
Every genre is different. And I believe authors can learn a lot from reading genres they don’t write. They can take bits and pieces and incorporate the cool things, the things that appeal to them and would enhance their writing, bringing out their style more.
So, why should every writer read something in the fantasy genre? I’m not claiming you can’t find these things in other genres, or that you’ll find them in every fantasy novel. But I will say that fantasy is one of the best genres to turn to as a writer if you want clear and simple examples of the following things.
- Fantasy will show you how to write friendship. Real friendship. Again, I’m not saying that fantasy is the only genre that can give you this, but I think there are few genres that place such a premium on friendship as fantasy. Sam and Frodo; Harry, Ron, and Hermione; Eustace and Jill (Narnia); Hadrian and Royce (the Riyria Revelations); Gar and Asher (Kingmaker, Kingbreaker)…. The examples are countless. Maybe it’s because fantasy veers so far from the real in other respects that it makes sure genuine human friendship, with all its joys and its ugliness, is presented. If you want to study fictional portrayals of real friendship, you could do far worse than fantasy lit.
- All reading, all stories are magic. Stories teach us. They shape us. We are able to look at written symbols and make meaning of them; even more magical, even when you and I read the exact same thing, we’ll never take the same things away from the experience. And no story is ever the same when you reread it. The time that has passed, new life experiences and new maturity, make everything different. Fantasy is usually about magic of some kind. Reading is real magic.
- You’ll learn how to describe landscape and setting. Lots of fantasy takes place in fictional settings: worlds and lands that never existed. Because of that, the best fantasy lit has amazing examples not just of world building, but also of how to describe the world your character inhabits than any writer could benefit from.
- You’ll get fascinating examples of how research pays off. I’ve read fantasy that had authors researching the 17th century maritime industry. Don’t forget architecture (castles), war and weaponry…. The list goes on and on. Research is important for EVERY author, and fantasy is one those genres where the need is blatantly obvious. The author’s imagination is the limit in fantasy, but those limits need to be credible and to mimic reality as we know it (or at least, obey outlined rules that apply to the characters’ world.)
- Foreshadowing in fantasy is the best there is when it’s done well. The Harry Potter books are especially great at this. Fantasy in general is big on prophecies and oracles, and it’s neat to see how different authors twist the words that relate the future. But when you look at the complexity of Harry Potter’s world, and see how seemingly inane events involving, say, a vanishing cabinet broken by a poltergeist in book 2 become important four books later…. It’s just downright amazing. JK Rowling is a master of giving you important information (usually using humor) in such a way that you don’t realize it’s important. She’s the authority on how to shock readers in a way that delights them and feels genuine, realistic, rather than forced. She’ll blow you away, but you’ll never feel that she’s going for empty shock value. Everything is too tightly connected for that.