Fantasy is not a genre

Except that it is.

In the Story Grid universe, we editors talk a lot about genre. Genre defines the core of a story. Genre is how the writer meets reader expectations. From it we derive conventions and obligatory scenes. In a very real sense, genre is the heart of the Story Grid method. According to Shawn, it’s the most important choice a writer makes.

One of the questions I hear again and again from writers is, “What are the obligatory scenes and conventions of the fantasy genre?”

Well, that depends.

The designation of fantasy (or any type speculative fiction, such as sci-fi, steampunk, or alternative history to name just a few) certainly does tell a reader what to expect: a well-crafted world, non-human sentient races, imaginative beasts, and very often, a system of magic. We often think of the classic fantasy antagonists as your typical dark lord or evil king, but good antagonists go far beyond those tropes.

It’s a hugely popular genre, certainly my favorite. According to recent Nanowrimo statistics, more participants identify their works as fantasy than any other individual category.

Credit: “How did your Nano go?” 12/5/2017
National Novel Writing Month

Walk into any brick-and-mortar bookstore and you’re sure to encounter an extensive fantasy/sci-fi section. Search for fantasy books on Amazon and you’ll generate more hits than you can browse through. But although fantasy is a distinct marketing genre with a robust audience of readers, it’s not one of the twelve Story Grid content genres.

Why is that?

We Story Grid editors categorize fantasy as a reality genre, part of the global setting of a story and one of the five leaves of the Story Grid Genre Clover. Any of the content genres can take place in a fantasy setting. And that, dear fantasy writers, pretty much gives you the keys to the kingdom.

This coming year, 2019, I’m setting out to explore the world of fantasy novels and analyze them through the lens of Story Grid principles.

Throughout the year, I’ll select a different fantasy masterwork to collect and compile their shared characteristics, or tropes in Story Grid terms. I’ll use examples in as many content genres as I can, and I’ll drill down into the details of character, story, and setting that mark it as a fantasy in the eyes of readers.

I’ll examine the Six Core Questions make note of other elements we’ve come to expect of the fantasy genre. What components of plot, what kinds of scenes, what character archetypes turn up over and over again in fantasy stories?

This is where you can help. What titles would you like to see under the Story Grid microscope? I’ve certainly got my faves, and there’s no shortage of Top 10 -, 25 -, and even 100 Best Fantasy Novel lists out there to pull from. But I want to know what your favorite fantasy novels or series are, and why? Is it the characters you love most? Did the world-building pull you in? Or maybe it’s one of the best antagonists you’ve encountered. What novel(s) would you like to see analyzed in future months?

Let me know your favorites.Click here for an anonymous Google poll where you can cast your votes and tell me which fantasy novels you consider to be the best of their kind, whether they’re one of the all-time greats or maybe even a little known gem that deserves more love.

In January, I’ll kick things off with author Tad William’s debut novel Tailchaser’s Song. It’s a satisfying read and an uplifting tale (can’t lie – pun intended!) of a cat protagonist on a classic hero’s journey. It’s a favorite of mine and and it’s definitely one for the list.

Join me for a year-long journey into the realm of fantasy!

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