So I know that people may want some fantasy prompts for the newest competition, so I thought I would give you all a little bit of information about the Fantasy genre as a whole.
Fantasy and Sci-Fi are probably two of my favourite genres. Generally, they’ve been used as a way to comment on big, complicated and sometimes painful issues by withdrawing the real-life implications, and putting them in a new and unusual place to give them a new context. For example, if I were to make a story tackling racism as an issue, I would personally choose the fantasy genre because I could avoid singling out specific races (which isn’t in my personal style), but rather focus on humans and some kind of other race or species of humanoid. The premise would still be there (like in my story The Queen of Freaks, where there is overt and systematic racism towards the Faerie characters) without having to delve into or simplify the issues at hand. It can be easier to create a new world (for me, anyway) in which you are in charge of the complexity of the issues you’re presenting than misrepresenting the struggles that people face in society today.
Apart from that point, fantasy stories can be super fun to write! You have one of the biggest distinctions being High Fantasy vs Low Fantasy (but that doesn’t mean one is better than the other). This is a difficult thing to categorise, as there are so many different sources which classify different books/series differently, but basically, High Fantasy is when you create a whole new world separate from ours. Think Tolkien’s Middle Earth or George R.R Martin’s Westeros. Then, you have Low Fantasy, which would be more concerned with a sort of mix or mesh between our real world and the fantastical elements of the story. Some people would say that Harry Potter, His Dark Materials (The Golden Compass) and Narnia are low fantasy, but I think that they’re actually somewhere in between the two: yes, our world is present in the stories, but all three of the stories feature a plot which takes place separate from the “muggle” world. Twilight (which I dislike), on the other hand, is most definitely Low Fantasy: the vampires interact with our real world throughout the story and never really “escape” into a magical world.
As well as this, I think its essential to point out that not all fantasy stories contain magic. Fantasies can be about mythical creatures like dragons, selkies, pegasus and kitsune as well. Stories in which the main character is merely brushed, or slightly influenced, by the fantastical elements do count, technically. The most important thing to ensuring that your story does remain in the fantasy genre is, in my opinion, that you make the mythical or fantastical elements of the story plot points in themselves. Some incredibly talented writers take this to a whole new level, actually choosing to personify magic, which I think is profoundly clever.
Interesting fact: Star Wars is technically somewhere in between Sci-Fi and Fantasy. It was a fantasy set in space when they decided not to give a scientific explanation for The Force. That’s the real difference between Sci-Fi and Fantasy: Sci-Fi explains its unusual phenomena using scientifical theories, so what happens could, to some extent, happen. Fantasy is deep-rooted in magic or the impossible. It doesn’t represent the world, or science, as we know it in any way.
So where do I start?
I would recommend being different and unique about where you draw your inspirations from! For example, loads of people turn to Greek mythology when they’re thinking of writing a fantasy story. It would be quite hypocritical for me to criticise this and tell you to avoid it, as my newest story combines Greek Mythology with Judeo-Christian creation stories. However, I do recommend doing a little research on other types of mythology! In particular, I have a few that I suggest looking into, even just for a little bit of inspiration if you end up not using them:
If you’re into the strange, mysterious and just downright unexplainable from time to time, Irish mythology is definitely for you. I mean, you have characters who, just out of nowhere, turn into a salmon when they’re in danger and swim off into the sea. Then there’s the fact that the Irish have often combined their deep Catholicism with their old-school legends. (which I absolutely love). You’ll have stories about Faeries that describe them as fallen angels that weren’t bad enough to go to hell just as one example. It is full of the bizarre, but the beautiful!
Japanese mythology fanatics get a bad name because of those so-called “weeaboos” who, in the pursuit of information about Japan, end up disrespecting Japanese culture as a whole. However, despite this, I think it’s definitely something for the budding fantasy writer to have a look into. The problem with Greek and Roman mythology is that, to some extent, the western world has been influenced and shaped by the people who generated these myths. Therefore, we can see strands of our ethos and worldview throughout the tales once you remove all the barbarism. However, when you look at more Eastern traditions, you’ll see a lot of substantial differences, which can be refreshing! This is also true of Chinese, Korean and even Indian mythology, just to name a few. With Japanese, you’ll often see the fact that they stress the importance of the collective: their enthusiasm about teamwork is super different to the praising of the individual that we’re used to in the west.
So if you’ve seen a Marvel film in the past eight years, you’ll probably be pretty familiar with characters like Thor, Loki and Fenrir. However, how much do you actually know about the true myth of the Ragnarok? I think you’d be (hopefully pleasantly) surprised if you had a delve into it all. It’s full of the weird and wonderful, just like all other types of mythology, which makes it loads of fun to read up on.
Those are just a few that I’ve named, and I’d be happy for other people to recommend some others. Fantasy is really as fun as you let it be, and for me, I’d have to say that these are always a good start when it comes to being inspired for your competition work, or just any fantasy story in general.
My story has princesses, knights and swordfights, but no magic or mythical creatures. Does that count as fantasy?
Not quite. I’ve mentioned this in a post before, but I think that there should be a Historical Fiction section on Episode, because, thanks to the wonderful Tolkien with The Lord of the Rings, people have started to believe that High Fantasy means medieval. From there, we have slowly begun assuming that anything with a medieval setting is fantasy, which is simply not true. Thanks, D&D, WoW, LotR, GoT and Narnia for giving us this weird medieval-centric idea of fantasy. The link is not real, but because they’re the staples of the fantasy genre, people forget that any time period can be fantastical, but that not every fiction about a world set in the past is fantasy. Don’t get me wrong: I love medieval fantasy, but I hate when people think they’re limited to that, or when people think that medieval automatically qualifies. Plus, we do have knights, princesses and fencing today!
So what do I do?
I know you’re probably panicking now if you’ve started a story about the competition and it doesn’t quite cover what I mentioned. Don’t worry! We can add some stuff in to make it fit the genre better! My advice is to think of a cool creation story. Add some fantasy elements to that and you have the basis of a good fantasy story straight away. How did the people in your story get where they are? Did it involve magic? Were there magical elements? That way, you can make sure that either magic or some mythical creature enters the mix without forcing it or changing your story drastically. You can add a creation story wherever it works to fill any gap or time-space you have, and it would likely work.
Do you have any last tips?
Don’t make your story superficial. Add in some bigger social question you want to comment on, whether it be about racism, sexism, deindustrialisation or anything else. Use fantasy as a chance to voice the things that frustrate you about our world, but put them in a fantasy world where you can comment on aspects without singling out real-life people or groups. The more complex and political your fantasy is, the better. If it says nothing by the end, what’s the point?
Be original. We already have so many medieval English-based fantasies and Greek mythology Percy Jackson-style stories. Why not try something different or combine different types of mythology? Pick a country you’re particularly interested in and research it a little? This is making me want to look into different stories in Africa and see what I can do with them in the future.
Make believable characters. I don’t care how bizarre and crazy the things that happen in the story are. I don’t care that your story is set in a whole new world with entirely different races. In fantasy, you’ll very quickly notice that there is a massive difference between a human and a person. Make sure that all of your characters act like real life people and ask yourself if you or someone you know would react that way if they were in that situation. The essential believable thing about fantasies has to be the way people act. Yes, we all have different cultures. That’s true of different races in this world and different species in the fantasy world. However, people, even villains, should be relatable.
Make the events make sense. By this, I don’t mean that they have to make sense in real life. However, give magic rules and limitations. Give mythical creatures legends and weaknesses. Make sure that there isn’t anything that is invincible without any way to stop it. Create laws, both of nature and of people, that apply in your world. Give your world its own internal logic. The best way to make a fantasy story believable and realistic is to not explain everything away by saying “magic did it”. Magic shouldn’t be able to do everything. Mythical creatures shouldn’t just live forever with no costs. To quote Once Upon a Time, “All magic comes with a price” (or it should).
I think that’s everything for now. Please feel free to ask any questions you see fit.