The Fantasy Genre

1) What is it about the fantasy genre that you think is attractive to readers?

I could say that it’s all about escapism, but I feel like that’s too easy to say, and it’s also a little dismissive to those who love the genre. That implies that those who love fantasy can’t deal with real life and need to escape somewhere that’s better.

I think fantasy is attractive to readers because of the natural human need to discover things that are new. It brings different cultures to an entirely new level. It’s like a new country, zoo, natural history museum, and super-advanced science (magic) lab all rolled into one. When everything is new, a reader gets to experience things with the same amazement as when they were discovering the real world. It’s exciting.

2) To you as a writer?

If I wanted to be as unfair to myself as literary fiction tends to be on fantasy readers, I would say that fantasy appeals to me, because I have control issues, and I like to play God. When you write literary fiction, you have to play by certain rules. “What is the difference between reality and fiction? Fiction has to make sense.” Fantasy allows me to make the rules. I get to be a master of destinies without all that fancy pants believability.

But I’m frequently told that I’m far too hard on myself, and I can’t whittle myself down to a semi-insulting psychological construct. As much as reading fantasy isn’t as simple as escapism, writing fantasy shouldn’t be as simple as craving control.

For me, the fantasy genre is all about wonder. I enjoy making worlds. When you make a different world, there are so many details to think about and research to be done. It allows me to explore different ways of thinking and ways of life. It’s like putting together a giant puzzle. I have all of these fantastic things all in my mind, and I get to spend so much time seeing how they fit together and what they represent. I get to visualize people and places completely unbound by reality. The more that I uncover, the more that I want to see. I get to spend hours discovering freely.

3) As a writer in the fantasy genre, what negative stereotypes do you find yourself dealing with from other authors? From readers?

The biggest negative experience I’ve had was with my Creative Writing professor in college. Believing that genre writers were formula and relied too much on gimmicks, he absolutely would not allow anyone to write genre fiction in his class. He told us that any story you could tell in genre fiction could be told in literary fiction and that changing genres took away from the “utterance”. He loved that word. He said that every word you write should be “dripping with meaning” and turning your characters into elves was unnecessary.

On way, I wrote a short story for his class. It was last minute and very Juno-esque. He said to me, “Colleen, this is it! This is your debut. This is what you should be writing, not that fantasy trash that you’re so in love with.” The sad part was that he almost destroyed my love of writing with these backhanded compliments. It was because of this man that I changed my major from English Creative Writing to English Language and Discourse. While he kept harping on symbolism, he simply failed to acknowledge fantasy as being complex and symbolic.

Colleen

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One thought on “The Fantasy Genre

  1. I refused to take creative writing while in college because I didn’t want some professor applying his or her limited understanding of “right” to my stories. I understand that anything you write and put out there will be judged but I feel the opinions and judgments of fellow writers and readers are on an even level. I don’t feel like entertaining the judgments of someone who thinks they’re better than me.

    I’ve come across a lot of people who seem to think fantasy writers can’t do anything else. Like somewhere we’re less of writers or limited in our skills because we can “only” do fantasy. I don’t know if other genre writers face that same criticism, but it seems silly to me.

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