Fantasy can be one of the easiest genres to write in my opinion as an author. Everything in fantasy can be totally dissociated from reality, giving writers unlimited options that are irrefutable to readers.
But therein also lies the hindrance I notice when beta reading fantasy: authors have too much wiggle room and neglect aspects that are vital for cultivating their imaginary world. Here are some of the most common issues I encounter when reading fantasy…
Lack of World Building
Fantasy writers often open a novel by throwing readers into a brand-new world without explaining HOW things in this world work. This isn’t to say that readers require a full description in the opening chapter. If you drop a reader in the middle of a world unlike Earth, you have to equip your reader with an understanding of the rules of this new world. Remember that not only are readers learning about the territory of this new world, but they’re also learning about any inhuman creatures (elves, warlocks, ghosts) that exist there as well, and how any magic functions and affects settings/characters in the story.
World building looks like:
- Establishing a time period (medieval, modern, future, time is non-existent or may be irrelevant, etc.)
- Establishing location (can be relative or exact: in the mountains or America)
- Establishing the order of government, if present (knights are above citizens, elves are superior to dwarves, etc.)
- Establishing how magic works (magic heals instead of doctors, portals instead of planes and trains, weapons aren’t physical but magical, spells can be created at random, etc.)
Any way that your world differs from Earth in a major way (no gravity, the story is set in the future where the resources have dried up), explaining that difference provides readers with clarity.
Not All Fantasy Creatures are the Same
What comes to mind when you read the word “vampire?” Are you seeing the Salvador brothers from Vampire Diaries, the Cullens from Twilight, or Blade? Vampires in each of these movies are unique to their story. Damon doesn’t glitter in the sunlight. Blade is the only daywalker in his franchise (aside from Dracula). Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931) wore a cape, but you’d never see Edward donning one in Twilight’s small town of Forks. The point is vampires in all of these stories offer a unique definition of what a “vampire” is.
Same thing with werewolves. What comes to mind when you think of them? Any of these:
Are your elves like the ones in Lord of the Rings? Do your dwarves follow the recent stereotype of short, drunk men?
The point is, no two fantasy species (dwarves, dragons, elves, werewolves, vampires, ghosts, etc.) are similar from story to story. If you just throw in the word “elf” or “vampire,” your readers are going to associate your fantasy species with whatever species they’re familiar with prior to reading.
The best way to establish your fantasy species is to give them more of a description than “werewolf.” Answer basic questions throughout the novel such as:
- What does your fantasy species look like? (Do you have a quadrupedal werewolf or a bipedal?)
- What are your fantasy species’ powers? (Can your vampires morph into bats?)
Sometimes, association to other works is helpful and prevents you from having to describe your fantasy species at all. If what we traditionally think of ghosts (that they’re translucent spirits of dead people) is true to your ghosts, there’s no need to explain that. The stereotype has done the work for you!
Regardless, distinguishing your fantasy species can help readers understand how those characters interact with other species, powers, magic, and constructs in the book.
Magic is Convenient
Probably my least favorite part about fantasy is when writers use magic to conveniently rescue their characters. Sometimes, the convenience of magic is calculated: The author arms a character with a magical power perfectly suited to solve a problem that arises later in the novel.
Other times, the magic is boundless. For example, a character conjures a spell of random words that they’ve never used before and won’t ever use again because it was created by the author for this scene specifically.
Either way, when magic is used opportunely, it impairs the character’s development and robs the readers of adequate tension and suspense in the scene.
Fantasy is the genre I beta read the most of, and a handful of over-qualified stories with exemplary characters and plots have crossed my desk. Shane Smith and Scott Killian come to mind right off the bat. But I have read enough fantasy novels with these three struggles that it was worth mentioning.
Do you have any recommendations for fantasy authors that I missed? Do you have a favorite fantasy author or fantasy book?
Thank you for reading!
2 thoughts on “Why Fantasy Can Be My Least Favorite Genre”
Thanks for this article. Magic ex machina is indeed annoying. Quick question, who is the artist for that amazing banner picture of the library?
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I have no idea, unfortunately. I found the picture on Pinterest without a proper tag, so I left it open as “Credit to the Owner.” Everyone asks, and it’s a tragedy I can’t provide an answer. I’m so sorry!