The Fantasy Genre Explained
Genres…we all know them and we all love them, right? Well… perhaps we might love them a little bit more if the genre wasn’t so confusing! So I’ve decided to try my hand at providing some further detail on the topic.
What’s the Genre Again?
I was so proud of myself the day I finished my first full-length novel. I’d accomplished a great feat– I’d built this complex story set within this fascinating dark world, breathed life into characters that I created, and did it all with my own bare hands! So of course, I told anyone who’d listen!
And their first question was always: “So what type of book is it?”
“It’s a fiction.” But then they’d ask what type of fiction and then well… I’d get kind of stumped. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s kind of confusing when it comes to defining what your genre is. For a long time, I just told people it was a supernatural story. But these days, that’s just not good enough anymore, especially if you are an agent looking for new talent. They want to know things like:
- what age group is it appropriate for?
- what reality does it take place in (on earth…or not)?
- what time does it take place in (contemporary/urban or historical)?
And each of these things determine what genre you fall into. Aaaah! That’s enough to make anyone’s head spin! So, I decided to really dive into exactly WHAT a fantasy genre really is and what I’ve learned from my own research on the different subgenres. Writing a novel is no joke and properly classifying it is just as serious.
The Vast World of Fantasy Fiction
Let’s say you have written a fiction novel. And it’s fantasy. Unfortunately, this genre is so broad you can easily get lost trying to figure where you fit within the fantasy spectrum. So, let’s take a closer look at three common subgeneres that fall under the fantasy umbrella.
URBAN FANTASY – Also known as contemporary fantasy, this subgenre usually encompasses stories that typically take place after World War II up to present day. While these fantasy stories may contain supernatural elements that can vary by degree, they are typically set in a city setting, hence the name “urban.” Also, they can be historical, modern, or even futuristic, depending upon the scope of your story.
HIGH FANTASY – This is fantasy that encompasses elements of a completely fictitious world, and it usually has supernatural elements and creatures such as: dragons, elves, imps, faeries, gnomes, and the like. That’s certainly not to say other or different creatures are not seen in high fantasy. Many also typically tend to take on a hero arc or a good vs. evil story line. Many times you see in depth sagas in the high fantasy genre.
DARK FANTASY – This type of fantasy is like a combination of supernatural elements and horror. Here you see a greater emphasis on darker elements like dark backstories, psychological exploration, horrific scenarios, and dark creatures such as vampires, demons, ghosts, and similar. Of course not all dark fantasy includes every one of these elements but usually you might see one or more together. Also, these stories can take place in present time, futuristic settings or even historical settings.
While this is by no means exhaustive of the genres out there under the fantasy umbrella, these are the three I’ve worked in and among the most.
Age Appropriate Reads
Young adult, new adult, middle grade, or just adult–where do you fit? With the recent growth of young adult or YA books, it is no surprise that more and more folks are concerned with which age group a book falls under. When I go to the bookstore or the library, there’s an entire section, even an entire room in some cases, devoted to just young adult / YA or teen titles. And of course children’s reading has its section, including the ever-growing middle grade category.
Sometimes, all of this can become confusing for writers who are tying to see where their book best fits. One main thing to point out is that Young Adult, New Adult and Middle Grade are NOT genres. They are age categories, determined by what the target age of the readership is.
- A story that is appropriate for ages 8-12 is Middle Grade.
- A story that is appropriate for ages 12-18 is Young Adult.
- A story that is appropriate for ages 18-24 is New Adult.
- A story that is appropriate for ages 25 and up is Adult.
This distinction is worth mentioning since so many folks often think of the age determination as a genre. Even with all of this clarification, it’s still the tip of the iceberg when it comes to figuring out what genre best fits your novel. As a reader, we might not notice it so much but as a writer, it’s a completely different ball game.
Looking at the Big Picture
So it can be confusing trying to find the right place for your book and you might be confused. but with the right resources and research, it might help you to better fit where you belong, especially when you are trying to query agents and pitch your book under a particular genre or for a specific age group. Here are some great links that I feel are pretty helpful when it comes to defining book genres.
LitRejections Blog on Genre Definitions
Best Fantasy Books Genre Guide
The Editor’s Blog