The Heart of Fantasy Fiction

One criticism of the fantasy genre I’ve heard many times is that anything can happen, it’s random, made-up and childish. People can’t wrap their head around the fact that people like a story where there are sometimes random dragons and magic. To them nothing makes sense and it’s just a little silly.

I’m sure most fantasy fans have heard something similar. I feel your annoyance and can almost see your eyes rolling around your head. I feel you.

Of course, the critics are wrong, but they’re also right too. I think we’ve all read a fantasy story which fits the description above. They often make it to the cinema too, sometimes making money they have no right to earn. Then people watch them and write off the fantasy genre as a whole. You can’t blame them for that.

Now think about a story that blew you away, that made you sink into that world and get lost completely. Feel better?


Think about what made that story special. Maybe it was the plot, the characters, the world itself. On their own, would they have gotten the same reaction from you? Probably not. The thing that really got you stuck into that story was one massive, yet tiny thing:


Detail threaded the story and the world together and grew the characters out of it. Painstaking, hours-of-work detail, most of which you barely noticed was what truly made the story. Without it, it wouldn’t have felt right, nothing would have made sense.

Detail makes those kinds of stories where when you reread or re-watch, there’s always something new to find.

You might think that all those tiny details are somewhat of a gimmick or a look how clever I am statement from the writer. It might be both of those things too, but detail brings the story to life.


It has to make sense. I imagine fantasy critics would laugh at this. How could a story with dragons and wizards possibly make sense? Of course it doesn’t, in the context of this world. But we’re not in this world right now. We’re in fantasy land. Anything is possible in the beginning but like any world, rules and standards start to appear.

So while you can have dragons or purple skies, you should think about why they’re there. Maybe you just want to be a bit surreal, establish how this world is so different to our own. That’s fine. You don’t necessarily have to go into the physics of why the sky is purple unless it’s important of course.

But it might be interesting to think why it’s purple, even if the explanation never makes it into your story. Maybe your characters have ideas on why it’s purple or maybe they just accept it in the same way we accept the blue sky of our own world.


The main thing here is that once you’ve established your world, both to yourself and any potential reader, it can be difficult to go back on it. Don’t start changing things when you get bored. Your reader has already trusted you enough to create a world for them, when you start messing around with it, they will get annoyed. If you have only humans and earth-like animals, don’t just throw a dragon in two books down the line. Unless you can think of a good reason for a surprise, don’t be surprised when your reader puts the book down in frustration.

I feel like many of you will already know this. I think we’ve all read something that didn’t quite make sense and it left you either annoyed or confused, usually both. Sometimes it can be hard to apply things you know to your own writing. That’s why you should learn to questions everything you do. It’s not a doubt thing, it’s a we-need-to-make-sense of this world thing.

What do you think is most important to the fantasy genre? Have you ever read a book that left you feeling frustrated?


2 thoughts on “The Heart of Fantasy Fiction

  1. The story definitely does need to follow some kind of rules and limitations just like reality does, whether they are rules of this world or rules established in the story. If it feels like anything at all can happen, then the challenges faced by the characters can seem less legitimate and much less interesting. Any sudden mixing of genres can potentially break the established rules and cause this kind of frustration, like throwing aliens and spaceships into a medieval setting, but if done well and in compliance with the limitations that are established, can make an amazing and memorable story. Stargate SG-1 had some of this and I felt it made an incredibly interesting and compelling story, to have regular humans from this world exploring different worlds that followed different rules. They started with earth’s existing rules and limitations, and added to this rule set as they explored the universe with it’s endless possibilities. As they explored new planets and expanded the limits of what we thought were the rules, they did it in a way that we accepted the new reality and rather than feeling frustrated or disillusioned, we wondered what else might be possible and were left feeling even more intrigued. If it’s done right, challenging the reader’s expectations and breaking rules within reason can make the story that much more fresh and interesting. Of course following a standard genre path with established rules and expectations can also create a great story, I’m thinking of the Eragon series which mostly followed the standard fantasy rule set but quickly established itself as one of my favourite stories. Thanks for an interesting and thoughtful post šŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for such a thoughtful comment! I totally agree.

    It’s all about sowing the seeds throughout the story to create a world that the reader can get lost in. It’s also about building up trust so that if the story goes down a different route, you’re more intrigued than annoyed because you trust wherever it will end up, like you said about Stargate SG-1.

    I do love creating rules and making up little details but it can be easy to focus too much on them too. I sometimes forget to add that little bit extra to make it a bit different and unexpected. I think it’s probably because that’s where it can all go horribly wrong! Last thing you want is to jolt the reader out of the story but if the world has been established well then it should be able to hold onto them. šŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s