Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fantasy Subgenres

     "Write what you know." 

     We've all heard that one, right?  Well...

     I submitted four flash stories in the past three months through Duotrope, and wondered every time if I was choosing the proper subgenre category they belonged in.  Subgenres?  Isn't fantasy just fantasy?  Dream-like lands with funky beings that can fly or chant magical spells?  I mean, what the heck is Steampunk?  An 80's band with rockin' hair?  And, Dystopian?  Is that some sort of lost Tokien language? 

     I started looking up the subgenres in the drop down box.  Wow.  Was I ever behind the times.   

     If I am going to write fantasy - which I've been doing for years - then I ought to know the genre inside and out.  God forbid I write a query letter a year from now and categorize my epic fantasy novel as magic realism. 

     So, here's the list I compiled.  I hope it helps if you are even half as confused as I was. 

Epic  -  A book or series that revolves around a quest.  The first example that comes to mind is Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.  In my opinion it doesn't get any better than that.

High  -  Set in parallel worlds wth magical creatures or elements.  Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series is by far my favorite, although Goodkind's Sword of Truth series runs a close second.  These stories are oftentimes limited to one character's viewpoint ie  R.A. Salvatore's The Legend of Drizzt. 

Sword & Sorcery  -  This genre focuses more on personal battles than world endangering matters like Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian stories.

Heroic  -  Tales of heros in imaginary lands that tend to have intricate plots involving many people, nations, and lands.  HBO's A Game of Thrones has brought George RR Martin's heroic series to life.

Dark  -  I found two different explanations for this one.  First, supernatural horror - told from a monster's viewpoint ie Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles.  Second, it could be a story that has is anti-heroic or has a protag with no clear morals.

Magic Realism  -  A story where magical elements are depicted as normal or reliable occurrences / presents the fantastic as mundane instead of with a sense of wonder.  The films Being John Malkovich and Edward Scissorhands are excellent examples.

Urban Fantasy  -  Takes place in an urban setting and has aspects of fantasy, ie Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and Cynthia Hand's Unearthly.

Contemporary  -  Modern fantasy set in real-world, present-day with magic or magical creatures leaking into it, like Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files.

Dystopian  -  A futuristic setting where society has degraded and lives repressed in a controlled state, charactereized by authoritarian or totalitarian governments.  Remember Lord of the Flies by William Golding or The Running Man by Stephen King?

Steampunk  -  A re-imagined past in which modern technology developed earlier in history.  Moore & O'Neill's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or the film Wild Wild West are great examples.

Paranormal Romance  -  A romance with fantasy elements - usually has a modern setting involving humans or other fantasy species.  Need I say Twilight?  We have Stephanie Meyer to thank for this media craze.

Low  -  Typically takes place in real world settings with less emphasis on the fantasy element, ie Stephen King's The Green Mile.

Historical  -  Generally takes place before the 20th century with contrived plots based loosly on historical events, mythology, or legends.  Think Susanne Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

Comic  -  Fantasy stories primarily humorous in intent and tone.

Medieval  -  A medieval era high fantasy, not necessarily in a real world setting, ieTerry Brooks' Shannara Series.

     Many of these overlap - some have subgenre after subgenre.  What is your favorite to read and write?  And have I missed any?