Is Fantasy Fiction Too Safe?

fantasy booksThe last dozen fantasy books I’ve read would be classified as epic fantasy. Some kind of hero or heroine goes on a quest, or there are world-spanning conflicts between kings and queens.

I guess you’re expecting me to say, “Ugh, I’m so sick of epic fantasy.” Actually, no. I quite enjoy these kinds of stories for the most part, and have done so for around twenty years or more.

However, I found myself in a bit of a quandary recently when I thought, “I’d like to read something a bit different in tone, structure, and scope.” So I started looking through my collection of books. Admittedly lots of fantasy.

That said, the last three books I’ve read would be considered a Western, alternate history, and cyberpunk. Not a lick of fantasy in sight. From someone who almost exclusively reads and writes fantasy, I became worried. “Oh no. Am I leaving fantasy behind?” Of course not. It’s perfectly fine and even encouraged by most writers to read outside your own genre.

A question kept nagging me, though. For a genre as limitless as fantasy, why do I feel like I need to escape the genre to get something completely different? Could it be that fantasy is one of the safest genres out there? Is safe a bad word?

Why Fantasy Writers Might Try to Crack the Genre Open

1. Fantasy is a limitless genre

Think of something right now. Let your imagination really run wild. Think back to when you were a child and you made sketches of monsters or dreamed up imaginary friends.

There was nothing binding you, right? I’m curious as to why as adults this sort of chaotic, limitless imagination gets filtered out. I don’t know much about psychology, but I’m sure society’s constraints effect it. Perhaps an influx of newer and shinier technology?

In any case, fantasy is the only genre in fiction that is only limited by your imagination. No tricky physics or reality to deal with. Of course things still need to make sense in the context of your world, but if you say “Well, in my world, mushroom people rule humanity with a mushy fist” then I’ll say, “Cool.” If you make me believe this, then it can work. I haven’t seen much mushroom people noir, Western, or literary fiction out there (although I might read it).

So why do epic and urban fantasy, established sub-genres, mostly top the sales rankings? Why is Cheetah Wizard and the Mushroom Mafia languishing in obscurity? I’ll get to that later.

2. The potential exodus of readers to Young Adult fiction

I’ve heard that some of the best fantasy that exists is being done in YA. Why is it that YA is allowed to bend and twist the genre, but actual fantasy stays true to certain styles of storytelling? Is it because YA readers are more open to fiction that pushes boundaries? Maybe.

I don’t read YA, but I’ve been thinking of exploring it more and more. I’ll never leave fantasy behind, but I’m curious how many readers have because they’re looking for something that breaks the mold and defies conventional storytelling.

Nothing says you can’t read and write both traditional fantasy yarns and more daring fantasy fiction, right? I mean, I hope to do so.

3. The ability of new writers to immediately distinguish themselves

This is a topic that has two sides. If a new writer comes blazing out of the gate with some insane fantasy story that breaks all sorts of molds and turns the genre on its head, it can go one of two ways: it sets future trends or it is ignored for being too inaccessible to the public.

I would say that YA dystopian novels have become all the rage because of The Hunger Games. No one was really writing this kind of stuff (outside of Japan anyway) before, but now it’s picked up steam as a viable sub-genre. Most of the time when I hear about exciting new authors in fantasy, they’re writers of the latest epic fantasy series. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s rare to hear about fantasy fiction that really pushes the definition outside of writers like Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, China Miéville and others.

Is this to say all new writers should not write epic or urban fantasy? No again. Please keep writing it. But it may be a missed opportunity for brand new writers to get a leg up on the competition. Of course good stories will almost always rise to the top, but anything to market yourself better can give a distinct advantage.

I can’t really address this issue without examining the other side of the argument.

Why Fantasy Writers Prefer to Play it Safe

1. It’s easier to meet reader expectations

If I say that I wrote an epic fantasy, certain images may jump into your mind: dragons, elves, global conflicts, assassinations, heroes, and the like.

While no epic fantasy is created the same, readers pretty much know what they’re getting when they pick up a new epic fantasy series. Readers like fantasy that’s like fantasy that they like (huh?) For instance, if I say that I like George R.R. Martin, you may have several recommendations right off hand. If I say that I like Robert Jordan, you may have a different set of recommendations.

The statement, “I like really daring fantasy” may draw blank looks. “Well, what’s your definition of daring?” I might answer, “I don’t know, something that really pushes the boundaries.” In this case, it’s easier to give people something they know they want rather than something more idealistic.

I write and read epic fantasy. Have I said that yet? However, for me I’d like to explore different possibilities as well. I mean, I don’t know if I like writing something until I write it.

2. The fear of being ignored

Writers have egos. Sometimes very fragile ones. If someone writes a fantasy story about a flying squirrel assassin living in Paris during the French Revolution and it doesn’t catch on, then he might just give up writing altogether.

If someone reads epic fantasy and says, “Oh, I like that” she’ll most likely want to write it as well. Like a ballerina seeing Swan Lake as a child or an aspiring computer programmer meeting Bill Gates, people want to emulate their idols. The idea of going rogue as a beginning writer may be scary. There are already so many other issues to worry about.

3. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

If it works, it works. Epic and urban fantasy tend to sell the best so that’s what people read and write. Why flip a genre on its head if it’s already working?

Some may say that the “grimdark” writers, such as Joe Abercrombie, took epic fantasy, “gritted” it up, and made it more appealing to those tired of the status quo. They took existing tropes and subverted them, thereby making the genre feel fresher. Perhaps this is the cycle of fantasy writing. Slight adjustments to existing ideas are better than overhauling the whole enchilada.

So in closing, is the genre being too tightly confined or is safe better?

I’ll leave that up to you, fellow lovers of fantasy.

In defense of established sub-genres, my own personal library is full of epic fantasy. I kept saying this throughout the article for a reason. Certainly there is room for more and more epic fantasy in the world. This doesn’t mean I want it to stop. I just want to see more writers try to truly push the limits of a limitless genre.

It could be a huge opportunity, especially for self-published authors, to create trends in fantasy, instead of traditionally published books being the go-to places to find what is currently hot. Self-published authors have the unique chance to try more daring kinds of fantasy without editors telling them it isn’t marketable.

With more and more self-published writers attempting to find their place in a crowded market, the next trend is theirs to make if they’re willing to take the risk. Is it worth it? Maybe not, but for me I’d like to see fantasy reach its full potential as a genre where anything (and I mean anything) can happen.

So what are your thoughts? Do you think fantasy writing is too safe? Which writers do you feel took huge risks that ultimately have paid off?

Leave your comments below!

For discussion of all things fantasy-related, check out Philip Overby’s Fantasy Free-for-All.

Philip Overby is a nomadic warrior, indiscriminate troll slayer, undead unicorn enthusiast, former indie wrestler, and lover of all things fantasy. His Splatter Elf short story "The Unicorn-Eater" is now available on Amazon. He lives in Kawasaki, Japan.

63 Responses to Is Fantasy Fiction Too Safe?

  1. elizabethscraig my most recent manuscript is YA fantasy, and yes, it’s largely because I wanted freedom from the tropes.

  2. Philip_Overby Mike Cairns It’s true labels are important – vital – for finding the types of books one likes to read and for sales. My only concern with labels is from the writing end of things – that they not confine the writer when characteristics of another genre need to meld into one’s epic. Horror elements are “bleeding into” one section of the fantasy/scifi novel I’m working on.

    I don’t think I’d like to be labelled a “grimdark” author, but I’ve got to admit, that is one “totally cool” sounding term.

    I very much appreciate the comments on this post. Good food for thought. Thanks again, Philip.

  3. Mike Cairns Thanks for your thoughts. I think you’re right in that genre is helpful tool for readers first and foremost. I do see a lot of writers say they don’t want to be labeled, but then I wonder how is someone going to find their book? Mashing genres or creating new ones is the only way to really give the reader a clear idea of what is being done. I don’t think a writer needs to think of what their genre is though until they’re finished writing. I’m not sure how many writers sit down and say, “OK, time to write an epic fantasy.” Well, I don’t know, maybe they do? I know I have attempted certain kinds of genres before.

    As for grimdark, it’s kind of a label that the writers didn’t want or didn’t come up with. It is a good way for fantasy readers to find grittier fantasy though, so if it sticks then I guess it works.

    I agree that Erikson is one of the more interesting writers in the genre, but he’s divisive as well. While I really enjoy his work, I’ve heard some say they just can’t get into him. I look back at past fantasy authors like Gene Wolfe, Frank Herbert (some may say SF, but I think he blended genres a lot), and Jack Vance who were doing creative and unique things with the genre and are now heralded as some of the greatest writers of all time. I just hope we don’t lose potential writers like this because writers are afraid to go outside the confines of what sells. 

    And your Assembly Trilogy sounds really cool! 🙂

    Thanks again!

  4. Philip_Overby I just like happy endings. The First Law trilogy had the kind of ending I could find in real life. OK, sure, that made it ‘realistic’ but funnily enough I’m not reading ‘fantasy’ for its ‘realism’ LOL. I want to see the good guy win, and I want to see the bad guy’s bum kicked. At the end of the First Law trilogy I felt like none of the characters had really changed (and the one who had was going to spend the rest of his life being dictated to by a less than good magus…).

  5. Hi Philip
    Great post, a good one for starting conversations. 
    I’ve got to return to the labels argument, sorry 🙂
    I think Epic Fantasy is successful, in part, due to the satisfying of expectations of the readers. As someone in the comments mentioned, they didn’t enjoy Abercrombie because it was too gritty. I love his stuff, but I think the sub-genre label grimdark is necessary, because I couldn’t put it in the same mind-space as Magician, or the Dragonlance trilogy!
    So, as far as Epic fantasy goes, I want authors to keep writing what i recognise as Epic fantasy, because when i pick up the book, I have a clear expectation of what’s inside. 
    Having said all that, I couldn’t agree more with you in terms of trying to be freer and more creative within the larger fantasy genre. For myself, my Assembly Trilogy feels a bit like a comic in prose form, featuring magic, super-heroes, aliens; pretty much all the stuff i like reading about. So, as with others in the comments, I’m mashing genres together. The rise in self-publishing is definitely making this a more viable option, and I think (hope) the readers are out there for it. 
    For me, Erikson is the most creative, exciting author in the fantasy genre at the moment, both in terms of content and style. 
    Thanks again Philip and all the commenters 🙂

  6. CiaraBallintyne1 Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll have a look at it for sure.

    Abercrombie doesn’t come off as too gritty for me, but I grew up reading a lot of horror books, so I guess it’s hard to unnerve me. 🙂

  7. stephenspower I’m undecided if GoT is epic fantasy or not. It depends what’s coming down from the north. But yes, generally speaking, based on what I know so far, it’s not typically ‘epic’ fantasy.

  8. Check out The Daedalus Incident by Michael Martinez for something a bit different and genre-bending. I call it a sci-fi/fantasy mash-up, and it’s the most original novel in the spec fic genre I read last year.
    I personally don’t enjoy Abercrombie. It’s TOO gritty. If I want that level of grit, I’ll read the news.

  9. stephenspower Philip_OverbyThere’s nothing about epic fantasy that frustrates me really. If a book does frustrate me, I just don’t read it. I tend to read the “darker” variety, but I don’t mind any kind as long as it’s well done. I actually don’t mind good vs. evil stories, again, if they’re well done. However, my hope is that when readers seek out fantasy they’re not thinking “oh, that’s the genre with blood-fated pig keepers, elves, wizards, and dragons.” I want them to think, “oh, that’s the genre where literally anything can happen.”

  10. Philip_Overby stephenspower  So what are the things about epic fantasy that you’d like to see done differently? What frustrates you? What’s obvious? If you could list 5-10 aspects, maybe commentators could come up some new variations or point out books where things are done differently.

    By example, let me add that a few years ago, when I was choosing my annual reading theme, I decided to do fantasy because I hadn’t been reading much of late besides Temeraire (which I devoured) and my regular rereadings of Tolkein. I asked my friends for a reading list with one stipulation: no blood-fated pig keepers who are prophesied to find a fabled weapon they use to destroy an ancient evil and so save the world for authoritarian feudalism. Which is my problem with most epic fantasy. I got a ton of great suggestions, although not all epic fantasy. And despite the pig keeper crack, I did choose myself to finally read all the Prydaine books.

  11. PatHarris stephenspowerTermiteWriterPhilip_OverbyI don’t think the genre needs to be shifted away from epic fantasy
    completely, just expanded more to push the boundaries of what defines
    fantasy. I definitely don’t want epic fantasy or urban fantasy to go
    away, but I’d love to just see more writers try different kinds of
    subject matter or kinds of plots. There are lots of writers already
    doing this, but I think the safe bet is to still fall back on an
    established sub-genre.
    In regards to sub-genres or labels, I
    think even despite people not wanting their writing classified, people
    still classify their own fiction all the time. It’s how they figure out
    how to market it. If you just say “I write fiction” there is no clear idea of what kind of fiction you write. “Fantasy” is a label as much as “epic fantasy” is or other sub-genres. It helps people find your work.

  12. KuokMinghui Philip_OverbyI mean if you only write the same kind of content (hero goes on a journey, kills something, saves the day). This may limit the kind of fiction a writer produces. Even if the style is wildly different, if the content tends to be familiar, I feel like that may limit a writer’s possibilities.

  13. stephenspower Thanks for commenting. I bought epic fantasy the same reason I buy certain kinds of video games or listen to certain kinds of music: because that’s what is available in the genre I like. When I was younger, all I bought were Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms books. I don’t read them any more, but I still have a fondness for them and if there was one I really wanted to read, I’d still pick it up. I’ve since figured out (probably took me too long to do so) that there are writers out there doing different things with the genre so I’m attempting to seek them out. However, just because I seek out other kinds of fiction, doesn’t mean I suddenly hate epic fantasy. I just might not only buy epic fantasy like I used to do.

  14. stephenspower PatHarrisTermiteWriterPhilip_Overby 
    Stephenspower, I was simply referring to introducing a new xene into the story, preferably one that’s never been created before. I.e. first contact, when the existing xene meets the new one. Like in Star Trek when the Vulcans first landed on Earth and met the humans.  It gives me a chance to be creative – sometimes wildly so. 😉

  15. “In defense of established sub-genres, my own personal library is full of epic fantasy. I kept saying this throughout the article for a reason. Certainly there is room for more and more epic fantasy in the world. This doesn’t mean I want it to stop. I just want to see more writers try to truly push the limits of a limitless genre.”

    So here’s my question: Why did you buy each epic fantasy, in particular why id you buy each instead of something else? That’s the answer to your question. 

    In addition, at what point does epic fantasy seek to be epic fantasy? How many tweaks can you make before it’s something else? 

    BTW, I wouldn’t call GoT epic fantasy. It’s only epic in length.

  16. PatHarris TermiteWriter Philip_Overby  Please elaborate on what you mean by “first contact.” Thx. It’s a compelling phrase.

  17. mythicscribes
    Bt on the writing side, as a “new” writer, marketing doesnt concern me so much as writing wt I’d love 2 read. Cliches rnt it

  18. TermiteWriter PatHarrisPhilip_Overby 
    Thanks for your comment, TW. Actually, I mix genres, too. I write Fantasy/SciFi, and as I mentioned, I’m tossing in a bit of horror in my current WIP. I enjoy writing the “first contact” part of the stories, too. My works are more character driven than magic driven, tho there is magic in them. Thanks for the link. I’ll check it out.

  19. Philip_Overby KuokMinghui  You might need to elaborate further on self-limitation(s). For me, a writer’s stability lies in the prose/style and nothing more.

  20. Philip_Overby Scott Spotson  Thanks Philip!  Yeah, younger readers seem to strongly identify with the modern world, i.e. where smartphones and web browsers rule!  Also I think female readers don’t want to go back to the days were women were considered inferior…

  21. PatHarris Philip_Overby I really dislike labels.  I write a very mixed genre – part literary fiction, part science fiction, part fantasy, part epic (in the broader sense of resembling the Greek and medieval epics), part off-world adventure, part first-contact story.  Fantasy is much broader than simply the use of magic as the motivating factor in a constructed world setting.  You might like to read my blog post Definibng Fantasy according to TermiteWriter

  22. Philip_Overby PatHarris 
    Okay, this is stretching me. So, are you saying the foundation of the genre could be/should be altered or shifted? And if so, wouldn’t it just be considered another “sub-genre”? (Oh, how we love labels.)

    What about writing from an alternate world view? I write faith-based fantasy, which is a BIG stretch for some readers. As are dragons in the same story with spaceships, and swords with phasers.

    Or is it more the standard “good guy vs. bad guy, good guy nearly dies, but magically wins” formula that you would like to see change–at least occasionally? It’s more and more common to “blend” negative characteristics into the so-called “good guy,” and visa versa.

    I guess I’m having a hard time visualizing how it could still be “epic” fantasy without the “epic.” But I’m all for “pushing the envelope.” Unfortunately, to some that simply means adding more violence, vulgarity and sex.

  23. PatHarris Philip_OverbyHe’s a good example. I personally loved Neuromancer, but I could see how it wouldn’t be for a mainstream audience. He created the sub-genre of cyberpunk single-handedly pretty much, so yeah, he made a mark in the genre that many may never do. It’s kind of a shame when some settle for just being another cog in the wheel when they could be the next William Gibson.

  24. KuokMinghui Thanks for your thoughts. I think you make some good points about worrying that authors may all go down the same path because “it worked for ____.” That’s true, but as we all know, sometimes the tried and true method doesn’t always work for everyone. I truly hope fantasy writers are writing what they want and not just doing it because it’s the safe or easy path. If someone wants to write in the tradition of Tolkien, I’m happy for them. I wish them lots of success. I just feel like only limiting yourself to one kind of form of story-telling is maybe selling the whole genre short.

  25. gethinmojo I’m also a big fan of Erikson and Bakker and I think they both have unique approaches to epic fantasy. As stated above, I do love a lot of epic fantasy, but just hope to see (especially new writers) take a chance on something completely out of the box. It doesn’t have to be artsy or experimental, but just something that pushes the definition of fantasy more. The lure of a built-in fan base will always be there, but I don’t think any fantasy writer has to paint themselves into a corner with what they can do as writers. Anything is possible in fantasy and I especially like to see writers like China Mieville whose novels almost always seem to be written by different writers but still contain that feeling that he wrote it. It’s quite a remarkable talent.

  26. KLMcKinley Thanks for the recommendation. I download a sample of Jemisin’s first book a while back but haven’t gotten around to it yet. I’ll have to bump it up on my list of samples I’m working through.

  27. Scott Spotson That’s an interesting point. I think a lot of younger readers didn’t grow up with some of the classics of fantasy literature so appealing to that group could be beneficial in many ways. Perhaps getting introduced to your fiction could lead new fans to the genre and then give them more access to some of the classics in the genre.

  28. PatHarris I agree that sticking to what works with added twists can definitely still be a viable path that pays for a lot fantasy writers. While there are a lot of more traditional fantasy authors I love, I just would love to see more fantasy writers skirting what works and trying to make new things work.

  29. The problem with every genre is this: there will always be a good number of variations and trope subversion abound. Genre is something with the fixed boundary, we can’t do anything about that.
    What worries me though is that as an amateur writer, I do discover many fantasy writers going along the “tried and tested” pragmatism. While I agree this is all about getting the fundamentals right, seeing basics as absolute will beget writers like Paolini and Meyer. Authors who will grab momentary attention and nothing else.
    As a writer, I do feel that we all are victims of stability and caution. A lot has been said on a global dearth of creativity, put two and two together and you’ll get the correct answer.
    One good example is Tolkien. His works surrounding Arda and Middle Earth were so absurdly successful, they ended up creating an equally absurd legacy 90% of us are guilty of.
    What I’m trying to say this-How much tried and tested formula is enough? Fear of failure will only create ordinary people out of the finest talents, mistakes define a great person no matter how ordinary.
    For me, I tend to go along with my instincts and whatever comes up to mind. In a very weird sense, my current work is a mash up of modern day lingo, actual mythology, and high fantasy narration. Would I dare hope for anything? No. But at least I know the learning process will be worth it so long a professional author is willing/stupid enough to tutor me.

  30. I love the tried and true formula, but I do add twists to my series. My characters live in a high tech future, even the elves, dragons and sorcerers. For the second book I’m adding in some horror. But I agree that a well told story will work, even if one strictly adheres to the formula. The Lord of the Rings will never grow old to me.

  31. After just writing a 5-part epic fantasy series, I’m eager to try a new path and bend some fantasy ideas that have been percolating in my mind in the subgenre of magical realism. I imagine after a few books to spread my wings in new territories, I’ll head back to epic with fresh eyes. It’s so comfortable to immerse in a lush, magical world.

  32. The Alterran Legacy Series (Colony Earth, Khamlok, and soon-to-be-released Resurrection) is epic fantasy based upon the Sumerian gods and why they chose to nurture Earth civilization. It doesn’t follow the usual epic fantasy formula.

  33. Hi, I also am wary of epic fantasy novels that have a good side and a bad side, and involves medieval times or prior to it, and involve long walks, and a weapon of choice (i.e. a sword, battleaxe, or whatever, preferably adorned with magic powers!)  

    While there are good ones out there, I think The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia series covered that genre pretty well. 

    I wrote The Four Kings, which consists of urban fantasy, and it takes place in today’s world, and involves politics and economics as well!  So I agree, it is nice to add a twist to it, and one way is to bring fantasy to our every day world so it seems quite relevant to younger readers who have grown up with the Internet.

  34. Mine is dark fantasy romance, but there are aspects of epic fantasy, elves, wizards and grand adventures. Yet the sensuality of it and the blurred lines of good and bad are there. I think fantasy is such a wide genre, anything is possible but I think you are right, many people stick to what they know and what, perhaps, is safe. Of course there is a place for this but also for the more…imaginative work.

  35. I grew up reading many genres.  NK Jemisin is a great Fantasy writer who is very outside the box. I am reading the last book in her Inheritance Trilogy. Her characters do not fit into the traditional mold of big-Nordic-looking-guys-with-flowing hair and her stories do not end with the protagonist  “riding off into the sunset” in the traditional way. I love it. It’s refreshing and her world-building is beautiful.

  36. I agree, Epic Fantasy
    has lived in a black-and-white, good vs. evil cul-de-sac for far too
    long. Unfortunately, the widespread popularity of Lotr and GoT ensure
    they will stay in the ‘safe little playground’ all the longer,
    because it sells, and because it is a ‘known quantity’.

    While most of us
    die-hard Epic-fans have learnt all the tropes, and need genuine
    creativity to get our fix, the rest of the world is only just
    catching up. I had a break from Epic after Kate Eliott’s Crown of
    Stars achieved finely-honed blandness, only starting again after
    finding Erikkson’s Malazan books and R,Scott Bakker’s Prince of
    Nothing series. The ‘grimdark’ style of books trade on historical
    accuracy and detail to paint the usual fantasy in deeper tones,
    though still in the same rut.

    I fear fantasy is doomed to churn out the same infantilized surface-froth, having forgotten Morcock and Lang’s work, and that is down to the
    market. The legacy publishers get nervous when a book strays from ‘known quantity’ to ‘wtf!?’ Some readers dislike the ‘new’ and ‘different’, and will only buy the stuff they like and know. Indie-authors, desperate for the oxygen of publicity, simply HAVE
    to write multi-book Epic to get noticed …

    The trailblazers do
    exist, but just like anything, they take a lot of looking to find.

    (My undiscovered gem
    suggestion has to be Michael Scott Rohan’s Winter of the World
    series. The only Epic I’ve reread more than twice.)

  37. Antonio del Drago  im writing a line crossing fantasy myself. I feel some of the twist i have will suprise alot of people

  38. Ever read epic fantasy lived by extraterrestrial intelligent termites?  You want a different slant – that’s a good one.  In my series The Labors of Ki’shto’ba Huge-Head a termite Champion (a stand in for Hercules) and its Twelve Companions relives many Earth myths – the Trojan War and many Greek other myths like some of the Labors of Herculer, a descent into the Underworld, etc.,  to say nothing of medieval legends like The Song of Roland and Beowulf,  Give the first three volumes a try if you want a different take on epic fantasy. (They are on sale through Wednesday, btw.)

  39. Can anyone offer any ideas of what you would consider more daring fantasy fiction that pushes boundaries? Or what traditional fantasy yarn really entertained you despite treading familiar ground?

  40. Antonio del Drago Philip_OverbyThat’s good motivation! I’m doing this Recharge Your Novel thing at the moment, so I’m hoping to wrap up the first draft by the end of February. Fingers crossed!

  41. Antonio del Drago That’s great and I’m definitely looking forward to reading your book when it’s released. As I mentioned in the article, I do love epic fantasy, I just would like to see riskier takes on the genre that explore, as you said, “off the beaten path.” I fully expect your novel to be an entertaining read.
    My current novel, which I’ve covered in my Cover to Cover series (three covers!), would most likely be defined as epic fantasy, but I don’t view it as such. It’s a large story, but it’s told all in the same country with only regional ramifications. I hoped to make it more of like if H.P. Lovecraft leaked over into a monster hunter story, with some bizarre characters, some more diverse characters, modern ideas like celebrity and yellow journalism (from bards mind you) and different takes on what truly defines a hero. Hope it turns out the way I envision it!

  42. I love your message, Phil.  While fantasy is characterized by many of the same tried and true archetypes, I appreciate it when an author takes a risk and does something truly different.

    I’m currently revising an epic fantasy novel, and in it I venture far off the beaten path.  I take the story in some unexpected and crazy directions, which is a risk.  But I believe that there’s an audience that is looking for something different.

  43. @Nimphy I’m the same way Nimphy. Love tried and true stories as well as different kinds of fiction. I just hope more fantasy writers take on this approach instead of being afraid to try new things because they’re afraid they won’t sell.

  44. Fantasy books are indeed very similar between them, but I never get tired of the same old epic fantasy plot – it all depends on how the author tells the story. If someone has an original idea, I’m open to read it: it may be the next bestseller as well as some book which will be forgotten after a few days. As for writing, I like writing both already-proven fantasy stories and stories I’ve never read before. 
    P.S: “No one was really writing this kind of stuff (outside of Japan anyway)” 😀 Yup, Japan was first.

  45. Philip_Overby Well, it depends. Most of the YA I read is basically PG-13 fantasy romance. I found the Tiger’s Curse series  imaginative and so is Cassandra Clare’s work (Mortal Instruments [there’s a poorly plotline followed movie for this one now] and Infernal Devices). But, those are heavy in romance. The Gemma Doyle series, Libba Bray’s first foray into published work, was awesome… and while it wasn’t heavy romance, it was female-centric, and very imaginative. While apparently I stand mostly alone among my friend on this, I really liked The Night Circus. It was a much slower read than I think most are used to, but I also found it full of imagery that I don’t think I’ve had the experience of reading in quite a while. But those aren’t really dystopian, mostly urban fantasy or historical. There are two great zombie YA books that end up on dystopian lists, The Enemy and The Maze Runner. But, Lois Lowry’s The Giver was really my first introduction to YA dystopian.

  46. AEWrites Philip_OverbyCould you share some that you think are more deserving of recognition then? I’d like to get an idea of an kind of fantasy related fiction out there, especially more inventive kind (part of the reason I wrote the article).

  47. I read and write YA, and I just want to note that the Hunger Games did not start the dystopian scene in YA. They’re just the ones who made a movie about it.

  48. @Anne  Thanks for reading! I agree with your point about there seeming to be two emerging camps. The diversity in SFF discussions seem to be trying to push the genre outside of the confines of what is considered “normal” in fantasy fiction, and I applaud that. But on the other hand, the tried and true path is one that can also be manipulated so it’s not so familiar and feels like a fresh story. I think some of the “grimdark” authors have taken epic fantasy in new directions while some work in the tradition of Tolkien. I want more of everything, honestly. More epic fantasy, more urban fantasy, the kind of stuff that sells, but also much more standalone fantasy works that skirt genre conventions or even blend genres.

    Also a good point about work that is “good and smart and interesting.” I think these kind of stories are always going to buck trends and find a home even if they’re not as appealing to a wider audience.

  49. Hi Phil, nice piece. What I’m seeing right now is something that isn’t strong enough to call “camps” but two trends in what readers are wanting. There seems to be a growing upsurge for standalone fantasies and fantasies that push boundaries or are more distinct subgenres — alternate histories, worlds that are not pseudo medieval Europe, less hierarchical societies or heroes who aren’t royalty — but on the other hand it’s the traditional big epics that are still the bestsellers. So I think there’s a market for each, but right now the less traditional fantasy is still not one of the big guns.

    Anyway, I think there is a thing about being safe that is true of any genre — publishers sell what is proven to work. But if they see something they find good and smart and interesting, they’re open to it.

  50. I mean safe in that the genre isn’t pushing the boundaries of what fantasy could be. Fantasy is supposed to be a limitless genre, so I just question why more people aren’t attempting different kinds of fiction. Are they afraid it won’t sale or do they just like to explore the paths already traveled and tweak them a bit?

    As mentioned in the article, I don’t necessarily think being safe is a bad thing (I do it as well), but taking a risk on something daring might be more rewarding for the whole genre and readers looking for something different.

  51. Not sure what you mean by safe…. It hits on some topics that could insight quite a riot if people really read it. I mean… Harry Potter……


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