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Fantasy sub-genres

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Terry Greer, Mar 28, 2015.

  1. Terry Greer

    Terry Greer Sage

    I've been reading a few threads lately that seem to vary in how they define Fantasy - it seems it's a really hard thing to nail down.

    Labels I've always used include (taken from the old days - I go back a long way):
    Obviously though, these are not hard and fast definitions, more like points on an n-dimensional graph, and some stories/novels would be hard to categorize (or fit multiple slots depending on how you interpret them).

    Hard science fiction was something that was based purely on extrapolating the current state of knowledge and was heavily involved with the why and how things worked.

    Science Fiction was a bit looser and often more based on social extrapolation and how the science affected people.

    Science fantasy was something that played a lot more loose with science laws - time travel is often put in this catagory (though not always - depends on how loose it's handled).

    Space Opera was science fiction on a grand scale - with spaceships and galaxy spanning arcs.

    Fantasy was something that contradicted the known laws - and could include most anything not covered by the other categories.

    High Fantasy involved some of the standard 'fantasy races' such as elves.

    Prior to that a lot of science fiction was simply known as 'romances'!
    How our definitions have changed.

    Are these still more or less the definitions or do people use a different classification - or expand them into other areas?

    I tend to read most of these categories - but not much in the high fantasy bracket - and when I write its more Science fantasy.Fantasy.
    KC Trae Becker likes this.
  2. BronzeOracle

    BronzeOracle Sage

    There's also the so called 'urban' or 'paranormal fantasy' - the meeting place between fantasy and romance rather than fantasy and SF. Also there is the type of fantasy that is more surreal (e.g. Through the Looking Glass - or does that come under 'Fantasy' above?), or has fantasy elements set in real life/historical events.
    Terry Greer likes this.
  3. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    You also sometimes hear "Dark Fantasy," as if it were a subgenre rather than a style (like "gritty fantasy"-- whether that's a subgenre's a matter of opinion). That could be called a border between fantasy and horror.

    (Or as I like to say: dark fantasy is you facing an enemy where he's got a powerful supernatural "gun" and you've got a cool supernatural "gun." Horror is you facing an enemy where he's got a powerful supernatural "gun" and you've got a pair of antlers. :))

    Then there's Horror itself-- except that marketers, authors, and so on often try to shade the label into other things, including "Paranormal," which could mean anything set in our world that isn't grim enough for horror, especially if it tries to avoid the "formal trappings" of fantasy or SF. (Psychics, ghosts you can fight back against, or low-powered superheroes probably all fall into that.)

    Urban or paranormal fantasy doesn't have to be a romance crossover, but so much of it is that not everyone bothers with the distinction any more. "Contemporary Fantasy" is another near-synonym for these, but it's also the right overall term for anything with "more than paranormal" fantasy elements set in our world. (While any fantasy set primarily in its own world probably won't be called any of those, even it's it's clearly about the magic/romance combination. Secondary world fantasy is a term sometimes used for anything not set in our world, with Portal fantasy for characters moving between both.)

    Beyond all that, I'd say there are two serious sources for breaking down genres:
    • BISAC codes, that are as close to official as anything out there. See https://www.bisg.org/complete-bisac-subject-headings-2014-edition
    • Amazon (and other market) categories, even--no. especially--when they're inconsistent or misused. If Amazon puts your portal fantasy up in a group of travel books and it sells more there, you want to know why!
    Terry Greer likes this.
  4. Swordfry

    Swordfry Troubadour

    There's also two more genres:

    Sword and Sorcery Many fantasy stories fall into this category. Basically melee weapons and magic. However, I always thought of it as more like the Conan the Barbarian series ( at least the movies, never read the stories). The protagonist typically has no magic, aside from the possible enchanted weapon or artifact. And the villain is typically a magic user. Also, magic is a lot less common, and has a very mystical, mysterious element to it. So, to me at least, this genre isn't quite and story with swords and magic.

    Sword and Sandals This genre typically has no magic or mystical elements. It can have monsters, but usually just a few instead of hordes of monstrous, inhuman enemies. Usually these stories are a lot more grounded to the real world, with human foes, no magic or magic weapons. Think of gladiators. I believe this genre is named after gladiatorial stories.

    Those are my interpretations of those two genres. Someone can Google them and correct me if I'm wrong.
    Terry Greer likes this.
  5. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

    Perhaps this will help? (See the big list on the left.) I hadn't heard of half of these but I don't get out much.
    Russ and Terry Greer like this.

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