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Fantasy subgenres

Discussion in 'Marketing' started by AMObst, Feb 20, 2020.

  1. AMObst

    AMObst Dreamer

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    Can anyone point me to a definitive guide about the different subgenres within fantasy? I'm trying to work out where my work fits, but it's not as easy as I thought it would be, and when I Google the topic, it seems the definitions of the subgenres vary depending on who the article or website is by.

    My book is in a made up world where there is a system of magic, so I thought that meant it was high fantasy. But it doesn't have any dragons, elves, dwarves and other races some readers associate with that. Not sure it's epic fantasy either.

    As someone who wants to self-publish, I think it would be useful to know how to pitch it to potential readers.
     
  2. Yora

    Yora Maester

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    At the most basic level, there are really three main styles of fantasy:

    Epic Fantasy: Stories about nations at war over the fate of the world.
    Heroic Fantasy: Stories about the personal adventures of individuals in a fantasy world.
    Urban Fantasy: Stories set in a fantasy version of the real world, usually the current day or at some point in the 20th century.

    At this level, pretty much all fantasy stories are clearly one of these three categories and not the other two. When you continue to differentiate deeper, there's a lot of different styles that are not always clearly separated and often overlap with each other, resulting in stories that may combine two, three, or even more styles.
    High Fantasy was a term that used to be used for what is today called Epic Fantasy. But things got really confusing when people started talking about Low Fantasy, which is a not really defined opposite of High Fantasy, and Epic Fantasy has pretty much entirely replaced it for being more specific and unambigiuous.
     
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    You don't need to pitch it to readers. When you publish, there will be Amazon-established categories and you'll pick from those and you can always change your (two) choices. There will be keywords, which can be anything you want them to be. On the promotion services, you will find only a very few categories available to you. You'll almost never need to puzzle through the subtleties of subgenres unless you are trying to land an agent.

    Truly, just write your story and go through the publishing. The summary you write on the Amazon page, the strength of your Sample pages, the quality of the cover, these things will get you your readers.

    For those unaccountably obsessed with this topic despite my wise advice <g>, try this experiment. Take all the fantasy books you've read. Set up as many subgenres as you please. Now sort. You should have at least a hundred titles. At the end of the experiment, you should have a better notion about how important fantasy subgenres are.

    Low Fantasy, btw, is any story that has in it a chopped Chevette.
     
    AMObst likes this.
  4. Well, there is List of genres - Wikipedia Which is a good starting point. Though I must admit that I don't care much for sub-genres. I simply read fantasy. I wouldn't even know most of the sub-genres. Then again, I don't care all that much about genres either I guess, since I also read other genres.

    I'm sure there's people out there who only Gaslamp fantasy, but I didn't even know that existed. And I probably wouldn't know it exists even after reading a gaslamp fantasy book.
    To me, this simply means you write fantasy. Lord of the rings is set in a world with a magic system. But so is Harry Potter and Discworld novels. Yora gives a good definition about the main fantasy sub-genres. So Lord of the rings is Epic fantasy, the Hobbit would be Heroic fantasy, Harry Potter is Urban fantasy. And I'm not sure sure where discworld novels go. Probably either heroic fantasy or steampunk.
     
  5. Yora

    Yora Maester

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    Is steampunk fantasy? Looks more like retro-sci-fi to me.
     
  6. AMObst

    AMObst Dreamer

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    Thanks for all the comments! Very useful indeed.
     
  7. This probably just shows how much I care about (sub) genres.

    Though wikipedia tells me that: Steampunk is a retrofuturistic subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy

    So, sort of I guess.

    Then again, some sci-fi is just fantasy with spaceships. So there's that as well.
     
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    It's worth asking where these categories get invented, by whom, and for what purpose. I doubt they get created by authors. Categories are for agents and publishers, book sellers who are concerned about trends and want a name to hang on each, and increasingly for readers who are looking for search term filters to aid them in searches. By contrast, libraries just shelve all of us alphabetically. :)
     
  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I haven't read any steampunk that I'd consider SF, but I am open to the idea that there is some.
     
  10. Yora

    Yora Maester

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    Steampunk is about machines and not magic, isn't it?
     
  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Most of it I've read has a bit of both (including the works that the word was coined to describe in the first place). I don't think I've come across a work of steampunk that was just about machines of the time period. They often seem to include time travel, faeries, automata, or some type of magic or fantasy-like creatures.
     
  12. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Troubadour

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    Agreed. Gaslamp seems to be the fantasy equivalent. From Wikipedia:
    • Gaslamp fantasy: Fantasy's counterpart to steampunk, in which the settings are often Victorian or Edwardian socially or technologically, but with non-scientific elements or characters included.
     
  13. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    That's too narrow. Not all fantasy steampunk is set in a "gaslamp" setting.

    Instead of evaluating definitions in the abstract, maybe some examples? The term "Steampunk" was coined by K.W. Jeter to describe the types of work he and Tim Powers and James P. Blaylock were putting out at the time. Jeter's best known from that time period is probably Infernal Devices, which is certainly viewed generally as a steampunk novel (clockwork and gears and automata). If you read it, there's not much there to put it in science fiction--the plot really veers more into fantasy.

    Powers' novel of the time was The Anubis Gates. It has been recognized as a classic "steampunk" book, and is reviewed on lists of steampunk novels. As noted above, it's one of the books the word was coined to describe. It has time travel, ancient Egyptian deities, and lycanthropes. There's no science fiction underpinning to it. It's fantasy.

    OK, so what about Blaylock? At the time you've got short stories, and you've got the Elfin Ship and the Disappearing Dwarf. Those are clear fantasy. I wouldn't even say steampunk. Then you've got The Digging Leviathan, the first of what is considered a "steampunk" trilogy. Maybe the second, Homunculus, was already out. I don't know. The Digging Leviathan is superficially science-oriented, but you've got mermen, an immortality potion made from carp, and all kinds of bizarre and funny nonsense. Homunculus goes straight into evil magic and undead (but also spaceships). There's no good argument, in my view, that it is SF and not fantasy.

    All of the above are worth reading, by the way. None are SF. For every SF steampunk novel that can be named, I suspect many more fantasy steampunk works could be named. There is overlap and fuzzy genre boundaries, but it is primarily a fantasy subgenre imo.
     
    Ned Marcus likes this.
  14. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Troubadour

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    It sounds like you know steampunk well (better than me) and I'm glad I posted. Thanks for the examples.

    Why do you think Wikipedia (and I've seen similar posted in other places) defines like that?
     
  15. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I’ve seen similar definitions before, but never a good rationale behind them. Wikipedia editors of that page probably don’t understand the genre very well. Maybe they think it’s there is a machine in it, clockwork or otherwise, it has to be SF. Of course, lots of urban fantasy has cars and computers, so it’s not a good basis on which to define the genre.
     
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