Sunday, 22 September 2013

Why write fantasy?

This question is rarely asked outright. Either the person I'm talking to is a die hard fantasy fan, in which case the question is a redundant one; or they're quite the opposite and prefer to nod their head and give me that raised eyebrow look, rather than ask the obvious question 'but why write fantasy'?

But, it's a question I like to ask myself. Why do I write fantasy?

I love the places in fantasy fiction.

I think part of the answer can be found in childhood. Growing up, I was a happy kid and had two loving, caring parents. But there was a frustration that life was rather ordinary. I always looked past the 'real', ordinary status of a place and imagined it to be something more than it was. When my grandparents added a small garden just outside their kitchen I named it 'Small's Garden' after the book I was reading at the time. I remember playing in my bedroom, only it wasn't a bedroom, it was the dining saloon of Dr Doolittle's sailing ship. I spent a lot of time looking outside my window, telling the sharks to behave themselves.

Of course, as I grew up I stopped 'acting out' these happy fantasies and resorted to deep and lengthy daydreams. My family still joke about my ability to go off to dream-land and not be 'contactable'. It now seems like a natural parallel that the more I dreamed the more I became attracted to fantasy fiction, and my daydreams fully embraced that genre.

One obvious attraction fantasy holds for many of us is the unrestricted potential – anything you can dream up is allowed. This freedom is such a contrast to the rules and limitations of ordinary life. Of course, when you take your 'dream' and turn it into a story, rules and restrictions must be applied to make the story credible. But even so, fairies, dragons and grand sparkling palaces, can all exist in a world that you create.

For me, one of the most satisfying effects of writing fantasy can also be a trap for authors: morality.  Most of my imaginings, in their initial raw form, certainly follow a hero quest, with some underdog coming out on top and showing an obscure evil badass 'what for'.  Of course 'real life' is rarely so clear cut as 'good vs evil', but it does seem like bad people, or selfishness and greed, do a lot of winning in our world (just watch the news). Fantasy lets us explore morality so that we can create hideous creatures like orcs and demons, and juxtapose them with good elves and hobbits, and it's always so satisfying to see 'Good' win.   But, the most interesting fantasy takes morality and paints it with grey, so that we can see the good and evil in all characters.  Game of Thrones is the most obvious example here, but all good fantasy needs to show the struggle the hero goes through in defying the lure of evil – and this is what really fascinates us.

Magic has a strong appeal in Fantasy fiction
Image care of Marek Okon Magic Fantasy Wallpapers

I love the notion of magic. I really can't explain why, but the act of it and the restrictions bound up in it are so interesting and that's often what I love most about reading and writing fantasy fiction.  It provides another layer of complexity – with all its advantages and pitfalls –  that 'reality' fiction cannot employ.

So, I write fantasy for the characters, the magic, the possibilities, the places, the morality ... and many other things.

If you're interested in exploring more about this topic have a look at this conversation between two Australian fantasy novelists, Allison Goodman and Allison Croggon.  Put it on when you're doing some mundane task (I listened to it while doing the dishes). They share their path into fantasy writing, and their enjoyment of the escape that fantasy provides.

Teresa Coffey has a series of fascinating blog posts that open up the discussion of what fantasy is, and what it might be missing. Her observations are interesting for writers and readers of fantasy fiction:
What is missing in fantasy fiction?
Defining fantasy: It's more than just wizards
Defining low fantasy
Defining high fantasy

So, why do you write fantasy?


  1. As a kid and adult I always preferred books that took you to new exciting worlds. Enid Blyton-The Wishing Chair, The Hobbit, and the scary world of Stephen King! Places where your imagination can run riot! Straight forward literature just never really held my interest.

    1. Absolutely, the worlds are such a fascinating part of Fantasy, not only in terms of the places, but everything else that makes a word - the culture, law, religion, races and creatures.

  2. I like the escape. There's way too much drama in the real world, I don't need to recreate that in my pages too. With fantasy, everything is possible and there's no limit. Besides, I'm a sucker for the magic wielding warrior types! LOL!

  3. The 'escape' from reality is a big attraction for everyone I think. What is it about reality that makes us want to run away, it's s bit sad really. I'm a bit of a sucker for the wielding warrior types too ;) Thanks for your thoughts Cecily :)

  4. I too was always looking for something more as a child. Maybe that's why I'm now a Wiccan writer of paranormal romance!