When you realise your inner editor is killing everything

I have made many discoveries in the past year and a bit. One has been a bit of a roller coaster ride for me and I sometimes wonder whether I’m too brutally honest.

Ever since I picked up my first book, I’ve been hooked on reading. I’ve read a lot and I’ve reread a lot as well. Some of the books on my, now wall-to-wall-ceiling-to-floor, bookshelf have been read 12 times. I obviously love those books and something in them must appeal to me quite a bit.

But, after three years of literary analysis at university and two courses specifically aimed at novel writing, I have become just a little too aware of the flaws in stories and story writing. After recently rereading some of my old-time favourites, I was appalled at the terrible prose and sometimes massive, gaping plot holes. For the past year, all my favourite authors’ work just didn’t meet my apparently vastly elevated standards. You can understand my distress.

On the one side, it certainly did give me hope. If I could see all these mistakes made by people who have written best sellers, then certainly I could avoid at least some of them. It also meant that my chances weren’t that bad after all. On the other side, just who is the best selling writer: The person sitting on piles of money from book sales? Or is it the woman waiting to hear back from the first publishers she’s ever approached?

Then, a personal revelation broke through a couple of days ago: Nobody’s perfect. Everyone will make mistakes. The more you do, the more mistakes you will make. It’s as simple as that. And, you know what, it is in the human nature to appreciate the good things. And, even more importantly, what one person hates, the next person loves.

Now, I approach my favourites with a brand new attitude. I read them and appreciate them for what they are, for however they have touched my life. Not every writer writes charming characters. Not every writer has spell-binding plot lines. Not every writer creates believable situations or settings. But each and every writer has a talent for at least one aspect of story writing that makes his or her readers want more.

Fantasy vs Science Fiction

Fantasy in all its forms

So. In my string of posts about Fantasy as an overarching genre that covers all things magic and not yet technologically possible, I pose that Science Fiction is but a subgenre of Fantasy.  Oh dear! What has happened? How could I possibly say that?!? Well, it really depends on your point of view and how you define certain things.

If you argue that Science Fiction covers fictive narratives that have a possibility of becoming possible in our reality of experience, and that Fantasy covers fictive narratives that have no possibility of becoming possible in our reality of experience…then, I guess it really depends on what you, as an individual, find plausibly possible.

All in all, I see it like this: The real difference between pure Science Fiction and pure Fantasy is magic. In Science Fiction, there is no magic. In Fantasy, there is magic.

But, like I have said in other posts, these genres just won’t stay in their own play pens.  Does Steampunk fall under Science Fiction or Fantasy? A lot of the gadgets in Steampunk are actually possible to manufacture right now…so, is it still Science Fiction? It certainly isn’t factual history. I guess it could depart these shores and head off to become Historical Fiction…but, you can ask almost any Steampunk fan and they would tell you that Steampunk falls under the Science Fiction/Fantasy banner. Sooooo….

This is why I put all the piggies in one pen. Sometimes they want to play  together, sometimes they don’t.

 

What do you guys think?

Science Fiction

As a subgenre of fantasy, Science Fiction (or SciFi, as most of us call it,) is actually a broad genre on its own. There are very few hard and fast rules for this subgenre. It can be far in the future, like Battle Star Galactica, or even a “long, long time ago”, like Star Wars. The only real factor is technology or a not-yet-realised scientific future.

Some SciFi is very pointedly a story that takes place in space (any space that’s beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, really) – think Star Trek or Alien – but others may use Earth or a planet like Earth to give the story a more subtle SciFi angle – Æon Flux and Real Steel can give you a bit of insight on this angle.

If you have looked at some of the older SciFi, you will even see that some of the elements that were Science Fiction in those days, are now a reality – like the Internet and nano-machines.

Popular themes:

  • Space exploration
  • Intergalactic politics with alien races
  • Aliens
  • Bio-engineering
  • Nanotechnology
  • Reviving extinct species (think Jurassic Park)
  • Colonisation of other planets/solar systems
  • Space pirates
  • Bionics
  • Robots
  • Cyborgs
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Domination of the human race by aliens/machines
  • Mystical forces from space (2001: A Space Odessy, AvatarStar Wars  and many more)
  • Alternate realities
  • Mutliverse
  • Time travel
  • Teleportation
  • And lots, lots more…

It’s really so broad, one could write volumes about this subgenre. But, for me, it is important to note that it can easily be used as a flavour in the other fantasy subgenres. Examples of fantasy that typically contain SciFi elements are: Steam Punk, Cyberpunk, Dying Earth and Other Planet.

Never for a moment think that subgenres are mostly found in their pure forms. The very way they have found their way into existence is by developing from other forms of the main genre. The rules are hardly ever set in stone.

Bangsian Fantasy

Bangsian Fantasy

Bangsian Fantasy, in my experience, is not a very widely-spread subgenre. It can be set in a whole range of realities, from our reality as we know it to a reality very close to ours, to something that is purely a flight of the imagination. It’s one binding characteristic is the featuring of a historical figure from our reality.

Since I really can remember reading only one series featuring Bangsian elements, I will have to use it as my basis here. Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker books don’t actually focus on the historical figures, but they do feature here and there. These books use a version of the world where things have happened a little different to what we see in the history books. The description you usually see on his books refer to “a magical America that might have been”. Napoleon Bonaparte specifically features in these books, having the ability to make people adore and obey him – yes, a maaaagical ability.

Now that I think of it, I’m fairly sure you are likely to find Bangsian elements in Steam Punk books and movies…also in Dark Fantasy.

Wikipedia gives a few examples of Bangsian Fantasy I have never read, so, you might want to check that out too.

Wuxia and Magical Girl

Before I started this blog, I had never even heard of these two genres. But as I read about them, I realised that I had actually encountered some of it before. Maybe not so much in literature, but certainly in movies and animé.

Wuxia is a mostly eastern fantasy subgenre where a character or a few characters have martial arts skills that border on magical abilities and sometimes frolick merrily in it. I’m not sure I can really elaborate without repeating myself more than a few times, so, here are some examples: Naruto (manga and animé), The Forbidden Kingdom (a movie from a few years back) and Kung Fu Hustle (a spoofy movie from the East).

Magrical Girl, as far as I have been able to glean from scanty Internet sources, is an animé fantasy subgenre (fairly popular, I might add) that revolves around a female main character who has some sort of quest or ability that sets her apart from her mundane peers. She might dedicate her entire life to it or may even practice only after school hours. Examples include Elfen Lied and Sailor Moon. I honestly haven’t seen much of these…though I have for some reason encountered the reportedly less common “magical boy” shows – BleachKekkai Genkai and Evangelion.

Don’t take me as the authority on this, though. As I said, I’ve really only dipped my toes in these two subgenres. Check out Wikipedia and do a Google search to get a better feeling for this.

Dark Fantasy

Horror, romance, comedy, action...

Dark Fantasy is a well-established subgenre, though you might not recognise the name. It is seductive, thrilling and sometimes down right cheeeeeesy. What is it? Vampires, werewolves, zombies, witches, demons and all manner of  nasties hiding in the dark. But, it’s not just scary stories… It comes in the form of horror, action, comedy, romance and more.

Most recently, the world has been abuzz with Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Half the fanbase is violently upset and revolted by her take on vampires and the other half (most of which has only recently discovered this genre) are rabidly fanatic about it.

The basics are (usually): The story is usually set in the present or (starts off) in recent history; the basics of history and reality as we know it sets the background; and vampires, werewolves and all the other things that go bump in the night are the flavour that draw in the readers (and viewers) of this subgenre.

Some authors seduce their readers with the grim (and sometimes rather watered down) aspects of a romantic relationship with a dark lover. Some authors prefer to stick to keeping these dark creatures the Threat. Some authors pick at all the possible flaws in the myths and legends surrounding these beasties to make us laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

Examples you are likely to have encountered include: Anne Rice’s vampire and witch novels, inlcuding Interview with a Vampire, The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned; Brahm Stoker’s DraculaDawn of the Dead (movie); H.P. Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulu and other novels….

Often, all the different nasties and beasties come together in the same stories…think  Underworld (movie); Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Vampire Diaries; TruBlood; this list really does go on and on…

Mythic Fantasy

A lot of people confuse this subgenre with fairy tales. See, mythic fantasy uses characters and heroes and themes from myths and legends as a base for a fantasy story. Think of all the various Arthurian (King Arthur, Lancelot, Gwynevere, the Holy Grail) stories you’ve seen movies and series of, think of the comic books that borrow from Norse Mythology (Odin, Loki, Thor, Valkyries and the like). This subgenre is quite prolific. Back to the confusion between fairy tales and mythic fantasy – depending on how you look at it, the confusion is actually totally understandable. Some fairy tales (those with actual fairies and elves) use elements from Irish and European mythology.

One thing that originally set these stories apart was that mythic fantasy really targeted a teenage to adult audience (as opposed to children). Though, admittedly, the line is blurring more and more. Mythic fantasy also tends to be more on a more epic scale – you know, gods and kings making and breaking the world.

I’ve encountered a lot of mythic fantasy since I started reading. I don’t own all of them…and I think it’s because I read most of it when I was still borrowing books from the library rather than buying too many and just filling my shelves to their breaking point.

Examples include:

  • Wilbur Smith’s The Seventh Scroll, River God  and others (Egyptian mythology)
  • The Mists of Avalon by Marion Bradly (Arthurian legend)
  • The Forbidden Game by LJ Smith (Norse Mythology)
  • The TV shows like Hercules, Camelot, Merlin, Robin Hood and Spartacus
  • Movies like Arthur, First Knight, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, The Mummy, Thor and many, many more

Fairy Tales

A fairy tale collection

At last! A genre almost everybody knows! Fairy tales. Those that your parents and teachers probably read to you as a child. Hans Christian Anderson, The Brothers Grimm and a few others have brought us a vast array of stories that have seen many iterations and variations. Though these tales started off as far more grim (no pun originally intended) and sombre, the (usually) Disney versions we know today have formed our perception of the “fairy tale” to something far shinier and friendlier.

In the end, it really depends on you what you make of fairy tales and you are entitled to your opinion. Half my friends would skin me if I sold you the fluffy, happy version of fairy tales as the definition for fairy tales. Their argument is that the original fairy tales were cautionary tales to teach children about the not so shiny aspects of life. Little Red Riding Hood being about not talking to strangers (see, Little Red Riding Hood didn’t survive in the original story, the wolf did), The Little Mermaid being a tale about…heck, I have no idea…but in the original story she ends up not married to the prince, but floating on the surface of the sea as lifeless foam. You catch the gist?

Most people simply don’t like dealing with this kind of reality in a fairy tale, so they tend to side with the happy happy kiddies versions you get in stores and Disney movies these days. In fact, I believe people often actually say stuff like “life isn’t a fairy tale, you have to deal with the facts”. I think these people are really missing the original point.

You can tell which side I’m also on, can’t you? Lol Whoopsie.

Anyhow, modern versions of fairy tales can be found in a lot of Urban Fantasy stories, like The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, The War of the Flowers by Tad Williams, Courtney Crumrin by Ted Naifeh and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. Of course, all of these focus a lot more on the…scary (or should I say “realistic”?) side of fairy tales in a much more “adult” way.

High, Low and Epic Fantasy

Some Examples

When someone says that they read fantasy, what they typically mean is that they read high, low and/or epic fantasy. These three have some common denominators (though the rules may be bent for some of the other subgenres): The story is set in something akin to mediaeval times or the dark ages, there is an element of magic involved, there is a main hero, heroin or band of heroes leading the storyline.

High Fantasy

In a High Fantasy setting, you typically get a lot of magic and magical races. Think Lord of the Rings (JRR Tolkien), The Sword of Truth (Terry Goodkind) and the Diskworld books (Terry Pratchett). There are magical races everywhere and almost every second character is either of a magical race or possesses some kind of magical item or ability. Magic and magical races often even determine the culture and societal dynamics of the worlds the stories happen in. Dragons might be overlords or a slave race. Orcs may be a powerful ally in the subterranean reaches. Elves and men may have formed an alliance (when don’t they???).

Low Fantasy

In a Low Fantasy (or Hedge Fantasy) setting, magic and magical races are rare. These books often use the one magical being as the main character or have a magical object at the core of the plot…because the magic is so rare. These worlds are typically more ‘realistic’ and often based more closely on actual mediaeval day-to-day realities. Some Low Fantasy stories even follow the mundane lives of unimportant people (though they often have important roles in the bigger picture). The Farseer Trilogy (Robin Hobb) and A Song of Ice and Fire (George R Martin) are good examples.

Epic Fantasy

In an Epic Fantasy story, the level of existence is often upped to a new level. Your main character may be a demi-god or a similarly powerful creature. The story will revolve around a battle of the gods or kings and other great rulers shaping the very world and reality of others. Some examples are: The Lord of the Rings (JRR Tolkien), The Belgariad and The Malorean (David and Leigh Eddings) and The Rose of the Prophet  (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman). Naturally, Epic Fantasy and High Fantasy often get mushed together with great success.

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Something that may be important to remember is: Each story is a unique blend of different subgenres. No subgenre stands purely alone. Only successful blends in subgenre ever make it big out there, though.

Fantasy in all its forms

Fantasy in all its forms

So, fantasy… It’s this neglected and mostly looked-down-upon genre that only a small group of geeks and weirdoes like, right? In fact, many shops don’t even allocate dedicated shelf space to it at all.

Well, let me tell you. It is not that small. Seriously. If you get right down to it, fantasy has an amazing spectrum of literature within its scope. Some of the classics – like Gulliver’s Travels – even fall under this overarching genre.

Fantasy is a broad term encompassing any work of fiction that has within its themes and elements anything that does not coincide with current reality as we know it. This means that even literature that contains speculation about the future is fantasy.

Yes, it certainly includes the mediaeval type fantasy with dragons and magic (e.g. The Lord of the Rings and games like Dungeons and Dragons). But you’re forgetting about the other big guns: Dark (or Supernatural) Fantasy – vampires, werewolves and other things that go bump in the night – like Dracula, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Underworld, and Science Fiction, like Star Trek and Star Wars.

And then, there are the smaller guns…and what a range of them there is!

Essentially, you can break up fantasy into three subdivisions:

Past              Present                Future

Under “Past”, you get the forms of fantasy most people immediately think of when you say “fantasy”.

  • High Fantasy
    (magic and magical races are common)
  • Low (or Hedge) Fantasy
    (magic and magical races are very rare)
  • Epic Fantasy
    (kings and gods clash and potentially destroy the world)
  • Fairy Tales
    (those stories you are traditionally told as a kid)
  • Mythic Fantasy
    (typically Norse mythology is used as a flavour)
  • Steam Punk
    (all sorts of steam technology is used in the Edwardian and Victorian eras, typically also in the Wild West)
  • And some of the more obscure ones, like:
    • Dark
      (Medieval setting with witches, vampires, werewolves, evil fairies, demons and/or other nasties)
    • Wuxia
      (Maaagical martial arts)
    • Magical Girl
    • (An animé and manga – that is, Japanese animation and comic books, respectively – theme where the main character is a girl that has some sort of skill that sets her apart from others)
    • Bangsian Fantasy
      (Fantasy involving some sort of historical figure from actual history)

Under “Present”, you get (what I’d like to think of) the more hidden fantasies. These works of fiction, as my classification here suggests, is set in the present. It is also set on Earth as we all know it today.

  • Dark (or Supernatural) Fantasy
    (As above, in the “Past” section, it involves werewolves, vampires, demons, witches, evil fairies and other nasties)
  • Urban Fantasy (AKA Contemporary Fantasy/Indigenous Fantasy)
    (Typically this involves the hidden realm of the fairies or the existence of magic)
  • And once again some of the more obscure ones, like:
    • Fantastique
      (A French genre that often smushes science fiction, horror and fantasy into one)
    • Wuxia
      (same as in “Past”)
    • Magical Girl
      (same as in “Past”)
    • Bangsian Fantasy
      (same as in “Past”, except that sometimes the historical figure is actually placed into the present from their time in the past)

Under “Future”, you get the forms of fantasy most people prefer not to link to magic too much.

  • Science Fantasy
    (Here, the focus is not so much on the technology, but rather on the following aspects:)

    • Other Planet
      (The story takes place on another planet and may or may not include in-your-face technological advances)
    • Dying Earth
      (Humans and/or aliens have depleted Earth’s resources through exploitation or catastrophic wars and now live in a bleak and harsh future)
    • Science Fiction
      (Typically set in space, on a space ship or revolves around the fact that space travel is now a common day thing; it may also be Earthbound, but with significant and very in-your-face technological advances compared to present day)
    • Cyber Punk
      (Set in a future where people are slowly becoming one with technology – bionic organs/limbs and performance-enhancing stimulants have become the norm)

It is also rather important to note that many of these genres can be and are often mixed. In future posts, some of these sub-genres will be explored to give you a better idea of what each of them entails. 😀