Fantasy is a genre of fiction that can be identified by the imaginary, and often bizarre,
elements that constitute the main plot or theme. The setting of fantasy may be an imaginative
fantasy world that can never be true, or a real, historical or future world that has a certain
realistic feel and where fantastic elements may be regarded as alien, unusual, or heterodox
and dangerous. Though the former is long-established, the latter has gained enormous ground
from the popularity of Hollywood blockbusters and video games that are based on both
fantasy and science fiction, the most famous examples of which are the Star War and X-Men
franchises. Another popular strand of fantasy is magical realism, typified by books such as
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.
As the author of Children of Swan, which includes both fantasy and scientific fiction
elements, I tend to perceive fantasy as a creative device that can be added to a chosen genre
rather than a rigid, standalone format. Like everything else, writing fantasy, whether a
straight fantasy fiction or an element that is added to a fiction of mixed genres, it has
advantages and disadvantages:
Freedom: Fantasy elements can be introduced into an otherwise rather realistic world,
like opening another door, or venturing out into a new territory. It provides a whole
new dimension to exploit.
Opportunity: Don’t just use the fantasy device to satisfy the requirements of the plot.
Regard it as an opportunity to create tension and conflict, and as a way to push the
story forward from a new angle.
The Appeal: We’ve grown up with fables and fairy tales, and fantasy is a way of
escaping our daily, humdrum existence. In our thoughts and our dreams, we are never
far away from a fantasy world. All in all, we have a tendency to be drawn by ideas of
fantasy. Think how much Star Wars is loved. Would it still be loved so much if it
were deprived of the common motifs of fantasy?
The Joy of Writing it. Like adding cream to a chocolate cake, it is enjoyable.
Inconsistency: Fantasy elements must be internally coherent. When we marry
fantasy to another genre, such as science fiction or history, sometimes it is hard to
keep it convincing in the context of the other genre. For example, making a real-life
bio-scientist easily believe in fairies would raise issues of implausibility and
Extra effort: Why do X-men have such superhuman abilities? Where does the Force
in Star Wars come from? Such questions require effort and serious treatment to
make fantasy elements sound plausible and convincing.
Quagmire: Failing to achieve a convincing marriage that blends fantasy to another
genre will inevitably weaken the story. A good story can be easily spoiled by a
fantasy element that goes wrong, and sink into a hopeless quagmire.
The despair if you fall into a quagmire. Well, what can I say? We were warned.