Welcome Fellow Fantasy Writers!
So you’ve written a fantasy novel? That’s awesome! But what sort of fantasy novel did you write? Epic? High? Gritty? Arthurian? What exactly is Arthurian anyway? Well, this post is supposed to help! Below is a list of fantasy subgenres and what they are. Find out what sort of fantasy you wrote!
Alternate World(Portal): Fantasy occurring in a world parallel to our own. Often a primary piece of world building is, or should be, the portal the main character uses to get to and from our world to the fantasy one. Think C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia or Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.
Arthurian: Novels set in the time period of King Arthur, often having to deal with either Arthur himself or members of his Court. Think of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow or BBC’s Merlin ( which is an awesome show you should watch and this isn’t my minor Colin Morgan obsession).
Contemporary: Fantasy set in modern times that in very familiar settings. World building primarily includes the idea that magical creatures are walking among us. Think Neil Gaimen’s novel Neverwhere.
Dark: Fantasy subgenre that shares elements of horror or thrillers. It also will typically have a very gothic feel. Think The Black Jewels Series by Anne Bishop.
Epic: This genre is as big as the name hints. It deals with the human journey, the creation of philosophy, and it really digs into the human condition. Everything from the main character to the villain to the armies are big. Typically hinges on some sort of world destruction. Think Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien.
Gritty: One of our contributors, EM Castellan, specializes in this, so I asked her what the genre meant to her! She says, “the setting is still imaginary worlds. But instead of relying on complicated magic systems and weird creatures, these stories show us a world in shades of grey, where the characters are as flawed as we are, with the same emotions and reactions. These books touch on concepts which echo in our real world. The trend was started by Glen Cook’s Black Company series in the mid 1980s. Then George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series followed in the mid 1990s. And in the last ten years, this subgenre has grown exponentially, with authors such as Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, K. J. Parker, Mark Lawrence, Steven Erikson and Brent Weeks.”
High: This subgenre of fantasy typically tries to play with the tropes of the genre. It uses Elfs, dwarves, swords, journeys, and magic, but tries to turn those tropes on their heads. Think The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Historical: A specific time period in Earth’s history is turned into your personal playground for fantastical elements. Think A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray or The Princess Bride by William Goldman (also a book worth reading and its definitely not because I know all the words to the movie version…)
Urban Fantasy: This is where fantastical elements or creatures are in common, and well known, urban areas such as New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. Think Sanctum by Sarah Fine.
So there you have it, a basic break down of most fantasy genres. The genres can, of course, be more nuanced, but these are the primary genres agents and editors see. So, if you think you’ve written a novel in one of these genres, great! I would read some in your genre, revise, send off to beta readers, then write that query!!
Good Luck and Keep Writing!