There And Draft Again

A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers

Drawing Inspiration From Other Genres March 13, 2013

Hello fellow fantasy writers!

I am a brand new addition to There and Draft Again, and I’m super excited to be here. *waves*

The first time I ventured into fantasy was a total flop. I was thirteen years old and I decided I was going to finish an entire novel. (I had started about four of them, but couldn’t get past the first five chapters or so before I got excited about another story. This was pretty much the theme of my teen years. Too. Many. Ideas.) It was supposed to be a dystopian fantasy murder mystery with a disappearence/kidnapping subplot and family issues driving the overall current, along with a spy saga going on the side. The resolution would include a wrap-up of who committed the murder, why the random brother had gone missing, some mended relationships within the family, and the spy saga would carry over to the next in the [seven book?] series.

Turns out I didn’t have any space in my brain left for worldbuilding. Literally, it was just too much story, which of course presented too many possibilities. So how did I turn that into an 80k complete draft? I took out the fantasy elements and the kidnapping, and it went down on paper pretty nice as a simple murder mystery. (I still need to go back and take out the spies.) I felt as if I’d had a near brush with disaster and swore I would never attempt fantasy again. I’d stick to historical and sci-fi where it was safe.

But then something funny happened four years later. The first time I tried National Novel Writing Month, I put my fingers down on the keys, and guess what came out? Fantasy. The story was character driven and the world building was effortless. I was so proud of myself when I finished. It was whole and complete. But it still felt a little empty. I stuck so closely to what I imagined high fantasy had to be that I hadn’t allowed for mystery, suspense, comedy, horror, romance, you name it — nothing that wasn’t strictly classic fantasy. It took me awhile to realize what was bugging me was that I didn’t incorporate other elements.

I’m sure there are some of us who heart our fantasy so much that we just don’t read anything else. And that’s fine! But I think there is a lot to be learned from other genres. Each one augments a part of the human experience that is important even if our characters aren’t human, because honestly, our readers are human. Of course, a lot of us will include essences and influences from life without even thinking, or maybe even go overboard like I did on my first novel, but the next time you feel stuck, or like something might be coming off a bit stale, don’t be shy about picking up a book from a genre you don’t typically read. You just might see a whole new dimension inside of your fantasy.

Here are a few of the questions I’ve asked myself that have helped me broaden the spectrum of my stories:

— What is the commonly known history of the places and families in my world? How does everyone remember it, and do they disagree on how it happened? Do the characters who don’t know the history need to learn more about it?

— Can I up the action anywhere? Take the adventure to the next level?

— Has anything horrific happened in the lives of my characters? Have I thoroughly explored these experiences and how they would affect those who had them?

— Are there any characters that ought to be attracted to each other that I’ve missed? Any backstory romance that is relevant?

— Is there anything funny or ironic that I can make more real? (Children, especially, can’t help but add some comedy.)

— Are there any strands of mystery in my story? Something that the reader will be wondering about already… can I make it more pivotal to increase the suspense?

Are there any other genres you’ve drawn inspriation from? Who are some of your favorite fantasy authors, and are there any you could name who’ve incorporated some elements of other genres? Did you feel it enriched the story? I’d love to hear more thoughts on this!

— Rachel


7 Responses to “Drawing Inspiration From Other Genres”

  1. lordtaltos Says:

    “Who are some of your favorite fantasy authors, and are there any you could name who’ve incorporated some elements of other genres?”

    Just about every fantasy author I’ve ever read has incorporated multiple genres into the work (and I’ve been reading fantasy for over 30 years). From Michael Moorcock and Fritz Leiber (horror; Leiber was a friend of Lovecraft’s) to J.K. Rowling (mystery) to Harry Turtledove (history & mystery; PhD in Byzantine history) or Rick Riordan (history, mythology), I honestly can’t think of such a thing as “pure” fantasy that hasn’t had any other genre influence in it. Maybe Tolkien, but even there he incorporates history, action, and philology. There isn’t much, if any, fantasy out there that doesn’t include at least action (high, urban, low), horror (low, dark), romance (urban, high), or mystery (urban), at least that I can think of off hand.

  2. Rachel, I’m so glad you’ve joined us. *waves back* I agree with you that fantasy can only be improved by being well-rounded, and I love the different elements you’ve discussed here. I’ve fallen in the trap of trying to write every idea I’ve ever had into one story (I suspect the one I’m working on still has the tendancy to rabbit off on unrelated tangents at times) – and also trying too hard to fit the genre mold. Hopefully by the time it’s finished I’ll find my own style and a good balance.

    *rushes off to see if I can apply tips to WIP*

  3. katemsparkes Says:

    Love this post! I adore Fantasy, but I don’t think I could read it exclusively; There’s too much out there to explore and learn from. I’m trying to imagine a fantasy story without elements from anything else, and I’m having trouble- usually there’s a lot of action, if nothing else.

    As for my writing, all of the above! I don’t try to make a book fit into multiple categories (I don’t think a full-on fantasy/mystery/romance/action/comedy would work), but I like incorporating elements from many genres. Yes, my books are Fantasy, but there’s definitely romance, a lot of action and suspense, plus comedy to give a bit of relief from that suspense (even using children to provide it… weird!). It’s important to keep everything in its appropriate place, and only where it adds to the story, but I absolutely agree.

    (OK, so I haven’t incorporated much history into the stories yet- it’s kind of overwhelming, but at least I know what’s going on if I need it later.)

  4. deshipley Says:

    I think I sometimes have a natural tendency to genre blend as an instinctual way to hold my own interest. The humor keeps my spirits up, while the mystery adds tension, a love story or two feeds my die-hard romantic side, and the magic of fantasy pulls out all the stops on my imagination. Sticking too closely to any one thing for too many pages eats away at my enthusiasm fast, so I need to mix it up.
    …And I think it was only in typing this comment that I realized how true it is. Whoo-hoo, self-discovery! I’ll have to remember that for future projects!

  5. My stories all have a huge historical element to them – I draw a lot from specific time periods and often blend several periods together. I’ve also got another project I’m toying with that has a huge dystopian element to it.

  6. Valourbörn Says:

    This is an idea I constantly have to remind myself of. I don’t read much outside the fantasy genre, but I can’t deny that there are a lot of great books in other genres. A good story is a good story, after all, and every genre has to deal with emotions, character development, plot, suspense, etc., which make a story great. And so I have to remember to be open to all sorts of books, just like I have to remember to get out of the house every once in a while 😛 It helps with gathering more experience and inspiration.
    A fantasy book I can think of off the top of my head that blends other genres into it would be Bartimaeus by Jonathan Stroud. It’s in an urban setting, with touches of humour, paranormal/demon-lore, mystery, and historical fiction. It’s a great series, made all the better for it’s non-fantasy-genre influences.

  7. kathils Says:

    Hi, Rachel, welcome! *waves* Great post. I always like to incorporate humor in my righting. Oh, it’s usually not the slap-stick in your face stuff. Sometimes it’s so subtle only I get it. But, hey, if you can’t laugh at your own jokes, who will. Um . . . something like that. And I like fantasy with a little mystery as well. Something to keep you wondering.

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