Author Topic: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?  (Read 720 times)  

Online Lorri Moulton

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Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« on: September 12, 2017, 12:50:07 PM »
I'm trying to understand the difference between high fantasy, epic fantasy and historical fantasy.  Is epic fantasy just much longer/doorstop type of book?  If a story is loosely based on a past event does that make it historical fantasy? 

I'm trying to put my book into the appropriate genre.  I have been using fairytales and while it's a story with heroes and fairies, I've been told it might actually be fantasy.  Any help would be greatly appreciated! :)


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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #1 on: September 12, 2017, 12:52:25 PM »
I know high fantasy is if it's set in its own world and not the real world. Basically the opposite of urban fantasy.

Offline MonkishScribe

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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #2 on: September 12, 2017, 12:53:01 PM »
Are you reading in the genre you're trying to write?

Offline Tilly

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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #3 on: September 12, 2017, 12:55:59 PM »
Historical fantasy is grounded in a real life time period, but has a fantasy/magic/steam element. If you can't recognise the time period or it's not set on Earth, it's not HF but another variant of fantasy.

Offline Rosie A.

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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #4 on: September 12, 2017, 12:57:04 PM »
High fantasy= smaller casts, fantasy worlds, sword and sorcery type magic, the world is not affected by the hero(es) actions. Think action adventure, sword and sorcery stories.

Epic fantasy= larger casts (Game of Thrones, Wheel of Time, etc), world changing events set into motion/resolved BY the main character(s). Aka, the world changes as a result of the lead character's actions fighting dark forces. This type of fantasy has a lot of political drama and dark forces threatening the world.

Historical fantasy= real world settings with magic, basically. A lot of political intrigue, real life events happening in the book but bolstered by magic. Faerie is one I'm in the process of reading (historical fantasy romance).

This is the quickest, simplest way to explain the differences. :)
« Last Edit: September 12, 2017, 12:58:48 PM by Rosie A. »

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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #5 on: September 12, 2017, 12:57:41 PM »
High fantasy and epic fantasy are usually synonyms and most sites use one or the other for their categories but not both. As other people said, they usually have their own world (not immediately recognizable as Earth), the kingdom/world/something big is at stake, the world building is interesting, and there may be different fantasy races involved. Lord of the Rings and its imitators would be an example, but it doesn't have to feel that narrow. Most of Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar series would be considered high fantasy, and I'd consider Melanie Rawn's Dragon series high fantasy despite it being mostly humans (and a couple of wild desert dragons). Magic is also common but not necessary.

Historical fantasy would either be a fantastic take on historical events -- His Majesty's Dragon is the Napoleonic Wars, with dragons -- or sometimes a fantasy world that very closely mirrors a historical period -- Taiga by Guy Gavriel Kay.

*Edited because I am unable to ever get Guy Gavriel Kay's name correct the first try.
« Last Edit: September 12, 2017, 01:41:13 PM by Vale »

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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #6 on: September 12, 2017, 01:12:54 PM »
Thank you for the responses! :)

The book (third from left in sig) began as a serialized fairytale.  It's loosely based on the Milesian invasion of Ireland and there are definite Celtic/Irish/Scottish aspects to the story.  One main character is from this land, the other is from a more distant land.  They are approached by two water fairies, who ask for their help in defeating an evil lord and his sorceress.

The story started out fairly simple and then grew.  More characters (mainly fairies) joined their quest, there is a prophecy that describes the battle from 800 years earlier and that a final battle will soon take place.  There are four fairy groups (water, earth, fire and air) who are not very good about working together after being divided during the last battle.

While the two MCs and the fairies are trying to stop the dark lord, one MC's father is leading a resistance to the king in this land.  That's one subplot.  Another is that the elders of the different fairy groups may not be telling their people the truth about what really happened in the last battle.

There's magic, adventure, romance, a shape-shifting kelpie, the evil sorceress, rogue fairies joining the dark lord's cause and definitely a threat to not only destroy the fairies, but control the humans who now populate most of the lands.

I still think it's a fairytale in many ways, but I'm wondering if I should also put the book into fantasy.  I thought maybe Celtic historical fantasy, but it's not really of this world.

Oh, the book is finished...so I could look at some books in the genre, but it won't change the story at all.

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Offline Douglas Milewski

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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #7 on: September 12, 2017, 01:15:39 PM »
Note that there's not "one true authority" on these definitions. Their usage is generally governed by consensus, and you know how people like to "agree" on the internet, so if you find inconsistencies and overlaps in the answers, that's okay. Just roll with it. Everything is right with the world.
« Last Edit: September 12, 2017, 01:21:46 PM by Douglas Milewski »

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Offline Rosie A.

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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #8 on: September 12, 2017, 01:22:41 PM »
Thank you for the responses! :)

The book (third from left in sig) began as a serialized fairytale.  It's loosely based on the Milesian invasion of Ireland and there are definite Celtic/Irish/Scottish aspects to the story.  One main character is from this land, the other is from a more distant land.  They are approached by two water fairies, who ask for their help in defeating an evil lord and his sorceress.

The story started out fairly simple and then grew.  More characters (mainly fairies) joined their quest, there is a prophecy that describes the battle from 800 years earlier and that a final battle will soon take place.  There are four fairy groups (water, earth, fire and air) who are not very good about working together after being divided during the last battle.

While the two MCs and the fairies are trying to stop the dark lord, one MC's father is leading a resistance to the king in this land.  That's one subplot.  Another is that the elders of the different fairy groups may not be telling their people the truth about what really happened in the last battle.

There's magic, adventure, romance, a shape-shifting kelpie, the evil sorceress, rogue fairies joining the dark lord's cause and definitely a threat to not only destroy the fairies, but control the humans who now populate most of the lands.

I still think it's a fairytale in many ways, but I'm wondering if I should also put the book into fantasy.  I thought maybe Celtic historical fantasy, but it's not really of this world.

Oh, the book is finished...so I could look at some books in the genre, but it won't change the story at all.
More experienced authors can chime in here...but from what you've described this is what came to me: epic historical fantasy.

It sounds like you have a lot of characters. Do they all have POVs? How many POVs do you have? Also, do the actions of your characters affect the overall change in the world? If so, it's epic.

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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #9 on: September 12, 2017, 01:25:20 PM »
More experienced authors can chime in here...but from what you've described this is what came to me: epic historical fantasy.

It sounds like you have a lot of characters. Do they all have POVs? How many POVs do you have? Also, do the actions of your characters affect the overall change in the world? If so, it's epic.

It's written in third person and there are a lot of characters.  Their actions will either save their lands or they will lose their freedoms and/or their lives.

There are other lands mentioned in passing (the dark lord comes from one and another realm is across the sea) but the main story has at least four different lands that will be affected.
« Last Edit: September 12, 2017, 01:26:59 PM by Lorri Moulton »

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Offline Bards and Sages (Julie)

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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #10 on: September 12, 2017, 01:31:22 PM »
The fairy tale is a very specific type of literary work that generally features what would be considered "traditional" or "folkloric" entities, a far-fetched sequence of events, and though usually following a very simple plot hold deeper cultural/philosophical meaning.

As Vale noted, the terms "high" and "epic" are generally used interchangeably. Generally, epic fantasy takes place exclusively in a parallel or invented world. Plots normally involve world-impacting events and grand struggles against supernatural, evil forces. A low magic/no magic setting with more of a focus on the "hero's journey" and/or action/adventure is considered Sword and Sorcery. 

The difference between epic fantasy in your case versus historical fantasy would be how important the setting and time period is to the story. If your story would work just as well in generic fantasy land, it isn't a historical fantasy. The place and time period need to be essential parts of the story. Just using a historical event as a vague plot device isn't enough.

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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #11 on: September 12, 2017, 02:14:44 PM »
The fairy tale is a very specific type of literary work that generally features what would be considered "traditional" or "folkloric" entities, a far-fetched sequence of events, and though usually following a very simple plot hold deeper cultural/philosophical meaning.

As Vale noted, the terms "high" and "epic" are generally used interchangeably. Generally, epic fantasy takes place exclusively in a parallel or invented world. Plots normally involve world-impacting events and grand struggles against supernatural, evil forces. A low magic/no magic setting with more of a focus on the "hero's journey" and/or action/adventure is considered Sword and Sorcery. 

The difference between epic fantasy in your case versus historical fantasy would be how important the setting and time period is to the story. If your story would work just as well in generic fantasy land, it isn't a historical fantasy. The place and time period need to be essential parts of the story. Just using a historical event as a vague plot device isn't enough.

Thank you, Julie.

I really didn't see this as high or epic fantasy.  It's only 72, 400 words, but I guess that's not the main consideration.  It was going to be about 8 chapters, but ended up being 23.  I got a little carried away as I was releasing a chapter every few weeks. LOL 

When I started the story, I wanted to write a book that never told the reader if the two main characters were a man or a woman.  Later, I added one of the water fairies.  It seemed like an interesting idea to describe them by their beliefs, their values, their ways of fighting, their weapons, their lands, whether they were noble or commoner...basically, everything but their gender. 

I think this makes the story unique, but I wonder if most people forget about it once they get into the story.  However a reader may picture each character, I think after a while they just see them in their head and the story takes center stage.  At least, I hope so. :)

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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #12 on: September 12, 2017, 02:54:00 PM »
The name epic fantasy derives from the epic poetry of Homer (and his imitators like Virgil) and so in origin epic fantasy can certainly be in our world, even if the plot is constantly interrupted by gods. From that tradition epic fantasy takes on the notion that it should be a tale of origin about the people or culture. That would be the key difference with high fantasy, which might look like Lord of the Rings, but lacks that sense of epoch making events. Another way to think of it is that Lord of the Rings is epic fantasy and Dungeons and Dragons is high fantasy (as nothing epoch-making takes place in most D&D campaigns, even though it is based on Lord of the Rings).


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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #13 on: September 12, 2017, 02:57:27 PM »
It looks like epic fantasy.  Thank you all for the help and wonderful definitions/examples.


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Offline P.J. Post

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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #14 on: September 12, 2017, 03:35:23 PM »
Epic fantasy has a lot more padding - a lot more. Generally speaking, if the book can't also function as construction material, say for laying foundations or building retaining walls, it's not epic fantasy. I didn't check wiki, but I think I'm right on this...  ::)

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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #15 on: September 12, 2017, 03:36:26 PM »
From your descriptions, it sounds like your story would fit in well with Julia Marillier's books and most of hers are Celtic/Historical fantasy with some fairy-tale thrown in too. But in the book categories at Amazon, they have some listed as contemporary fantasy, which they are definitely not :)


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Offline MattHaggis

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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #16 on: September 12, 2017, 08:28:14 PM »
Epic fantasy is not just about "epic" world changing consequences. Epic also doesn't just mean big/large. An epic has a huge scope, immersion factor, slows down and takes time to fill in the world. Culture/world/settings/magic system are as important as the characters.

Scope: You have to set your sights high and know what you are doing. Larger than life issues/conflicts. Understand and define your conflicts. Father/son conflicts are not epic enough, the world must be in peril.
Start personally then by the end have expanded enormously, get bigger and bigger.

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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #17 on: September 12, 2017, 08:31:56 PM »
Epic fantasy is not just about "epic" world changing consequences. Epic also doesn't just mean big/large. An epic has a huge scope, immersion factor, slows down and takes time to fill in the world. Culture/world/settings/magic system are as important as the characters.

Scope: You have to set your sights high and know what you are doing. Larger than life issues/conflicts. Understand and define your conflicts. Father/son conflicts are not epic enough, the world must be in peril.
Start personally then by the end have expanded enormously, get bigger and bigger.

I have a lot of these elements even though I was not trying to write any epic fantasy.  Just a fairytale that wasn't another version of an existing story.


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Offline Skip Knox

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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #18 on: September 13, 2017, 09:01:17 AM »
First, just write the story. You have done that part. It's okay to wonder about genre, but who really cares? There are some very specific places where it matters.

One, your agent, if you are trad publishing, but that's not for here, so we'll let that slide.

Two, Amazon categories. This is where the advice above about reading in the genre comes in. If you are unsure how to choose between options, read a few books under each category. Also read blurbs and reviews. That should help.

Three, Amazon keywords. This one's trickier. If you were still unsure about categories, you could add the one not chosen in here, but you're really looking for words and phrases that are likely search terms. That can turn into a pretty deep rabbit hole.

Four, the blurb. You will want to describe your book in terms that resonate with readers. This, too, requires practice and research, but your sig line shows nine books, so you must have some experience there.

Beyond that, genre is largely the concern of publishers and critics, both of whom you can safely ignore.

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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #19 on: September 13, 2017, 09:54:09 AM »
First, just write the story. You have done that part. It's okay to wonder about genre, but who really cares? There are some very specific places where it matters.

One, your agent, if you are trad publishing, but that's not for here, so we'll let that slide.

Two, Amazon categories. This is where the advice above about reading in the genre comes in. If you are unsure how to choose between options, read a few books under each category. Also read blurbs and reviews. That should help.

Three, Amazon keywords. This one's trickier. If you were still unsure about categories, you could add the one not chosen in here, but you're really looking for words and phrases that are likely search terms. That can turn into a pretty deep rabbit hole.

Four, the blurb. You will want to describe your book in terms that resonate with readers. This, too, requires practice and research, but your sig line shows nine books, so you must have some experience there.

Beyond that, genre is largely the concern of publishers and critics, both of whom you can safely ignore.

Thank you, Skip.

I am trying to choose the best Amazon categories and keywords. :)

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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #20 on: September 13, 2017, 02:06:01 PM »
Thank you all for your help.  I kept the book in fairytale, but changed action/adventure to epic fantasy.  Also changed a few keywords, one of which was 'sword' and the books is doing well!

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Offline A. S. Warwick

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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #21 on: September 13, 2017, 07:59:49 PM »
As has been mentioned, high fantasy and epic fantasy are often used interchangeably.  It often (but not always) deals with a clash of good and evil for the fate of kingdoms, worlds and sometimes even all of creation, set in an alternative world.  To me, epic is high taken up to eleven with knobs on.  It sprawls out with a cast of thousands and contains several trees worth of books.

Historical fantasy is set on Earth, at some past part of its history, with fantasy elements thrown in.

At the other end of the scale you have heroic fantasy/sword and sorcery.  They are more tales of action and adventure, set at a much lower scale, one that doesn't typically involve the fate of nations.  They tend to be grittier, and not deal so much with good and evil, with the heroes more morally compromised, to the point of being murderhobos.  (A roleplaying term used to describe characters who are technically homeless vagrants, generally living on the road, whose default solution to any problem is to kill things until the problem is solved or treasure is obtained.  So basically Conan of Cimmeria.)
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Re: Can I please get a little help with fantasy genres?
« Reply #22 on: September 14, 2017, 12:14:38 AM »
Thank you, A.S.

I appreciate all the responses! :)

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