Fantasy writing has been around since before authors wrote in prose. But why does fantasy as a genre have its up –and – downs? One minute it’s HUGELY popular and the next very few seem to care. Is it because fantasy fans are diehard categorically simplistic persons who can’t reach out of their comfort zones? Is it because once readers (and movie goers for that matter) have found something they love, nothing else can compare? I think not. I think fantasy readers are some of the hardest to please. They know what they like and they know great writing when the see it. In order for these things to come together, into a work with staying –power, fantasy authors need to submerge themselves in what they’ve created. They need to believe their stories before their readers will. Fantasy authors can learn from those who came before them. They should look at the authors who, without knowing it, were able to turn their fiction into literature, making it something long-lasting, something that modern-day fantasy authors can “go-to” for reference.
Submersion, without it, a fantasy novel comes off dull and lifeless. George R. Martin is one of today’s leading fantasy writers, for all of you who don’t know the genre or live under rocks, he wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, a series of books that were adapted into the wildly popular HBO series Game of Thrones. Martin is a prime example of why submerging yourself in your writing pays off. Some of his characters are so incredibly evil one could assume they came straight from hell but readers love them still. Not many writers can channel Milton to the point where their readers begin to sympathize with the nastiest of creatures. Crafting a character with depth and staying power works, because Martin becomes his characters. Submerging himself in the world he has created opens a door for readers, inviting them to join him, straight through the pages of his work. A Song of Ice and Fire has many fantasy elements such as magic, but it is subtle, almost the way one would expect it to be if it were real. There are also historical accents that make readers connect with the fictional world created because we know medieval times operated much in the same way, such as keeping significant pieces like: primogeniture, making his world seem as real as possible, creating something time will test and lose against. Utilizing submersion, subtlety and historical tidbits, George R. Martin was able to create a world that readers could live in, a place where they could escape their everyday lives and dance with dragons or work with magic, a world that generations to come will dive into and resurface changed peoples.
There are other aspects of fantasy writing that are needed to establish the strength that crossing generations will require. Fantasy, as a title for a genre of writing seems to imply that there are no boundaries. That a person’s imagination can go wherever it wants and whatever it comes up with will be swallowed and accepted by readers. I’m here to tell you this isn’t true. Readers of fantasy expect boundaries to be pushed but crossing them completely takes great skill and a lot of authors don’t do the research required to keep readers enthralled enough to be complacent with blatant disregard for the “rules”. Yes, I said “rules”. An author must consult those who paved the road for them. Seeking the foundational elements that authors have laid out for the genre in general. The elements that fans expect to at least have been referenced. Not all authors do this, for example: Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga has diehard fans BUT just as many critics. Those critics tend to shy away from her actual writing style (which is a completely separate and under referenced issue) to focus on content. We all get that making her Vamps “vegetarians” who feed off animals instead of humans was done for reason, but was it necessary or just a way to cover her inability to fully form the personality of her characters and make them loved by readers even if they were hunters of men? Bram Stoker’s Dracula drank human blood, straight from the source in fact, and people still read and reference the work now, over a hundred years later. No one has an issue with Dracula’s thirst for blood; they know he can’t help it. Fantasy readers know that Dracula enjoys the hunt and the catch but struggles with both equally. He is a hurt soul (a question many authors can play with: Do vampires have souls?) and his character is written in such a way that the readers can feel his conflict. Readers of Stoker come to identify with Dracula, not something they’d planned on, surely. Stephanie Meyer wasn’t able to create the kind of vampire where her readers could “love” the vampire but “hate” the vampirism and because of it, generations from now when high school kids are downloading reading material, Stoker’s Dracula will remain a source of curiosity and worth whereas Meyer’s vampires sparkle will fade into the night.
Fantasy needs to be something readers can escape into. Remove themselves from their own lives for a little while and engage in something that isn’t possible, but would be totally bad-ass if it could. Heart rates need to rise and minds need to be blown in order for a work to make it the pages of future generations. Great names like: J.R.R Tolkien, Sir Thomas Malory, C.S. Lewis, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker were all able to accomplish staying power. Along with many others, they have a presence in works being written today because they created works that display their author’s levels of submersion, and of course, their ability to work with what came before them. They are a few of the many that built the foundations of what the fantasy genre of the 21st century continues to construct. They defied rules of gravity and humanity and built new worlds for their readers to live in, all while keeping the past a presence in their work. Modern fantasy needs to follow those examples that push boundaries before they try to defy them. The few who do, will become the next layer to the rich foundation of fantasy fiction, they’ll become the ones that future generations of authors will hold with reverence and build on in order to keep the genre alive.