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19 June 2011 @ 08:12 pm
What IS My Novel?  
Here at the Enchanted Inkpot we love fantasy in all forms. And oh how many different forms there are! I’ve seen debates on Twitter on this topic. I’ve seen new (and not so new) writers ask the question, "what do I call my manuscript?" Sometimes these sub-genres can become a bit tangled, making it difficult to tell where one starts and another begins. So how do we classify these concepts? I started by researching the answers online, and guess what? There was no “one” perfect answer. Surprise, surprise! After discussing with some fellow Inkies, I’ve given it my best attempt.

•High Fantasy - Let’s start with an easy one, shall we? High fantasy refers to a completely unique world with its own rules. Think LORD OF THE RINGS, GRACELING, and MISTWOOD.

•Reality-Based Fantasy (aka Contemporary Fantasy and Low Fantasy)- Ah here we go. Reality-based fantasy refers to a story grounded in the “real” world with magical elements interwoven as though they exist naturally. Examples would include HARRY POTTER, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, THE LIGHTENING THIEF and SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS.

•Magical Realism – Wait – what’s the difference between Magical Realism and Reality-Based Fantasy? Good question. In Magical Realism the fantastic elements are generally accepted as part of the world as opposed to being hidden. Examples of this would be THE KEEPER, THE MERMAID’S MIRROR, SAVVY, and TORTILLA SUN.

•Urban Fantasy – Fantasy that exists in a modern, urban setting. The difference between this and Magical Realism? Think of it this way – if your book takes place in the remote island of Hapakulanani, or centuries prior around Stonehenge, it probably doesn’t belong in this category. What does? Books like TITHE and WHITE CAT, as well as CITY OF BONES and WICKED LOVELY.

•Historical Fantasy – Fantasy elements in a historical setting. Books like BEWITCHING SEASON and BETRAYING SEASON, and A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY.

•Paranormal – If you know me, you probably know that this category has a special place in my heart. Yep, we’re talking Vampires, werewolves, and other fantastic creatures that exist in our own world. And not all paranormals are romances. I would classify books like CRUSADE, SHIVER, and HUSH HUSH as paranormal.

Those are the sub-genres I hear of the most. What do you think? Have I missed something? Miscategorized something? Let me know! What I find most interesting about this topic is the apparent subjective nature of these categories. That so many people disagree on the lines between them is a testament to the complex nature of fantasy.
katecoombs on June 20th, 2011 03:54 am (UTC)
With urban fantasy, I think the city is pretty much a character. And there's a cool factor, also a dark tone or an edginess. Kind of noir, you know? Sneering black leather-clad fairies (or rather, faeries) on motorcycles come to mind.

Magical realism is hard to define, but I do know it doesn't involve wands, magic schools, or spells. The magic seems to be subtler and gentler, too. And Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the granddaddy of the subgenre, with Isabel Allende as the aunt or something.

Thanks for this nice delineation of fantasy subgenres! In the past couple of years, I think we've also seen the rise of what I like to call rural fantasy, though some call it frontier fantasy--it's set in the American West or the backwoods and may have a tall-tale flavor. Patricia Wrede's Thirteenth Child is one example.
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on June 20th, 2011 05:36 am (UTC)
I love the idea of the "noir" quality to Urban Fantasy. And interesting point about the "rural fantasy" category. It will be interesting to see how that grows...
jen_wrote_this on June 20th, 2011 03:57 am (UTC)
Great job!
I think you nailed these definitions (and made me want to read one of these books from each of your categories)! Great job.
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on June 20th, 2011 05:37 am (UTC)
Re: Great job!
Thank you! :D
anesbetanesbet on June 20th, 2011 05:03 am (UTC)
When I was writing THE CABINET OF EARTHS, I naively thought of it as "urban fantasy" because, hey, it was fantasy, and it was set in a city (Paris!). But soon I figured out that "urban fantasy" almost always is YA, not MG, and (often) has a certain noir sexiness to it.

Middle grade urban fantasy? That's a trickier category. What do you think would qualify? Maybe China Miéville's UN LUN DUN? Maybe even Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus trilogy? There's quite a bit of MG Steampunk, and that tends to have an "urban" flavor (though not always).

It's fun thinking about the gray areas and the cracks between categories, so thank you for this post, Lisa!


Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on June 20th, 2011 05:42 am (UTC)
That's a really good point. I remember when I started out being amazed that paranormal seemed to be YA and above as well. It really does feel so subjective that I'm sure you could argue either way. I tend to think most MG tends more toward reality-based fantasy, but I'm sure there are exceptions.
(Anonymous) on June 20th, 2011 06:48 am (UTC)
Actually Harry Potter counts as high fantasy. Wikipedia states this as one of the subtypes:

A distinct world-within-a-world as part of the primary world[4] (e.g. Harry Potter, Gods of Pegana)
annastanannastan on June 20th, 2011 10:58 am (UTC)
Great post! I was talking to someone about how to categorize my book, and we were having some trouble. It takes place in the real world, but the main character travels to other worlds to save the day. Finally, we decided to just call it speculative fiction and save ourselves a headache. :-)
katecoombs on June 20th, 2011 01:02 pm (UTC)
Anna--Portal fantasy?
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on June 20th, 2011 03:43 pm (UTC)
You know, I was thinking about that sort of story in the back of my mind while I was writing this, and I STILL didn't see any logical category based on these definitions. So I think speculative fiction is perfect! I can't wait to read your book.
TumbleCoyotetumblecoyote on June 20th, 2011 12:25 pm (UTC)
I'm fascinated by the endless sub-genres that spring up around SF/F- or really, any other popular enough genre. Romance, for example, is chopped up into historical romance, paranormal romance, western romance, whatever. Or, uh, so I've heard.

I'd be somewhat tempted to lump 'Paranormal' in with 'Urban Fantasy,'- though there's a lot of paranormal stuff that takes place in more rural areas, so...uh, yeah.

Steampunk's worth mentioning as it's own distinct sub-genre, given how popular it is right now.

And, as a personal favorite, I've got to give a shout out to Swords & Sorcery. Where your epic/high fantasy will be about some knight trying to save the kingdom, the typical S&S work is about some guy trying to make money- or at least save his own skin. Usually by stabbing dudes and/or monsters.

Of course, I can't think of any specifically Young Adult S&S works off the top of my head- but at the same time, I'd recommend Robert E. Howard or Fritz Lieber to any aspiring young (well, young-ish. Let's say middle school) fantasy reader with a taste for adventure.

Of course, I once told a 7th grader to look up H.P. Lovecraft when she told me she liked reading scary stories, so...
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on June 20th, 2011 03:47 pm (UTC)
Yes! Though I kind of avoided *ahem* steampunk and dystopian because they have cross over to SF and I didn't even want to go there... I think there may be a post on that at some point as well. :D And S&S is awesome! I think I could have divided up high fantasy into sub-sub-genres, but again...
Danny BookwormDanny_Bookworm on June 20th, 2011 12:44 pm (UTC)
Oh that is a very good post!! Even as a reader sometimes it is confusing, what genres do you like, how to call this special sub genre?

Especially the difference between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal was always hard to grab for me, but your post made it no clearer!

Great post!!
katecoombs on June 20th, 2011 12:58 pm (UTC)
Danny--I think paranormal borders on horror, or at least, it's a bridge genre between fantasy and horror. No wands and cutesy glitter-winged fairies there, either. Paranormal's about the things that go bump in the night... only with happy endings, sort of. And a bit less gore than horror has, too. Oh, and someone always seems to have a supernatural gift, whether it's being psychic or simply being a shape-shifting (yet somehow lovable) creature of the night.

Edited at 2011-06-20 12:59 pm (UTC)
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on June 20th, 2011 03:48 pm (UTC)
Well I'm glad you liked the post. :D I had a hard time with that at first, and part of me still wonders if sometimes I'm mis-categorizing, but I read so much in those two genres especially!
Phillipa (Pippa) Baylisspippa_bayliss on June 20th, 2011 04:58 pm (UTC)
Really timely post - thanks Lisa! Your definitions are great :)

Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on June 20th, 2011 05:00 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Pippa! I'm glad you liked it. :D
natalieag on June 20th, 2011 05:14 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing this. Sometimes it gets confusing to decide what type of fantasy your manuscript is.
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Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on June 20th, 2011 07:10 pm (UTC)
Re: hmmm...
Susan - it does get all confusing, doesn't it? I tend to stretch the term "paranormal" myself. Sometimes it's about marketing too, as much as I hate to say it. If paranormal is a no-no for certain people, then it's better to use urban fantasy or RBF if they fit just as well...
Jess/Penniepenrynsdreams on June 20th, 2011 08:18 pm (UTC)
This is a great post, but I have to disagree with your high fantasy definition. To me, high fantasy is a distinct world with other races (elves, dwarves, etc.), usually where there is some epic Good vs. Evil battle/quest going on.

Graceling, then, would not be high fantasy. (Well, I suppose the monsters in Fire could count, and she is fighting against a supremely evil dude trying to take over the world... IDK. My instinct still says it's not high fantasy.) I don't know if there is a sub-type, though, for just straight fantasy, that is set in another world with distinct rules, but w/o the things necessary to make it high fantasy. Just straight fantasy, I suppose!

And maybe my own categorization is off. The person above who quoted Wikipedia said that Harry Potter is high fantasy, which I would also disagree with, but eh. Whatever.
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on June 20th, 2011 09:44 pm (UTC)
Gets confusing doesn't it? :D I'm not sure there's a hard and fast rulebook, but it sure would be nice though!
Rahma KramboRahma Krambo on June 20th, 2011 08:41 pm (UTC)
I've struggled with nailing down my fantasy subgenre too. My book, Guardian Cats, is largely from the POV of cats. More than feral warriors, these cats read and guard an ancient mystical book, warriors of a different kind.

I sort of settled on magical realism, but Reality-Based Fantasy might work better. I'm a little fuzzy on the difference.

The book is well grounded in the real world; the settings are two libraries, one a small town public library, but there is a long scene at the Library of Alexandria which the cats time travel to with the help of an supernatural angelic-like creature.

There's a healthy mix of magic and real world, so what do I call it? Do I need a whole new subgenre?
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on June 20th, 2011 09:46 pm (UTC)
Sounds like there is some crossover. Personally from what you said, I'd go with Magical Realism. But others may disagree!!
ebooraem on June 20th, 2011 09:00 pm (UTC)
I love the fact that the post combined with the comments lead to one conclusion: Subgenre (and probably genre) is in the eye of the beholder!

I wouldn't call Harry Potter "high fantasy" either, because the real world and the wizarding world intertwine so much, especially in the later books. But I always thought any book that established an entirely new world--with no hint that our world exists beside it or outside it or in the future or in the past--was high fantasy, even if there were no elves and orcs. I'm hardly an expert on this stuff, though.

Maybe a new world without elves etc would be S&S?

OK, my mind is officially boggled. :-D
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on June 20th, 2011 09:54 pm (UTC)
I think I'll sit back and be befuddled with you. :D I think you hit the nail on the head when you said it's in the eye of the beholder!
Margo BerendsenwriterWyoming on June 20th, 2011 11:21 pm (UTC)
Great post! I've always wondered what magic-realism was, and since you gave some examples, I can check it out now - thanks! And sooooo glad you included historical fantasy, where my WiP currently resides!
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on June 21st, 2011 12:59 am (UTC)
Historical fantasy is a great category, Margo! Hope the example books help.
lightingliramor.wordpress.com on June 21st, 2011 05:44 am (UTC)
The two stories I've been working on are both kind of on the borders of subgenres. One takes place half in the contemporary world and half in a fairyland. The other is mostly contemporary fantasy* but the characters visit several places not on this world including another planet. (*I don't like calling it reality-based.)
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on June 21st, 2011 03:49 pm (UTC)
David - I think the beauty of it is that sometimes these genres can mix, and since you're the author, you can call it what feels right to you (at least at first). :D
Author Matthew RushAuthor Matthew Rush on July 2nd, 2011 04:01 am (UTC)
This is a great start, and accurate on a basic level, but you've skipped "Sword and Sorcery" and I would have to argue that "low fantasy" is not the same thing as "reality-based fantasy" (which is a great description).

Otherwise? Well done.