When People think of fantasy it often evokes images of dragons and wizards and adventures beyond the realms of possibility. Authors such as J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, and H.P. Lovecraft embody the very essence of fantasy writing. Some of these authors combine elements of science fiction and horror, especially H.P. Lovecraft, but when one of their stories is read you know that you are reading a story of fictitious fantasy. Many of the characteristics that set the theme for a fantasy story are storylines that draw heavily from mythology, lore, legend, and magic.
If you have written a story wherein magic, myth, and superstition are a mere happenstance once or twice throughout your tale than it most likely does not qualify as a fantasy story. As an example, I will compare the book The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, to the original comic series Hellraiser. In the Hellraiser masterpieces by Clive Barker one will find many instance of magic and superstition that draw greatly from myths and old biblical folklore. References to heaven and hell and demons and spirits are wide spread throughout the Hellraiser series. Yet, because of the overwhelming themes of death and the gothic atmosphere the series creates it is undoubtedly a Horror genre.
There are six parts of a story that influence the genre one might identify a story as being a part of; the plot, the setting, the characters, the theme, the problem, and the solution. Although the underlying themes of each of these six aspects of a Hellraiser bring about a sense of fantasy, the overwhelming qualities of these six aspects of Hellraiser are horrific. The progress of the plot is through bloodshed and murder, the settings are dark and gothic and full of death, the characters are intrinsically evil and prevail in their viciousness throughout all of Hellraiser, the themes are hellish in nature with images of torture and dismal misery abound, the problems the characters face involve death and personal destruction, and the solution to all the problems the characters face is one of blood, pain, and suffering. Although the sources of these various qualities are drawn from fantasy, it is quite obvious that the intent of Hellraiser is to cause horror. On the other hand, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe not only draw from themes of myth, lore, magic, and legend, but the plot, setting, characters, theme, problem, and solution are also solved, portended, pushed forward, and created using the same exact themes. This is why The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is identified as fantasy.
An easy way to look at your story and determine what genre it fits in is to create a six point scale using the six features I have described in the previous paragraph. Using the overlying themes of each element can easily tell you what your stories genre is. I will give an example below using a hypothetical story.
The Red Barn (Hypothetical Story)
- Plot (Mostly draws from fantasy = 1 point to fantasy)
- Setting (Mostly draws from horror = 1 point to horror)
- Characters (Mostly draws from horror = 1 point to horror)
- Theme (Mostly draws from fantasy = 1 point to fantasy)
- Problem (Mostly draws from fantasy = 1 point to fantasy)
- Solution (Mostly draws from fantasy = 1 point to fantasy)
(Fantasy: 4 Points) (Horror: 2 Points) = The Red Barn is Fantasy
As you can see from this example the characteristic of fantasy stands out more than the characteristics of horror. By using this simple point system scale you can easily determine which genre your story belongs to. Determining a stories genre in fantasy, and every other genre, requires a certain amount of intuition and common sense. If you use this scale and end up even than use critical thinking and common sense to break the tie. Just remember that a fantasy story will draw from any sort of mythology, legend, folklore, magic, superstition, and unreal themes. If you keep this in mind you will be able to easily determine the genre your story is inherent to.
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