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Fantasy is more than just wizards
Fantasy Tropes

Defining Fantasy ~ It’s More Than Just Wizards

I have a reclining wing back in zebra print and one in leopard print. Perfect for whatever mood I happen to be in I was sitting in my glorious animal print wing back chair, fighting my way through a particularly nasty plot snag in my own work in progress when my attention began to wander.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes, my attention is like a disobedient child, roaming about wherever my imagination happens to lead it. Frustrated because I needed its full cooperation on those plot knots, I pulled out my magic lasso and threw a rope around my fleeing attention, snagging it just before it made it out the door. Hand over hand, I reeled in the uncooperative beast while it fought me like some moss-covered behemoth from the deep. I told it that defining fantasy was easy and if we really had to do this, then let’s get it done and get back to work.

Defining Fantasy ~ It’s about more than just wizards!


Fantasy is more than just wizardsThe internal conversation went something like this:

Me: “Fantasy is a genre encompassing magic to varying degrees. Now get back to work.”

Of course, my infernal internal critic had to get involved and what does it have to say?

“Seriously? You’re defining fantasy and that’s the best you can come up with? Seems a little simplistic for someone that styles themselves a fantasy author, don’t you think?”

So what do I do? I look it up in the dictionary. Webster’s says:

 Fantasy is the imagination, especially when it is extravagant and unrestrained; imaginative conceptualizing.

 “Well that wasn’t especially helpful, now was it?” My internal critic gave a high-pitched, edgy giggle. It does that sometimes when it’s frustrated by something where the solution should be obvious but isn’t.

skullsI had to agree. The definition wasn’t helpful… not helpful at all. There are seemingly endless numbers of genres in fiction literature and with the way so many brilliant, creative authors are pushing the edges and trying new things, the lines between genres are becoming increasingly blurred. Drama, Comedy, Mystery, Romance, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy are just a few literary genres and any of these can be combined with another genre or broken down into increasingly narrow sub-genres, each with its own definition and criteria. And that’s the frustrating thing about fantasy.

Defining fantasy is a challenge, not because doing so is intrinsically difficult, but because the genre is so rich and varied. The further one delves into defining the fantasy genre, the greater the distinctions between the subgenres. Often a fantasy subgenre is more easily defined, not by what it is, but by what it is not. But, as a whole, fantasy is a fiction genre that typically incorporates the use of magic and/or other supernatural phenomena as an integral part of the story. Traditional fantasy stories usually take place in an imaginary world where almost anything is possible. The only limit placed on this genre is the author’s imagination.

Popular sub-genres of fantasy


  • Urban Fantasy
  • Paranormal Romance
  • Dark Fantasy
  • Contemporary Fantasy
  • Heroic or Epic Fantasy
  • Military Fantasy
  • High Fantasy
  • Low Fantasy
  • Steampunk/Arcanepunk
  • Historical Fantasy
  • Fantastique
  • Sword and Sorcery
  • Magic Realism
  • Bangsian Fantasy/Historical Fantasy
  • Gaslamp Fantasy
  • Science Fantasy

In the next several posts, I will undertake the task of defining the various subgenres of fantasy and give you examples of books or movies that illustrate each subgenre. So wish me luck as I embark on this special quest for knowledge and let me know if there are any stops you’d like for me to make along the way.


Fantasy author, blogger, and book reviewer. I spend my spare time as a Chihuahua herder, intrepid explorer and international woman of mystery. I'm changing the world one word at a time.

One Comment

  • James Kafka

    I like the definition, mainly because I can latch on to and appreciate the word “unrestrained” Good fantasy should always tempt unrestrained thinking. I understand that if you go to far it becomes almost comical, but stretching the limits of the unbelievable is the essence of original fantasy.

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