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Fantasy - What colour's your wardrobe?

Yes, I write fantasy. Yes, I write comic fantasy. Well, I do if you laugh. But there’s a thing about fantasy. It’s, um, fantastic.

Er - what’d he say?

Setting aside the ‘comic’ bit for now, I’ll say it again. Fantasy is, well, fantastic. Time for a side-trip – to the inter-tubes, Robin!
The definition of this fictional genre could be described as something that contains rudiments that are not realistic, such as magical powers, talking animals, etc. Fantasy is often characterized by a departure from the accepted rules by which individuals perceive the world around them; it represents that which is impossible (unexplained) and outside the parameters of our known, reality. Make-believe is what this genre is all about.

Fantasy usually describes those stories that could not happen in real life.
FANTASTIC (adjective)
The adjective FANTASTIC has 7 senses:
1. ludicrously odd
2. extraordinarily good; used especially as intensifiers
3. extravagantly fanciful and unrealistic; foolish
4. existing in fancy only
5. of the highest quality
6. extravagantly fanciful in design, construction, appearance
7. exceedingly or unbelievably great The Fantastic (as opposed to, for instance, the far broader genre, concept or category of “fantasy”) is a mode of fiction in which the possible and the impossible (or most frequently “reality” and the paranormal, or the supernatural) are confounded, so as to leave the reader (and usually the narrator and/or protagonist) with no satisfying explanation for the strange events which have occurred within a fictional world.

OK. Ignoring the meanings that aren’t directly related to writing, let’s look at one of the comments. ‘Fantasy usually describes those stories that could not happen in real life.’ Now let’s admit up-front that books, fiction at least, by definition aren’t ‘real-life’. But, and there’s always a but, fantasy writing is different.

If a book is about a murder, murders happen. If it’s a bank job, banks do indeed get robbed. If it’s a court-room drama, people do indeed go to court. And yes, sometimes people really do fall in love.


Fantasy is different. ‘Fantasy usually describes those stories that could not happen in real life.’. But there, as young William of the Shaking Spear might say, there’s the rub. The reader lives in real life. And if you're my reader, I have to get you out of that life and into somewhere the impossible becomes possible, even common place.

There are a number of ways to do this. One approach is to take characters from the world you the reader live in into the world of the book. As much as it permits the world of the book to be woken, this gives you (as a reader) a familiar hook to permit you to travel as well. When Lucy passes through a wardrobe into Narnia she can take you with her. Would you feel as ‘connected’ to Narnia without the wardrobe? Perhaps, But C. S. Lewis didn’t do the perhaps. He opened up a path, and one that had people (not all of them children) checking to see if anyone was looking, then hopefully opening every wardrobe door they could find.

Not all ‘wardrobes’ have to involve an in-page passing from the world we call ‘Real’ to one more fantastic, but you, as the reader, have to connect with that world, to be ‘there’. And in the absence of a wardrobe, there really should be something. A something you can use to become part of the world. That may involve me (as writer) using a character or events that are familiar. Sure - Abramelin the Mage can destroy whole cities with a wave of one finger. But he’s in the mess he’s in because his mother-in-law was coming to stay, so he took that job in far-off Where-the-Heck. Silly man. But people understand about mothers-in-law.

This can be where the current popularity of ‘Urban Fantasy’ has an edge. If I want you (in a book at least - anything else might be messy) to meet a vampire in Los Angeles, I already have a wardrobe. Los Angeles. Besides, anyplace eating sushi off a naked body is considered a tourist attraction has a head start where the impossible is concerned. But whether I want you to meet that vampire in LA, or Mr Tumnus in Lantern Waste, I have to give you a means to get there.

So. There you are. Or you aren’t, but I want you to be. If you're a reader, what colour do you like your wardrobe to be? If you're a writer, what colour do you paint yours?
What colour's your wardrobe?


Lady_Mary's picture

What a great post! You stated the art of writing fantasy perfectly, with wonderful examples. Thanks for sharing!

Graeme's picture

     Thanks for the comment, Lady Mary!
     I wonder how successful 'The Lion and the Witch' would have been as a book :-)?

Michelle's picture

If anyone was wondering what fantasy writing entailed, you've schooled them. I agree with Mary, excellent post. I'm looking forward to more...

Graeme's picture


     Well, maybe I've triggered some thoughts about wardrobes. And the only result of that might be increased sales at IKEA :-P.

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