Stop Saying Writing Fantasy is Easy

Writing fantasy isn't as "easy" as people seem to want to say it is.

There isn't a lot in this world that bugs me.

Chewing on the phone, interrupting me while I speak, lies, when my favorite shows get cancelled, shopping for clothes, malls, trying to find new shoes, loud fireworks being set off in residential neighborhoods, talking when I'm trying to watch television, slow cable Internet, dropped calls, pushy salespeople, websites that are hard to navigate, sharp edges on my nails that snag everything, getting a run in a brand new pair of stockings, waking up before my alarm clock rings, having to change the batteries in my mouse, form letters, waiting for the oven to preheat...

Oh my... Well. Okay. So maybe there are a lot of things that bug me. But one of the things that bug me the most is how much Fantasy, as a book genre, gets downplayed, degraded, and downright insulted.

Stop Saying Writing Fantasy is Easy
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And if you want to get paid to write or if you have dreams of making money as a freelance ghostwriter, you need to know exactly what you're getting into because believe me - if you decide to ghostwrite fantasy because you think it's easy, you've got another thing coming.

Now, you would think that I was talking about readers or even writers of other genres. But no, sadly, the worst culprits of degrading the Fantasy genre are fantasy writers. Imagine, if you will, having a conversation with a writer who proceeds to tell you that he or she writes fantasy because "it's not as hard as writing other things."

Um... what? It's not as hard?

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First of all, I should shake some sense into you.

Second,  if you claim writing is what you want to do, and you claim you're passionate about it, should you really be trying to take the easy way out? Should you really be basing your decision on what you think will be easier on you?

And finally, you're crazy if you think that's true.

Writing fantasy is anything but easy.

Sure, historical fiction requires research into the past; and if you're not comfortable with that kind of research or if you don't like history all that much then -- well, who are we kidding, then you really shouldn't go anywhere near historical fiction. After all, while the story itself is fiction, the facts you choose to include need to be believable and accurate. Writing a fantasy novel about King Henry VIII and then claiming he never married or that he had eaten his children just wouldn't work and would likely piss off your readers more than anything.

And, yes, if you want to write a novel that's based on some sort of science - maybe space travel - then you should learn something about space travel. I mean, it just wouldn't do if you wrote the entire novel not knowing that human beings can't breathe unassisted out in space, or that they would float without gravity.

Do you have to be an expert at space travel or a Henry VIII guru? No. But you do have to know enough to make the rest of your writing believable.

Fantasy exists without these rules. In the world of fantasy, Henry VIII can be traveling to his summer home on Jupiter via the back of a dragon. But existing without these rules doesn't mean that fantasy is easy.

For one thing, you have to make everything up. And I know this is exhilarating and freeing. But creating an entire world is no laughing matter. Histories, geography, races, languages -- were there wars? True love? Does this world even have gravity? Tolkien and Okrand might have made creating languages look easy, but have you ever tried to create one? There are grammar rules, dialects, pronunciations, as well as words and letters.

All this, and you haven't even written the novel yet!

Now, for another thing, you have to remember why people read fantasy novels. It sure isn't to learn anything. It probably isn't to help fix anything, communicate with anyone, or spread the word about anything. That's what blogs, articles, news stories, self-help and nonfiction books are for. Fantasy novels are read for one reason and one reason only: a chance to escape from the reality that surrounds you.

That is a lot of pressure to place on your shoulders - providing each and every reader an escape from his or her reality. The chance to fall in love with a man or a woman who doesn't exist; to take sides on a political debate in a land that has no map marker; to pray that the evil queen finds either redemption or justice. With all of these responsibilities, your fantasy novel better be the best novel you've ever written.

I mean it - the very best novel you've ever written.

You see, readers forgive the occasional typo that you find in blog posts. They can overlook disjointed transitions as long as the conclusion provides the instruction they are looking for. Fantasy doesn't have that freedom. There is no predetermined conclusion for which the reader is looking. In fantasy, you're bringing your reader to the conclusion of your own design, so the journey there can't be a sloppy one.

In many other genres, you don't need to convince your readers of anything that happened in the past. Hitler slaughtered millions of people, you don't have to convince me as to why. Because his father lost his job and blamed the Jewish and this led to the life-long hatred of them. That certainly wasn't the most graceful way to tell the story, but that's okay - grace is easily sacrificed for the convenience of knowing that what you're writing is being accepted without question.

Fantasy is a whole new quidditch game, though. Gaius wants to conquer and rule the world, but why? It's not enough to simply write that he's a greedy bastard who won't stop until he reigns over everyone - there must be something behind the story. Motive. And it needs to be believable. After all, evil bastards do not just wake up one day and decide to conquer the world for kicks and giggles.

And finally, you're battling all the fantasy writers who came before you

...and their spectacularly loyal fans. Think you can get away with having Elves in your world? Lord of the Rings fans might have something to say about that. Oh? In your world, Elves are short, fat, hairy shapeshifters with unibrows and poisonous spores they release by scratching at their moles?

You won't be winning over any readers with that one. And of course, your Elves can't be the same as Tolkien's because then they're just his Elves...

Fantasy writers with whom we have all grown - and presumably love - did their jobs well. No one can write a hidden magic school with a giant groundskeeper and a mean-spirited-no-nosed student like J.K. Rowling, and that thought can be intimidating. Wizards have been done more than a few times - can you really write about them again without incurring the wrath of her fans?

Writing fantasy is not easy, and it is not devoid of the need for research or hard work. If you're writing fantasy because you think it's the easiest of the genres, you really have another thing coming. So do me a favor...

If you're one of the writers who degrades fantasy as being easier than other genres, stop it. And if you come across a writer who claims that writing fantasy is easier than writing other genres...

Tell them to stop.

Or shake some sense into them 😉

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3 thoughts on “Stop Saying Writing Fantasy is Easy”

  1. Ciara Ballintyne

    Fantasy is only easier to write in the sense that you don't have to do reams of research. I've researched a couple of things, but not much. Everything else is the same, and in fact it's MORE important to have characters be believable because so much suspension of disbelief is already invested in the world.

    But you CAN learn from fantasy. In fact, the great thing about speculative fiction is that it can beused to address sensitive issues in a 'safe' context. To shine the light of the ridiculous on real issues. Terry Pratchett considers racism through the construct of which species should be allowed citizenship in Ankh-Morpork and allowed into the city guard. Science fiction and fantasy often deal with issues of 'humanity' and definitely explores right and wrong, good and evil, and any number of other things. Terry Goodkind (like him or hate him) explores individualism. I learned about the origins of Lloyd's of London from Barrett's Coffee House in Raymond E Feist's books. And if you want a strong female role model for kids, look no further than fantasy!

    Fantasy ISN'T easier and it DOES bring real value beyond entertainment to the table.

  2. Naomi Nakashima

    Hi Ciara!

    I completely agree. I'm not even sure how the Fantasy genre developed this reputation as being so much easier than other genres. I find it to be one of the harder genres that I write.

    But, I also happen to find it one of the more rewarding genres as well.

  3. Alexandra Weston

    Great post Naomi! I can't honestly say that it's easier than writing other genres because I've not seriously tried to write other genres but I do know that it takes a certain type of person with a certain type of imagination to create a different world and make your readers believe in it. You don't have to do that if you write rom-coms or crime.
    Yes there's less research but there's a whole lot more creating to do. I think Ciara's right about the serious issues you can deal with in fantasy too. Just because it's not the real world doesn't mean it can't be about real issues.
    Fantasy writers should be more proud of what they do. Other people are rather too willing to put our genre down, we shouldn't give them a helping hand!

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