I want to write a fantasy series this year, so I’m trying to do some respectful research on the topic... What do fantasy readers like? What do they expect? What are they tired of?
Here are a few notes I’ve been picking up on the fantasy genre.
1) Point Of View: The third person omniscient narrator was popular in the old days but has since fallen out of fashion. Much more popular is the third person limited, where the author jumps around to different characters, but stays close to each character, looking over their shoulders and only letting the readers know what the characters themselves know.
I must be a part of this trend, because I personally don’t like when authors jump out of the 3rd person limited and into the 3rd person omniscient.
I think it's because, the omniscient narrator reminds me that the author is present, and that the author already knows everything. The third person omniscient narrator reminds me that there’s a writer behind the story. I’d rather not be reminded that I’m watching a movie - I just want to be swept up in the action as if I’m there.
2) Grey Characters are the most interesting. The battle between good and evil is not as white and black as it used to be in the old days. It’s important to get inside the heads of all the characters and realize their motivations. There are no heroes and no villains - only humans who want success, love, and prosperity - humans who are insecure, afraid, and irreparably damaged just like you and me.
3) Portal Fantasy is apparently out of fashion? I don’t know if this is true or not, but it seems to be a hot topic between readers and authors.
A portal fantasy is when the main character travels in between worlds. The classic example is Alice in Wonderland. Other examples include Peter Pan, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Golden Compass, and The Magicians.
A non-portal fantasy is when the story begins and ends in a fantasy world. Lord of the Rings is an easy example - there’s no modern day kids popping in and out of the Shire. Middle Earth is its own reality.
But portal fantasies are what I’ve always loved! Surely those types of stories can never be exhausted? There are pros and cons to both, sure. Maybe portal fantasies aren't in fashion, but they've sure sold off the shelves in the past.
4) Introduce a Reader to a Fantasy World Slowly. Don’t throw in too much newness too quickly. Don’t scare the reader away. Give them something normal and introduce the magic gradually as you go along.
I appreciate this about the Golden Compass series. Pullman does a good job of letting you slowly into the fantasy world. Actually I think all successful fantasy authors have figured this out. A fantasy world is queer, unusual, brimming with foreign words and concepts. If you push too much of it too quickly, the reader might shy away. Give them time to get used to their new universe and they’ll slowly start to buy into it.
Harry Potter doesn’t begin with Harry flying crazily on his broom, casting Patronus spells against the Dementors. It starts with a regular boy in a regular enough house. We are slowly introduced to the crazy over time.
5) Avoid Info Dumps. I hear this a lot in regards to fantasy. The underlying problem is that fantasy authors are world-builders, and as such, they have a lot of information to relay to the reader. It goes without saying that “info-dumps” are bad in any genre, but in the fantasy world it’s a particularly sticky trap. Talented writers figure out how to relay that information slowly, over time, through the mouths of their characters, and in the midst of the action.
That's all for now. A part two will be coming shortly. Whenever I start researching, I'm just reminded of how much I don't know. But it's fun to learn. The fantasy genre, for all these reasons, is intriguing to me. I loved it as a kid and I want to offer my own stories to the catalog.