2011-02-23

Why You Shouldn't Write Fantasy

I happend upon a recently-closed thread on the Absolute Write boards last week (of course it was closed by the time I got to it; I miss all the good stuff!) wherein the OP said he was embarassed to read fantasy in public.  I read on and found he writes in the fantasy genre, too.

To which I say: WTF?

Let me 'splain something that I considered trying but then abandoned.
It's well known that romance is a huge seller; romance readers just can't get enough of those books, be they paper or electronic.

I figured that it was worth a try by my hand, so I bought a book on how to write a romance.  (You probably know where this is going, but I'll finish anyway...)  I looked through the first part of the book to see what the woman who wrote it (a romance writer) had to say.

What struck me was something that was so simple I knew down to my bones that she was right (paraphrasing): Don't write in a genre just because it's popular.

The romance is the central thing in a romance.  This sounds like a really "duh" moment, but since I barely read in the genre (okay I've read two books over the years, lol), I don't think it actually sunk in.  Reading that, I realized I could never write a romance and have it center around a man and a woman (or whatever other combos) and how they get together for the final clinch.  But that's what romance readers expect; that's the trope, and there's nothing wrong with that.

For me, fantasy is the thing.  I love the idea of creating new creatures, or having fun with mythological creatures, or any of the other dozen tropes that constitute fantasy.  I should've remembered something I read in another how-to (or maybe I saw it online): Look at your bookshelf - under what genre are most of those books?  Literary fiction?  Fantasy?  Thriller?  Then that's what you should go for.

If most of your books aren't fantasy, why should you write that?  It makes no sense, and I'm glad I was brought back to my senses.  Throwing in a little romance is fun in a fantasy - as long as it makes sense in that particular story.  Again, if the only reason you want to write fantasy is because there have been a number of popular movies/books, you're writing for the wrong reason.

Trust me.  I went to the brink on writing in a "hot" genre - I was probably in a depressed mood or something - but it's not worth it.  You must have a passion or a love for a genre to write in that genre.  I know there are writers out there who've tried their hands at different genres, but I'm not going to be one of them - unless it's a one off (then I can write that under a pen name, just for fun :-)).

So why shouldn't you write fantasy?  IMHO:
  • You don't read fantasy and/or are embarassed to read it.
  • Your bookshelf is filled with erotica/literary fic/anything but fantasy.
Fantastical elements can be slipped into other genres, for sure, but write in the genre you love, no matter what that is.

8 comments:

Angie said...

Oh lordy, yes!

I was dinking around in an online writing workshop type site for a while, and read the first chapter or two of a romance someone was reading. The dialogue was straight out of a melodrama, the characterization was flat and cliched, the motivations were non-existent -- you could pretty much see the woman standing there with the back of her hand against her forehead, ready to faint at any moment.

I wrote a critique pointing out the issues to the writer, with specific examples and explanations of what was wrong and why and how to fix it, the same with any other critique. She came back after and said, "Oh. It's a romance. I thought it was supposed to be sappy."

O_O

Not only does she clearly know nothing about genre romance, but the word "sappy" is inherently pejorative -- she scorns it as a "sappy" genre, but wants to write it. She didn't say, but I can only imagine it's because it sells well and she thought it'd be easy money. After all, if all those women are stupid enough to read dumb, sappy books with lousy writing one wouldn't put up with in any other genre, obviously they're stupid enough to buy whatever crap you want to shovel out in front of them. [sigh]

There've been writers who could produce pretty much whatever genre would pay the bills that week, and do a decent job that satisfied that genre's fans. It takes a lot of skill, though, and IMO if you have enough skill to do well in a genre you hate or look down on, then you have enough skill to do well in a genre you love.

Angie

Kay Theodoratus said...

I hear you loud and clean on sticking to a genre you're comfortable. I tied a romance when I don't have a romantic bone in my body. I'd love to be able to write a mystery.

Bottom line. I think all good stories have elements of all genres in them. Even literary can incorporate a personal mystery. It's all in the conventions of the genre.

PS: I write what I mostly read. Fantasy.

Nancy Beck said...

LOL, Angie.

Could you imagine how well that "sappy" bit would go over at the Smart Bitches site?

I think you're completely right; she figured because romance sells so well, she had to try.

As to only stupid women reading romance...jeez, that went out with the old "bodice ripper" moniker that was hung on romances, didn't it? (Not that the stupid part was ever true.) Again, Smart Bitches, and of course, Jane at Dear Author is an attorney.

Yeah. What a bunch of dumb broads. Reading "sappy" stories.

Oy vey.

if you have enough skill to do well in a genre you hate or look down on, then you have enough skill to do well in a genre you love

This.

Nancy Beck said...

Hi, Kay! :-)

I hear you loud and clean on sticking to a genre you're comfortable. I tied a romance when I don't have a romantic bone in my body. I'd love to be able to write a mystery.

I don't know about you, but my attempt was so pathetic, it was laughable. Thank goodness I didn't pursue it for more than a few days.

Bottom line. I think all good stories have elements of all genres in them. Even literary can incorporate a personal mystery. It's all in the conventions of the genre.

I agree. The paranormal suspense I'm working on was at first going to be contemporary fantasy, but I look at it as more of a paranormal because of the protag's abilities and because there's some romance in there as well. The romance, though, is not what the plot revolves around, as it would in a mainstream/typical/whatever romance. (At least I gleaned that much from that how-to book, lol.)

PS: I write what I mostly read. Fantasy.

That's mostly what I read, too. ::squee::

Sonia said...

I can't imagine being embarassed to read fantasy in public...well, I suppose it depends on what kind of fantasy. I love reading fantasy, sci-fi, horror mostly. I do read other genres, but those 3 primarily attract me. Fantasy is my genre of choice when it comes to writing (except for short stories which always seem to tend toward the horror end of the spectrum for me). I completely agree that good writing has elements of all the genres in it.

Nancy Beck said...

Right on, Sonia! I also feel that good writing has elements of all different genres in it; one just takes precedence of all of the others.

I've always been partial to fantasies and mysteries. I can remember when I was a teenager, I got all of the Phyllis A. Whitney mysteries I could find. Loved 'em all.

Nicholas La Salla said...

What a great idea for a blog post, first off. And of course you're absolutely right . . . to choose what to write based on what is hot is not going to work out well in the end for a writer. First of all, if you're going the traditional method, by the time you secure an agent and a publisher, the fad could and probably will be over. Nothing worse than being the last one to visit the well. You put your bucket in, and . . .

Dry.

Not to mention the personal reasons why this tactic just never works. You can't write things authentically if they don't move you, and if you choose not to read in that genre then likely it's not something that interests you.

If you're not interested while you're writing it, chances are no one's going to be all that interested by the reading of it either...

Best,

Nick

Nancy Beck said...

So right, Nick. Without that passion for whatever genre you're writing in, it's going to come off sounding like crap.

No two ways about that.

And welcome to my blog! :-)