How often are writers asked why they write, and better yet, why do they write a particular genre? It can be a difficult question to answer, especially without seeming trite or clichéd.
I write multiple genres, mostly leaning towards the darker side of the spectrum, but I actually began with fantasy. I had an interesting five-star review that described my fantasy work as “fantasy for non-fantasy readers” and I guess the reviewer is right. I started writing fantasy because I’m a huge fan of the genre, and I was following the “write what you want to read” doctrine. But I have to clarify this point – while I love fantasy, I also hate it.
There are fantasy writers I find enchanting and exhilarating, writers like Jack L. Chalker, Tad Williams, Lawrence Watt-Evans, and Tanith Lee, but mostly because their work is not what I consider typical of the genre. That’s exactly why I love their kind of fantasy.
Apparently, I’m not a true fantasy fan, however, because the norm for fantasy, the epic high fantasy novels with lofty ideals and super-human flawless heroes, over-descriptive by my taste, bore me to tears. I can’t stand encyclopaedic segments inserted in amongst the story to demonstrate the author’s world-building talents, or pages and pages of imagery-riddled description of the landscape or the characters’ clothing, accessories or hair-dos. I think the ardent escapists demand these things, reading fantasy to completely free themselves from their world and their troubles. If it comes into play as a legitimate part of the story, that’s great, but in most cases, I find those kinds of things superfluous at best, and often poorly integrated into the tale.
As well, I like realism to my fantasy – edgy, gritty and cruel. Things aren’t always pretty in real life, and I want that reflected in the fantasy I read. If you do something dangerous on a regular basis, someone eventually gets hurt very badly and/or dies. If people are subject to torture or more responsibility than a normal person can be expected to handle, they break down, they might snap and turn to something like alcoholism to cope, or they may even go insane. Magic doesn’t always work the way it is supposed to because spell-casters are regular people and therefore fallible. Like in Stephen King’s fantasy writing, royalty sitting unobserved alone in their throne rooms, with nothing to occupy themselves, might just pick their noses out of boredom. (Yeah – ewww – but that’s realism, folks.)
I’ve seen evidence that my kind of fantasy doesn’t appeal to the average fantasy fan, the ones who read fantasy explicitly for that extreme display of world-building and those flowery descriptions, and not for the story proper. One reviewer complained there was no world building to my Magic University (she gave me a one-star rating). There was no doubt some truth to that depending on what she was looking for in the way of world-building. The story is set in one location over a 24-hour period, which limits exposure to the world and anything outside of that setting. There is no well-defined good guy/bad guy, and all of the characters are flawed in some way. Not pretty, and not perfect.
There are subtle elements of world-building to the tale, carefully integrated in appropriate places, such as the differences between the Masters and the Renegades and the biases and conflicts that exist because of it, reptilian culture and what social restrictions led to Nia’s exile, Shetland’s struggle with being magically endowed when he is a member of a race that normally repels magic, just to name a few examples. If you are accustomed to preferring that “in-your-face” display of world-building, details like these that have been carefully interwoven into the plot will probably fly under your radar, and my stories aren’t for you.
On the other hand, if you want something different, story-focussed fantasy that feels like it could actually happen if magic and mythical creatures did exist, you might get a big kick out of my work.
Some readers do.