Defining fantasy and rhetoric strategies

Yesterday, I attended a seminar for grasping the complexity of the fantasy genre, led by Malin Alkestrand (PhD in literature, Linnaeus University). We discussed fantasy vs. the fantastic literature, how we can truly define fantasy literature, what ingredients make up a fantasy novel and much more.

But you’re a romance writer, how come you’re interested in this?

Two answers to that;

  1. As a writer you READ. A lot. You read both within your own genre and – I know, take a deep breath – you read other genres too.
  2. My work in progress Kilonova Blues is a paranormal romance, mainly built around elements of the religious myth of fallen angels.

I’d like to share some insights I got at this seminar and begin with what characterizes fantasy literature:

  • The writer introduces magic in some form.
  • There’s a comic rather than tragic structure to the story, most importantly a bright and happy ending, in contrast to the tragedy where most people die (think Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet).
  • The readers get to experience a distance from the real world in which they live.
  • The Myth Pot – the writer gathers inspiration from various myths, tales, sagas, legends etc. and creates a story with a new twist.

We also discussed four rhetoric strategies for fantasy, originally elaborated by Farah Mendlesohn, which the writer can choose from while building a fantasy story:

  1. Portal-quest fantasy
    – The protagonist enters a portal, taking her/him to a magic world.
    – This magic world can be either physical or mental, i.e. the protagonist can either enter a physical portal or undertake some sort of mental transportation from the known to the unknown. This transition can occur from a world with no magic to a world with magic OR – from a world with magic to another world with magic built upon another set of rules.
    – The reader gets to know the world parallel with the protagonist.
    – The protagonist sets out on a quest.
    Writing tip: Let the protagonist discover the new world together with the reader, and present the new and exciting from an astonished and at times critical point of view.
  2. Intrusive fantasy
    – Magic penetrates the normal world where the protagonist has lived hers/his whole life under “normal” circumstances until he/she comes in contact with the supernatural.
    – Neither the protagonist nor the readers ever get comfortable with the story’s supernatural features.
    Writing tip: Keep a clear distance to the magic, it can never feel safe and comfy. Keep the mystery of the supernatural alive.
  3. Immersive fantasy
    – There is only ONE world, the magic one, and the protagonist is born and raised there.
    – The protagonist is comfortable with her/his environment and hence there is not much detailed explanation of the supernatural.
    – The readers are placed on the protagonist’s shoulder, experiencing the magic through the eyes of the protagonist.
    Writing tip: Avoid explaining the magic to the readers. Do you have to explain something? Let an older character explain it to a younger who doesn’t fully understand which rules applies.
  4. Liminal fantasy
    – Balances the thin line of what is possible/impossible in our world.
    – The protagonist sees something (whatever it is, e.g. a man seemingly unaffected by the axe placed in the back of his head) as completely normal, played out in what’s described as the normal world, while the reader sees it as supernatural.
    – The writer doesn’t elaborate on whether it’s supernatural or not, but simply leaves it to the readers to decide and come to their own conclusions.
    Writing tip: Explain absolutely nothing. Do not categorize events as natural/supernatural. Leave everything open for interpretation.

Interesting, right? I love to learn new stuff.

Now I’m off to let my beloved cousin know I’m attending her wedding in South Africa this December, then I’m headed for a weekend in the Stockholm archipelago.

Nice and lovely, huh?

Not so much. I’m attending a three-day workshop, day and night, in self-defense (Krav Maga) to learn how to fight off rapists alongside forty other women. It’ll be intense not only physically, but mentally, and I’ve tried to prepare for weeks. I’ll tell you all about it in next week’s blog post.

That’s all for now,
hej så länge!

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