A Plea for Diversity in Fantasy

Fantasy has been quite stagnant of late, and frankly, I’m sick of it.  I am sick to death of heroes gallivanting around swinging swords in quasi-Medieval European worlds to defeat the evil king.  Can fantasy writers quit ripping off Tolkein and try to write something different for a change?  Now don’t get me wrong, fantasy is one of my favourite genres, but it’s time for a change, especially in YA fiction.  Here I’ve compiled a list of fantasy writers’ greatest offenses.

1.  Enough already with the vampires, werewolves, fairies, angels and [insert half-something here].

Every genre goes through its trends and fantasy is no different.  But sooner or later these trends have to end.  Except, the fantasy genre in general seems to have no intention of letting go of the usual fantasy creatures.  The funny thing is that most of these creatures come from familiar Western mythology.  Would it really be so bad to include a few oni, Wendigos or even a Nandi bear?  Would it kill fantasy writers to step a little further outside their own culture?  Probably not.  Oh, and calling fairies, “faeries”, or hinting that creatures are familiar fantasy creatures without actually calling them that don’t count.

2.  Formula use ad nauseum.

Our seemingly ordinary protagonist suddenly discovers that they have superpowers/a destiny and are forcibly taken away from the world they know by a kindly mentor, who is usually male.  Once in the fantasy world, they discover two or more factions fighting for their: a) soul, b) powers, c) support, d) special amulet.  Only through their mentor’s help while travelling around said fantasy world, engaging in many dangerous quests along the way can they defeat the evil king (because it’s always a man)/return home/be normal/survive.  What I’ve just described is my Patent-Pending Formula for Fantasy Writing™.  Does it sound familiar to you?  Well, it should because I’ve just described the plot of almost every fantasy novel written in the past one hundred years or so.  Now I must ask: Would it kill fantasy writers to ditch their precious formula once in a while?

3.  Modeling their world on Medieval Europe.

Despite what most fantasy writers seem to think, there are other governmental/societal structures out there besides modified feudal systems.  Honestly, what is so complicated about democracy that most fantasy writers ignore it?  What if they used Genghis Khan’s governmental structure?  Considering all of the lands he conquered, I think it worked pretty well for him.  What about the Native American system?  I think they managed to keep things pretty well under control.  But government isn’t the only problem in fantasy.  Every single fantasy novel I’ve ever read had a hierarchy based on who your parents were.  What if there were no hereditary titles and people advanced through society on merit alone? That would certainly be an interesting premise for a writer to tackle.

What I’m trying to do here is ask not for a complete overhaul of the fantasy genre, but that writers use a little more creativity and inject some diversity into a stagnant genre.  We have an incredible amount of diversity in the real world and fiction should not only mirror real life, but improve upon it.  So fantasy writers, hear my plea and next time you sit down to write, think of stepping outside your comfort zone.

12 comments

    • Carrie Slager

      No, I haven’t read The Writer’s Journey, but it seems most fantasy writers have! Formula is okay, but they really, really need to change up their current formula.

      • Nova Amiko

        I actually love The Writer’s Journey as a starting point for any story arc that I write but once it has helped to construct a basic layout, it’s important to question it, stretch it, play with it – even try to break it. I think many people see it as THE LAW, however.

        • Carrie Slager

          That’s probably the problem. I think that a lot of books on writing are great starting points, however I do not follow them religiously. Perhaps fantasy writers should take the same approach.

        • Carrie Slager

          That’s sad, but true. Cliche sells a lot more, but if more famous fantasy writers were to start breaking the boundaries of the genre, their books would still sell and they would break this trend.

  1. greencat365

    I think you might like Bridge of Birds or Tales of the Otori. Both of those are fantasy books that draw from Asian cultures.

    Neil Gaiman is good for taking inspiration from all over the world, too. If you’re okay with incredibly scary, try his Sandman graphic novels.

  2. The Spideron

    I find it annoying how, in ‘high fantasy’ settings, the society is advanced enough to know about metallurgy (hence plate armour) but gunpowder is curiously absent.

    • Carrie Slager

      Well, the presence of advanced metallurgy doesn’t really bother me because the Greeks, Egyptians and Romans were all capable of making metal armour and swords. But you’re right about how if plate armour is present, they aren’t even on the trail of gunpowder.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

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