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Fiction or Fantasy?

Not many people realise the different types of "sub-genres" within the main fiction genre. Actually, there are only really two main genres which books are commonly based on: fiction and non-fiction. It's that simple, yet writers get muddled up so often with the smaller sub-genres used to categorise texts into the two large genres.

What actually is fiction? How would you define fiction?

Go on, grab a piece of paper and scribble it down. Don't worry, I'll wait for you.

Let's see how the Oxford Dictionary of English defines fiction:

fiction noun

a type of literature that describes imaginary people and events, not real ones

How close were you? Chances are, you included something about a story or book being "made up", or as Oxford defines it, "imaginary".

Imagination is vital in fiction storytelling. This is because without some form of imagination, a fiction story cannot exist. Fiction writers are possibly some of the most creative and imaginative folk out there, purely because their whole job is to use their imagination to create. As we dive deeper into this post, I will reveal two of what I'd call the "main" sub-categories of the fiction genre: fantasy and "normal" fiction.


Probably one of the most well-known genres within the world of literature, film and theatre, fantasy is also one of the most popular, generating $590.02 million each year in the United States. The reason for fantasy's success in popularity is that it allows the readers' imaginations to run wild, no matter how big or small they may be. Fantasy loves to incorporate mystical creatures, a magic or mythical power if some sorts, and often a medieval Dark Ages theme to it.

The fantasy genre is also one of my personal favourites; almost my entire bookshelf is dominated by fantasy, and the fantasy genre is my favourite to write in. I love that it doesn't just allow the readers to think outside of the box—it gives the writers the opportunity to be as creative as they like.

Fantasy seemingly has no borders; you can write and create whatever you want, plus you also get the added bonus of being allowed to choose however you want your world to be.

What is the land called? What animals exist there? Who lives there? Are there floating islands? Can characters fly? Whether you have a normal earthly world with dragons or a new universe which defies the laws of physics is all up to you as the writer.

Some call fantasy the "genre where everything is possible" and they're completely right. However, there is one thing which is required in order to make your writing fantasy. What is this?


I'm not saying that your characters have to have ice powers like Elsa from Frozen or shoot spells at each other the way we imagine wizards doing. In fact, if you want an air of mystery about your fantasy novel, I encourage you not to include magic in this way.

"So how else must I include magic?" you ask.

The answer is simply something which defies the laws of common science; something that cannot exist in a logical world. This can be fire-breathing dragons, talking bunnies, floating islands, or even a flat Earth (although a flat Earth seemed pretty logical for thousands of years).

My first book, The Epic Story of 1776, is an example of historical fiction. It follows the stories of twenty-five people who played an influential role in the American Revolution. Some of my fellow co-authors (including myself) included elements which made some of our chapters historical fantasy fiction. Just because of a few elements which defy science, the whole genre changes.

Consider Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. Both are set in a medieval time period and feature actions and characters which are scientifically impossible (except for talking warrior mice, I'm still not quite sure on that one).

Fantasy is all about adventure, mystery, and another non-earthly world to where the readers (and often the writer) can escape. When writing fantasy, be sure to use a magical cloak of mystery to explain certain events, not science. You want to almost create a scenario where readers ask you how it happened and you can reply with, "because I made it that way" or "that's just how my world works".

If you can answer the reader's question with science, you know you've got something wrong. Unless it's a normal question such as "How do clouds form?", fantasy never looks to science for an answer, but to the author's imagination.

Contemporary Fiction

Now that we've covered fantasy fiction, let's move onto a more simple and laid back part of the fiction genre. Contemporary fiction is possibly the most realistic genre apart from non-fiction. The easiest way to define whether or not your novel fits into this genre is by asking yourself, "Could this happen to me or someone in this world?" If your answer is yes, then success! You've got a contemporary fiction novel. If not, then I'm afraid you'll have to categorise again.

This is not saying that contemporary fiction has to fit into real life perfectly. If the US President in your book is named Adam Johns, it doesn't change your genre just because he never existed. Contemporary fiction allows you to be as creative as you like, while keeping your feet firmly on terra firma and your head out of the fantastical clouds.

"Do I have to write about a real person?"

Absolutely not! In fact, if you did, you wouldn't be writing contemporary fiction, but biographical fiction, which is completely different. Sure, you could base your character on someone real and include real people in your story, but it is not a requirement.

Remember: you're writing contemporary fiction. You have to make sure you add the fiction element. Make your story come alive and allow the readers to form bonds with the characters!


So, what are you writing? Fiction or fantasy? Are you writing a relatable novel, or are you wanting your readers to embark on a magical adventure? This is not saying that fantasy isn't relatable, though. In order for your story to really stand out, to really draw the readers in, you must make it relatable.

Now, contemporary fiction goes way beyond what I described. I simply outlined the technical framework—the rough skeleton—of what contemporary fiction is all about. On the inside, you'll get to really know your characters and embark on adventures of your own. But that conversation is for another time.



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