Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Fantasy and Literature

Sorry that this post is a little later than usual; I did warn you about the end of the semester. I've been swamped with homework to the point that I was panicking over completing it on time, but since then, I've been diligent and now I have everything under control. That, of course, still means I'm going to have to work like crazy, but at least I won't have to stress.

So, in the midst of the term papers and essays, I haven't had time to plan a blog post for today. So this might be short. But I DO have material. You get to read about what I'm writing my term paper on: can fantasy and other genres be considered literary fiction? Yay for you!

Basically, literary fiction is the dense, character-driven, poetic writing that is smiled upon in college classrooms and tends to win awards. Genre fiction, like fantasy, is more plot-driven and isn't considered worthy writing by experts. As a fantasy writer and a major geek, this annoys me.

I can see where the professors and literature experts are coming from: lots of fantasy is bad writing. And, because fantasy only has to have a good plot to interest readers, the writing can be bad and the characters stock figures from myth. Yes. This happens. But I think a blanket ban on fantasy is a bad idea. One, because it inspired poor writers to write what they think "literature" is, namely, a story about a character's inner thoughts while doing mundane, daily chores. Some writers do this well, making the writing and character the main interest. But many do not, and it becomes dull.

Two, because there are many examples of excellent fantasy. The Lord of the Rings, for one. I think Sarah Addison Allen has written literary fantasy well. And who can forget Holes? Sachar's YA book is character-driven, uses language expertly, and incorporates themes and motifs that could easily be discussed in a 8-10 page college paper (and yes, I have written such a paper on this book). But, because of its curses and eerie coincidences, I would agree that is, in fact, fantasy.

Michael Chabon's Summerland is another book that is literary and deep, but clearly fantasy. The protagonist goes to another world, where he encounters mythical beings and magic. Fantasy, pure and simple. Except not. The writing is clever, the characters deep and 3-dimensional, and the crafting of the plot goes beyond paperback supermarket fantasy.

Personally, I think writers should write whatever they want and not get penalized for it, as long as it's good. The conventions of fantasy are different than realistic literary fiction, but I think that's no excuse for bashing on one or the other. I think a fantasy can be literary. Holes and Summerland have something about them not every fantasy has. When I finish a typical B-level fantasy, I'm pleased. I have read an entertaining story, and I do not feel like my time has been wasted. But then there are the fantasies that leave me feeling like I've been fed something more than just a story. I hear music in the words, and I'm left with the feeling that there is a meaning to this story. That somehow all the pieces came together to form a tightly woven tale where the items are symbols, and while the characters may also be symbols, they are still relatable people with flaws and quirks that make them and the way they see the world unique.

This is the kind of fantasy I want to write, someday. I'm still young and learning, and I think the best I can do now is tell an interesting tale. But if I hone my writing skill and focus on character as well as plot, I might be able to craft a story that leaves my readers feeling like I do when I read a literary fantasy: like they have also been touched by magic.


  1. I agree. Brandon Sanderson's books come to mind. Beyond his phenomenal world building and intricate plots he has deep character development. He never (that I've seen) uses a stock villain character who is evil just because. He explores his villains so much that we almost agree with some of the actions the villain takes, or at least see where they're coming from.

  2. I completely agree. Writers should be able to write whatever they want, just because it's not realistic doesn't mean it can't be awesome and powerful.
    Also, I was wondering if I could ask you about your experience in the master's program?