What puts a novel in the category of fantasy?

Every book needs to be categorized by its genre to help readers locate the type of books they enjoy reading. Often, science fiction and fantasy are lumped together as one category, but really they are two separate sub-genres of speculative fiction.

Science fiction covers the realm of plausibility, of things that COULD happen if we had the technology or “science.” Fantasy covers the realm of the impossible – it asks you to suspend belief as it introduces mythical creatures and magic. The events in these stories cannot happen in real life.

So what exactly does a novel need to be considered a fantasy?

dragonOften a fantasy novel takes place in another world, many times based off a medieval society. There can be other creatures such as dwarfs, elves, fairies and dragons populating these worlds. And the key is that in these worlds, these things are not out of the ordinary.

Of course, some fantasy novels take place on Earth with perhaps only a part of society that knows about the fantasy element. But no matter what, with a fantasy novel, the reader is asked to suspend belief. They are expected to believe that these incredible things are part of the “norm.”

Many fantasy novels tend to be action-packed and include a quest or adventure of some sort. A conflict between good in evil is also a common subject in fantasy.

wizardBut I guess the one thing that usually sets fantasy novels apart from other genres is the use of magic. It can be a witch or sorcerer or even just someone who controls the elements. Or it can be an enchanted item that grants its own strength or power.

My books clearly have talking cats, dragons and elemental magic – making them obviously fantasy novels. But narrowing down the sub-genre of fantasy can be tricky.

When browsing Kindle books, Amazon lists 16 different categories for fantasy: alternate history, anthologies & short stories, Arthurian, Christian fantasy, classics, coming of age, dark fantasy, epic, fairy tales, historical, metaphysical & visionary, myths & legends, paranormal & urban, superhero, sword & sorcery and TV/Movie/Video Game Adaptations.

Nowhere on Amazon’s site do they list the distinctions between these different categories. And the problem is many books could be listed under several categories. A vampire book could be listed under paranormal or under dark fantasy. Even my The Elemental series is hard to determine which category best fits it – epic, sword and sorcery, myths and legends.

The other tricky element is that when you are categorizing your novel when you upload it on Kindle Direct Publishing is that all 16 of these categories are not choices.  There are only eight – general, collections & anthologies, contemporary, dark fantasy, epic, historical, paranormal and urban.

This makes me wonder if you select contemporary or general, which of the 16 categories listed on the Kindle book fantasy page will your book fall under? I certainly don’t know.

But sub-categories aside, it is the use of supernatural abilities or items that fantasies are defined.


3 thoughts on “What puts a novel in the category of fantasy?

  1. I think this captures it – Fantasy covers the realm of the impossible. Anything that is actually impossible is fantasy of some kind.

    Epic fantasy is fantasy set on an invented world, with a conflict betwen good and evil on an epic scale. High fantasy is usually an invented world with a conflict between good and evil on a personal scale. Sometimes heroic fantasy is defined the same, and sometimes heroic fantasy is defined to involve the use of historical societies (but not necessarily on Earth or it would be historical fantasy). Dark fantasy can overlap many other subgenres. Paranormal is usually set in our world, like urban fantasy, but doesn’t necessarily need the urban setting. Again there is overlap. The proliferation of sub-genres is confusing and hard to navigate.

    In the end, I categorised my novel not necessarily by what it IS (epic or high fantasy) but by who it might appeal to – readers of epic fantasy and paranormal.

  2. This is a great explanation. I call my books fantasy/adventure, because there is as much adventure as there is fantasy! The fantasy is mine is really the magic of time-travel, everything else is real-world-ish. Nice blog post!

  3. excellent post, very informative.

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