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Fantasy Subgenres: A Guide to Exploring Different Worlds


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Fantasy is a genre that encompasses a wide range of different worlds and settings. From epic high fantasy to gritty low fantasy, there are many different facets of fantasy to explore. Let’s dive into some of the most popular fantasy subgenres and what makes them unique.


High Fantasy

High fantasy is perhaps the most well-known subgenre of fantasy. It is characterized by its epic scope, grand themes, and intricate world building. High fantasy often takes place in a secondary world that is completely different from our own, with its own history, geography, and cultures. An example of high fantasy includes J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" series.


Low Fantasy

Low fantasy, on the other hand, is characterized by its grittier, more realistic tone. It often takes place in a world that is similar to our own, but with fantastical elements added in. Low fantasy often explores themes of morality, power, and corruption. Examples of low fantasy include George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series and Joe Abercrombie's "The First Law" trilogy.


Urban Fantasy

Urban fantasy takes place in a modern, urban setting, often with supernatural or magical elements added in. It often explores themes of identity, power, and the supernatural. It’s a fantasy subgenre that can be extremely compelling and is worth exploring if you have are looking to expand you fantasy horizons. Examples of urban fantasy include Jim Butcher's "Dresden Files" and Kevin Herne’s "The Iron Druid Chronicles” – one of our favorite fantasy series, by the way.


Historical Fantasy

Historical fantasy takes place in a historical setting, often with fantastical or magical elements added in. It often explores themes of power, politics, and the supernatural. Examples of historical fantasy include Susanna Clarke's "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" and Naomi Novik's "Temeraire" series.


Dark Fantasy

Dark fantasy is characterized by its dark, often horror-inspired tone. It often explores themes of morality, power, and the supernatural. Examples of dark fantasy include Clive Barker's "The Books of Blood" and Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman" series.


Epic Fantasy

Epic fantasy is characterized by its epic scope, grand themes, and intricate world building. It often takes place in a secondary world that is completely different from our own, with its own history, geography, and cultures. Examples of epic fantasy include J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and Brandon Sanderson's "Mistborn" series.


When it comes to writing a fantasy novel, one of the first choices you’ll have is what subgenre of fantasy you want to write in. While many writers start their stories here, it’s also acceptable to write about what inspires you and then let the genre/sub-genre naturally develop. Because, with so many different subgenres to choose from, it can be overwhelming to decide which one is right for your story. Either writing style works, but here are additional tips as you considers subgenres and story development:


Choosing a Fantasy Subgenre

Once you understand the different types of fantasy subgenres, you can start to think about which one is right for your story. Here are some tips for choosing a fantasy subgenre:


Consider Your Story's Themes

Different fantasy subgenres explore different themes. For example, high fantasy often explores themes of heroism and epic battles, while urban fantasy often explores themes of identity and power. Consider what themes you want to explore in your story and choose a subgenre that aligns with those themes.


Consider Your Story's Setting

The setting of your story can also help you choose a fantasy subgenre. For example, if you want to set your story in a modern, urban setting, urban fantasy might be the right choice for you. If you want to set your story in a historical setting, historical fantasy might be the right choice.


Consider Your Story's Tone

The tone of your story can also help you choose a fantasy subgenre. For example, if you want to write a dark, gritty story, dark fantasy might be the right choice for you. If you want to write a more lighthearted story, high fantasy might be the right choice.


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Developing Your Story

Once you've chosen a fantasy subgenre, you can start to develop your story. Here are some tips for developing your story:


Start with World Building

World building is a crucial aspect of fantasy writing. Develop a detailed world that is consistent and believable, with its own history, geography, and cultures.


Create Compelling Characters

Compelling characters are essential for any story, but they are especially important in fantasy. Develop characters that are unique and interesting, with their own motivations and goals.


Establish Rules and Limitations

Magic is often a key element in fantasy, but it's important to establish rules and limitations for your magic system. This will help you avoid plot holes and inconsistencies in your story.


Consider Your Story's Plot

The plot of your story should be engaging and compelling, with plenty of twists and turns to keep readers interested.


Seek Feedback

Seeking feedback from beta readers or writing groups can help you identify areas where your story could be improved. Consider joining a writing group or sharing your work with beta readers to get feedback and suggestions for improvement.


Fantasy is a genre that encompasses a wide range of different worlds and settings. From epic high fantasy to gritty low fantasy, there are many different facets of fantasy to explore. By understanding the different subgenres of fantasy, you can find the ones that resonate with you and explore the unique worlds and themes that they have to offer. And if you need help with your writing or story development, One Small Step Writing Services has skilled professionals who can help you with all aspects of the writing process, from world building to editing and polishing your final draft.



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