On a writers’ forum I visit occasionally, someone recently posted a link to a grammar quiz and challenged everyone to test their knowledge. One member tried it, didn’t do particularly well and commented, “It’s a good job I write fantasy.” This comment summed up, I think, how a lot of people judge fantasy authors. There seems to be a general opinion that fantasy authors, especially self-published ones, only write fantasy because they’re not very good writers and it’s the easiest genre to write. I have reached the stage where I would rather tell someone that I write articles, than tell them I write fantasy. Even worse – I write children’s fantasy! Their eyes glaze a little when I say I’m self-published and then when I say I write fantasy, their lips twist into a smug smile that says to me, ‘not a real writer, obviously’.
The truth is that fantasy, written properly, is a difficult genre to handle. Writers in other genres have their world, with all its rules and regulations, set for them. They simply have to find a plot and some characters and then follow those rules. Yes, they may have to do some research, but once they know the rules, their path is set.
Fantasy writers, on the other hand, have to create a whole new world. That new world has to work and be clearly defined. Magic can’t simply be thrown in to save the hero; it has to follow the rules set and kept by the author. Furthermore, to satisfy readers, fantasy worlds have to be different from each other. If all fantasy authors wrote of worlds that mirrored medieval Europe, then readers would soon tire of reading their books. Extra effort has to go into making new worlds unique in as many ways as possible. Cliché plots and characters are not tolerated either.
I think this is why I love the fantasy of Ursula Le Guin so much. Her fantasy worlds are truly unique. As I’m not into the sort of fantasy that includes fierce battles, dungeons and torture, her gentle worlds appeal to me. They are so different and yet so clearly drawn that they become real as I read. She is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the best writers in any genre. If I could write half as well as her, I’d be a very happy writer.
Oh, by the way, if you’re interested, I scored 9/10 on the test. I couldn’t have told you the rule I was following to get the answers, but…