Understanding your fiction genre, and its subgenres, lets you alter and conform with confidence. You want a book that works well with marketing and cover design, and you want your readers to feel, at the least, satisfied.\r\n\r\nOf course, adding your own unique flair is all part of the fun. And the best way to break the rules and conventions of genre is to truly understand what they are and why they are there.\r\nThe word 'fantasy' usually brings to mind tales of a magical world where dragons, heroes and incredible lands are filled with dangers at every turn. The reality is fantasy writing is so much more than that." \u2014 Dawn Arkin\r\n\r\n\r\nFantasy is a huge genre, and has grown exponentially since the Lord of the Rings trilogy hit cinemas, and again as Game of Thrones dominates television. And that\u2019s only for the subgenre of high fantasy.\r\n\r\nFrom Harry Potter to Beauty and the Beast, there is so much to explore within the fantasy genre. To make the most of its possibilities, you first need to know what is and what isn\u2019t fantasy.\r\nFantasy: it's all in the setting\r\nWhat defines fantasy, more than anything, is a magical setting. A world where the laws of nature can be manipulated in ways that aren\u2019t logical. A true suspension of disbelief.\r\n\r\nCharacters actually using magic, or the impact of some magical creature or item on the plot, is irrelevant. If the setting is magical, you have fantasy \u2013 which leaves a lot of room to play.\r\n\r\nThe choices you make, beyond having a magical setting, tip your story into different fantasy subgenres. Although novels are arranged simply by genre in bookstores, knowing which subgenre\u00a0your work fits into helps you target your audience more directly.\r\nUnderstanding fantasy subgenres\r\nEvery fantasy novel has a magical setting. But when we look into subgenres, the conventions become more specific.\r\n\r\nThe first division of the fantasy genre is in the type of magical world used.\r\n\r\nThere are four different ways magical worlds are structured, and every subgenre falls into one of them: unique world, alternate world, paranormal, and cross-worlds.\r\n\r\nImage via Pixabay\r\n1. Unique world fantasy subgenres\r\nThis is the type of built-from-scratch fantasy world that usually first springs to mind. In essence, it is a world unlike the real world, one in which magic has developed significantly faster than technology.\r\n\r\nOften these worlds have a medieval or\u00a0Arthurian feel to them, due to the slow advancement of technology. But there are many other cultures fantasy can be flavoured with, such as the Viking or Aztec culture.\r\n\r\nSubgenres within this quadrant include:\r\n\r\n \tHigh\/epic fantasy: Follows a great struggle, between countries or cosmic forces of good and evil. It carries the reader alongside a large cast of great warriors, kings and queens, and famous wizards.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s not the setting that makes a story high [fantasy]. It\u2019s the style in which it\u2019s told and its focus on the noble, rather than the ignoble."\u00a0\u2014 Robert Ryan\r\n\r\n \tLow fantasy: Tends to focus on less noble characters and more on the goals of a person, rather than a kingdom or grand prophecy. The line between good and evil is often blurry, and description often has a gritty, realistic tone. Some use low fantasy to refer to stories set in a world more like our own, but urban and contemporary fantasy are more accurate terms for those.\r\n \tHeroic fantasy and 'sword & sorcery': Characters face more physical threats than political or magical. In heroic fantasy, a morally good character undertakes a quest, partially for themselves and partially for the greater good. 'Sword & sorcery' features a protagonist that is more morally flexible and motivated by self-interest.\r\n\r\nCommon elements\r\nLike most fantasy novels, series are more common than standalone stories in these subgenres. They often feature highly detailed worlds, with at least an implication that the author has developed a whole culture, political structure and more. Magic is typically a rarity, reserved for the elite or special.\r\n\r\nCharacters undertake a physical journey (often paralleled by an inner one), giving them and the reader the opportunity to explore this unique world.\u00a0Quest plots and coming-of-age plots are popular choices, as are themes of good vs evil\/light vs dark and prophecy\/destiny.\r\n\r\nThe tone tends to dance between serious and light-hearted, with as much pleasure coming from exploring new landscapes as fight scenes. Major characters often range in age, with a notably high amount of middle-aged characters and usually at least one old, wise 'mentor' figure.\r\n\r\nImage via Pixabay\r\nAudience and marketing\r\nA few decades ago, readers of these 'pure' fantasy subgenres were an odd, secluded bunch. Nowadays pop culture has welcomed high fantasy and similar subgenres, increasing their visibility, their 'cool' factor and thus their audience.\r\n\r\nFans tend to be avid readers, relishing in the highly detailed worlds and thick volumes these subgenres tend to inhabit. Some pop culture audiences prefer more fast-paced stories, so film versions or YA novels of these subgenres are generally very popular.\r\n\r\nFor marketing unique world fantasy subgenres, work with the traditional fantasy image. Connect with fan groups of series such as\u00a0Lord of the Rings, and note what Twitter hashtags are used with references to stories such as A Song of Ice and Fire.\r\nExamples\r\nThe best way to get a feel for what these subgenres are all about is to read them, research them and engage with their reader community.\r\n\r\nNovels that fall into the unique world category include:\r\n\r\n \tThe Belgariad by David Eddings\r\n \tRiftwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist\r\n \tThe Kingkiller Chronicle\u00a0by Patrick Rothfuss\r\n \tThe Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb\r\n \tThe Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini\r\n\r\nImage via Pixabay\r\n2. Alternate world fantasy subgenres\r\nSome fantasy subgenres are set in a world where both magic and technology developed side-by-side. This technology can be similar to our world, a mix of more primitive and more sophisticated, or totally superior to our 21st century achievements.\r\n\r\nYou also have the option to merge magic and technology. If you don't, you would have to give a good reason as to why not. Maybe magic is too rare, or too unpredictable.\r\nWizard towers may have cell phone antenna attached to them, but telepathy and sending spells are still in use for those who want to avoid high contract fees to the three halfling wireless companies."\u00a0\u2014 John Arcardian\r\nTo combine magic and technology, you will need a full understanding of how your magic works. Does it require a simple set of words, innate talent, or some combination?\r\n\r\nSubgenres of this quadrant include:\r\n\r\n \tAlternate history fantasy: Set in a historical period or culture that existed at some point in our world, with one twist: magic.\r\n \tContemporary\/urban fantasy: Set in our present-day world with fantasy elements.\r\n \tMiddle-Eastern fantasy\/Wuxia:\u00a0As well as our western, modern world, our planet is and has been host to thousands of fascinating cultures from which you can draw inspiration. Middle-Eastern fantasy and wuxia (Chinese fantasy) both include mythology from their cultures.\r\n \tSteampunk fantasy:\u00a0A\u00a0very specific subgenre. Set in worlds with Victorian-era clothes, manners and social hierarchy, their unique feature is impressive technology run by steam engines and cogs.\r\n \tSci-fi fantasy: Includes futuristic technology beyond the use of steam. It often includes interstellar travel, but always with some magical element, such as the Force in\u00a0Star Wars.\r\n\r\nImage via Pixabay\r\nCommon elements\r\nWhile magic in these alternate worlds can be hidden, often it is accessible to a greater number of people and characters. As such, not all magic users need to have some grand goal or destiny.\r\n\r\nThe plot often involves characters competing for power, and seeking new ways to source and manipulate power. This ties nicely into the theme of good vs evil, a popular choice among all fantasy subgenres.\r\n\r\nCharacters are more likely to be of a similar age and, on average, a little younger than the unique-world subgenres. This is due to a narrower focus in the setting: rather than exploring the entire world, writers focus on the elements that are different from our own world.\r\nAudience and marketing\r\nReaders of alternate world fantasy subgenres are curious, and sometimes attached to a certain culture, mythology or point in history. Ranging generally from young adult to middle-aged, they tend to be modern and tech-savvy.\r\n\r\nTo focus your marketing, find groups interested in your particular flavour, whether they are typically fantasy readers or not. Someone fascinated about Chinese mythology, for example, would likely be interested in your wuxia fantasy novel.\r\n\r\nThese groups can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and blog sites such as Tumblr. Take note of the tags they use, involve yourself in conversations\u00a0\u2013 no doubt by researching for your novel; you know a bit about the subject\u00a0\u2013 and share your novel.\r\nExamples\r\nNovels that fall into this category include:\r\n\r\n \tHarry Potter by J. K. Rowling\r\n \tDark Heavens by Kylie Chan\r\n \tThe Broken Empire by Mark Lawrence\r\n \tThe Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer\r\n \tParasol Protectorate\u00a0by Gail Carriger\r\n\r\nImage via Pixabay\r\n3. Paranormal fantasy subgenres\r\nIn this magical world, the only magical element is mythical creatures. Commonly used mythical creatures include celestials, fey\/fae, werewolves, vampires and zombies.\r\n\r\nThe subgenres in this section are paranormal and supernatural fantasy. Sometimes the superhero subgenre is included here, but even with superpowers erring on the side of magic, superheroes are typically placed under sci-fi.\r\n\r\nMythical creatures certainly appear in many other subgenres, even as significant players, such as in\u00a0Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.\u00a0But a separate section is needed for worlds that are magical\u00a0only\u00a0due to mythical creatures.\r\nCommon elements\r\nThese subgenres are often, but not exclusively, set in a modern world very similar to our own. The existence of magical creatures is a closely guarded secret, and this mysterious and shadowy nature often overlaps the subgenres with horror.\r\n\r\nSupernatural fantasy is the term typically given to stories that thrive off the danger of mythical creatures. Most commonly these stories involve a fight for balance: exorcists keep the dead in their own realm, vampire hunters keep us safe at night, or angels battle demons in the human world.\r\nYou need some element of magic or the supernatural that\u2019s so deeply integral to the story that the entire novel would collapse if you removed it. Try removing the supernatural element from Dracula and see how far you get."\u00a0\u2014 Steven Harper\r\nCombining paranormal fantasy with a romance plot is a modern trend sparked by the success of series such as The\u00a0Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer. In this situation, the protagonist or one of their potential lovers must be a mythical being.\r\n\r\nThe romantic notions of exploring a new interest are taken to another level when said interest isn't human. The challenge of overcoming vast differences taps into the well-loved Romeo & Juliet story. And the secretive, potentially forbidden nature of the relationship adds an element of excitement.\r\n\r\nImage via Pexels\r\nAudience and marketing\r\nSupernatural fantasy tends to appeal more to adult men, and readers of crime, horror and thriller genres often dip into this subgenre.\r\n\r\nParanormal romance, however, is very popular among women and young adults. Even with a dark, creepy tone, adding a romance plot is sure to win you female readers.\r\n\r\nWhile there are certainly niche fan groups devoted to werewolf-romances or zombie-apocalypses, you will gain a bigger audience by hitting larger romance or horror groups. Those who love a romantic plot or feeling the tension rise will be more likely to enjoy your paranormal fantasy.\r\nExamples\r\nNovels that fall into this category include:\r\n\r\n \tThe Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare\r\n \tDaughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor\r\n \tWitches of East End by Melissa de la Cruz\r\n \tDownside Ghosts by Stacia Kane\r\n \tMonster Hunter International by Larry Correia\r\n\r\nImage via Pexels\r\n4. Cross-world fantasy subgenres\r\nThe final type of fantasy setting involves characters travelling to at least one other world. A world is not merely another planet in the same universe, or a hidden space. Worlds exist in separate universes, and wouldn't normally impact each other.\r\n\r\nIf at least one of these worlds falls into the above three categories (unique world, alternate world or paranormal), it is fantasy. If no world has a magical setting, the story is sci-fi.\r\n\r\nSubgenres of this section are cross-worlds and portal fantasy. The difference between the two is that portal fantasy includes characters exploring different times as well as different places.\r\nCommon elements\r\nTypically the other worlds that characters travel through are not widely known. Main characters usually start the story also unaware of these worlds' existence. They either stumble upon another world, or some external force brings them there.\r\n\r\nThese subgenres tend to have a bigger focus on character development. Namely, how do the different worlds and experiences in the different worlds affect who they are and what they believe in?\r\nThey may be escaping dangers, seeking opportunities or trade, or simply being tourists. Whatever their reasons, when people travel it changes both the place they leave and the place they arrive in."\u00a0\u2014\u00a0Trudi Canavan\r\nFor this reason, coming-of-age stories are quite common. So is the fantasy favourite of good vs evil, but with a tendency to allow characters to actively question which is the 'good' side \u2013 and maybe even change their mind.\r\n\r\nImage via Pexels\r\nAudience and marketing\r\nOften these stories target children and young adults, which are therefore the primary readers. This is due to their compatibility with coming-of-age stories, and a reduced need for heavily detailed description. Just imagine how huge a multi-world story would be when describing each world to the satisfaction of an adult mind.\r\n\r\nMost fantasy appeals to sci-fi readers, but cross-worlds and portal fantasy are notably appealing to sci-fi fans. For more marketing tips, refer back to whichever of the three types of fantasy worlds your story includes.\r\nExamples\r\nNovels that fall into this category include:\r\n\r\n \tThe Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis\r\n \tAlice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll\r\n \tThe Magicians\u00a0by Lev Grossman\r\n \tThe Chronicles of Amber\u00a0by Roger Zelazny\r\n \tAll Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness\r\n\r\nImage via Pixabay\r\nCreating cross-genre subgenres\r\nEven more fantasy subgenres are created when elements from different genres of fiction are combined.\u00a0As long as you remain true to a fantasy setting, any elements from any other genre can be merged.\r\nThere are many subgenres of fantasy. And there are writers who defy genre."\u00a0\u2014 Rowena Cory\r\nFor example, a romance plot in a fantasy setting is a fantasy romance. And adding the tone and symbols of the horror genre to a magical world creates the subgenre of dark fantasy.\r\n\r\nCommon genres to incorporate plot elements from include:\r\n\r\n \tRomance\r\n \tCrime\/mystery\r\n \tMyths, legends and fairy tales\r\n\r\nCommon genres to borrow some setting aspects from include:\r\n\r\n \tSci-fi\r\n \tDystopia\r\n\r\nCommon genres to take other elements from include:\r\n\r\n \tHorror\/thriller\r\n \tComedy\r\n \tWestern\r\n\r\nOf course, a single spooky graveyard scene doesn't make your story a dark fantasy. You need to use a significant element (such as a whole plot rather than a plot point or two), or use multiple small elements throughout the whole story (repetitive occurrences of dark omens).\r\n\r\nImage via Pixabay\r\nAudience subgenres\r\nSeparate subgenres also exist for different target ages: young adult (YA) fantasy and children's fantasy, for example. These subgenres have their own conventions.\r\n\r\nYA fantasy often has a young, bad-ass female protagonist who is a little out-of-step with her society. Like all YA fiction, YA fantasy tends to give greater attention to character development, dialogue and action scenes over setting description.\r\n\r\nChildren's fantasy features young protagonists, only one or two themes, and a light tone. Protagonists are usually 'ordinary' \u2013 similar enough to the reader so they can identify easily.\r\nAlthough children of this age [six-to-nine-year-olds] love the fantastic, they still like to be able to relate some of the story to their own lives."\u00a0\u2014\u00a0Heather Delabre\r\n***\r\nThe realm of fantasy is expansive, exciting and sometimes a little intimidating. But now you have the foundations of what fantasy is, and what the subgenres require, you are free to let your creative juices take over.\r\n\r\nWhat's your favourite of all the fantasy subgenres? Let us know in the comments!