Why I Ended Up Writing a Contemporary Fantasy

If you’d asked me many years ago if I would write any kind of fantasy, I would have said no.  I’d considered it at one point for my second novel, but I kept seeing people talking in loving detail about building the world first.  The thought of doing world-building was enough to make me discard the idea immediately.

But I had a lot of trouble pinning down what I did like to write.  Some people instantly gravitate to a genre.   I read a lot of different kinds of books, so instead, I gravitated to where the idea was.  The resulted in a book that I called a mystery, but when I read all the craft books, I didn’t have any elements of a traditional mystery.  Yet, I was finding similar books on the shelf, in the mystery section.  It turned out it was a psychological thriller.

My next book, with a cowriter, was a thriller, more along the flavor of the ones I really liked.  It had a lot of action, a lost treasure of sorts, high stakes — action adventure.  After things ended with the cowriter though, I now faced a new problem.  While we’d been writing the book, thriller had started to change.  Any time I went into the bookstore now, it was hard for me to find thrillers that weren’t crime novels.  It was also hard to find thrillers that didn’t have gratuitous violence.   A whole lot of books had characters getting hands cut off or eyeballs being gouged out.  Not what I wanted to write.

Which meant I had to change genres and figure out what I really wanted to write.  So I made a list of the genres I liked to read first.  Then I listed what I liked about the genre (pros) and the cons — things I would have trouble with or wouldn’t like if I tried to write them.  Some genres I like to read didn’t have enough action for me as the writer.  Fantasy, of course, got the world-building con.

Yet, I kept moving back to fantasy, because of the other genres had worse cons. That world building was a huge sticking point, because I truly don’t enjoy doing it.  I’m right-brained — I jump into stories and start writing.  Planning out the entire setting before I even get the story started? It was too much like doing an outline.  I might as well shoot the story now and put it out its misery.  It was a surefire way to kill the story for me.

Then — urban fantasy?  I’d been reading them and liked the action.  Monsters were cool, too.  Urban fantasy was set in modern cities with real world things, so I wouldn’t have to build things completely from scratch like if it had a modern setting.  Better still, it could be a treasure hunt with magic!  So I went off on a hunt to find information on urban fantasy to see what I needed to do to fit in them.  I was beginning to discover with this that if you’re outside the genres in the bookstore, there isn’t much on them.  There was some scattered sites on UF, and I seemed to fit all of them.

And yet … I didn’t have any vampires, werewolves, or anything supernatural.  Mine had more of “B-movie monsters,” created with magic.  Nor was the story in the traditional first person most UFs are — mine was in omni.  And I needed to set it in a made up country.  Deja Vu!  I was going back down the path of the problem with thriller again.  I’d landed in something that I still didn’t quite fit.  I wrote as UF in my head, and it stayed that way for quite a while.  At least until I read a description of contemporary fantasy that an UF writer posted on a message board.  My fictional setting and the omni viewpoint, as well as the story subject, veered it into contemporary fantasy.  I’m not detail-oriented, so I don’t really see much of a distinction, especially when some of the UFs veer away from the supernatural or have other significant differences.  What it does have is action-adventure in it, and it’s fun.  That’s what I was looking for.

How did you find your genre?

4 thoughts on “Why I Ended Up Writing a Contemporary Fantasy

  1. My reason is fairly straightforward: fantasy (to me) isn’t so much a genre as a flavour. It can be a romance (paranormal fantasy), action adventure (epic/urban/rural fantasy etc), a hard-boiled mystery story (most urban fantasies) and so on. So my mind was made up. You can do a lot more Interesting Stuff when the only limit is your imagination (provided you can come up with some sort of plausible reason withing the story, or at least some kind of internal logic).

    To narrow it down a bit more, I decided I wanted to write action adventure because I love the excitement of action and the feeling of being on some kind of adventure.


    1. Oooh, that sounds like fun. I like the idea of having common elements rather than genre specifics. It makes it more flexible to do something different.

      I’ve always gravitated to action and adventure in my reading tastes — just can’t always find stories that have enough action.


Comments are closed.