In writing fantasy you are only constrained by two things: your imagination, and your ability to transform your fancies into words. As long as you can persuade your readers to stick with you on the journey, and keep the story and world alive, there is very little you can’t try in a fantasy setting.
And the settings can be wildly varied, alternate worlds of every description, hot or cold, rich or abject, alternate planes of existence where no one can conceive of the idea of a ‘planet’, all are equally possible, if the writer can keep the reader on board. Altered presents, pasts, and futures of this world with fantastical twists and stranger inhabitants can be presented. Nothing is off the table.
Your protagonists don’t have to be human, they don’t have to be living. Destiny or chaos can launch their adventures, love or despair or anything in between can drive them. The worlds they inhabit can present any imaginable political system, variations on ones our known societies have experienced, or entirely new ones we haven’t can be described, offered up to the reader as part of why the story is as it is, and perhaps part of how it will proceed.
The writer can take any theme to explore: duty, revenge, freedom, manipulation, truth, faith, nature are but a tiny fraction of the ideas that can run through the fantasy novel. Any topic that a mind wishes to explore can be created and examined in fantasy. The story (and world) can shape itself around that concept, or be informed by it, or the characters can play out roles informed by themes and ideals, even, and especially if they are unaware of that fact. It is such an incredible sandbox of fun to play in as a writer.
Equally, there is nothing to stop the fantasy novel examining the most intimate bonds of life: love, family, personal successes and failures, writ large or kept small. Characters can struggle with addictions and illness, be representative of any possible race, creed, or sexuality, and receive support or face challenges based on any or all of those things. Fantasy allows ideas to be explored either directly, or through striking metaphor, allowing people in the here and now to see themselves in the strangest of other circumstances, and still keep a tie of identification. That is an incredible gift.
Fantasy novels can be thrillers, adventure stories, murder mysteries, satire, thinly veiled contemporary social commentary (which I think of as distinct from satire), alternate histories, and romances. And anything else their author can dream up and bring to life. They can mix and match and have more than one element blended together seamlessly into one magnificent story.
Fantasies can be cautionary tales, celebrations of heroism, moral lessons, examinations of ethical dilemmas, and of course, pure, unadulterated escapism. And all of those things at once too!
So why do so many seem so similar? Maybe that’s something to be discussed in another column. But if you want different, and keep looking, you’ll find something dazzlingly original waiting for you.
Because in fantasy, the possibilities are endless.