February is Fantasy Month: What Makes Great Fantasy

Today I’m not going to spend a lot of time babbling on and on about my favorite books because this month has gotten crazy busy and I’m sure you’re just as busy as I am. But I do what to take a moment to talk about what makes a book great–specifically, what makes a FANTASY book great.

There are so many books out there vying for your attention, so what pulls you in? What makes YOU pick up THAT book over all the others. I decided to ask my readers what THEY think on this very important topic, and their feedback was priceless!

Karen Keil Ideas, ideas, ideas, deep thoughts, deep thoughts, deep thoughts, nobility, strength, courage, growth, hope, love (NOT romance or sex,) sacrifice, suspense, hope, truth…

Matt Champlin It requires a depth of realism that indicates to me that there are untold stories known to the author which they would love to tell me but would be a distraction from the current story, so thus I only hear hints and allusions. Illustrated at length in LOTR and the Dune Saga but entirely feasible for shorter works as well. The untold stories give a sense of realism that would not be available otherwise. The author must have visited this world and breathed its air, smelled the dust in its archives, and explored the crevices where most don’t go. Second, a story should only go on as long as the author has fresh ideas. Rehashing old themes in a new story is okay, but in a series especially repetition (as opposed to iteration, where it is farther up and deeper in) becomes boring.

Katy Huth Jones In all my favorite fantasies, it’s a sympathetic and relatable main character that’s most important to me, over world-building, plot, magic systems, whether it has dragons, etc. In every favorite, the MC grabbed me from the opening scene and now lives in my heart forever (Menolly from Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong, Cazaril from Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion, Niya from H. L. Burke’s Spice Bringer, Tarvic from Annie Douglass Lima’s The Nameless Soldier, Korram from Lima’s Prince of Malorn–my top 5 of all time).

Wrenn Willard I love original poetry in fantasy. It’s one of the things I loved in the Hobbit & LOTR. I’ve read a few other books with it and it is refreshing.

Rachel Kovaciny Characters I care about. Also, a world that feels tangible that I would want to live in. If I want to live there and hang out with those characters, that’s all I need. From any book, not just from fantasy books.

T.E. Bradford What grabs me is an opening that is immediate (not back-story or pages of description), important (not just telling me what someone is doing) and filled with tension. This can be emotional or physical, but something has to be going on. Something urgent. Usually, if this is done successfully, I immediately engage with the characters because they are in trouble or facing something.

What KEEPS me and makes the book a favorite? For one thing, the great opening can’t be followed by a poorly written rest of the book. Don’t take characters on quests for no reason. Don’t show items or add characters that don’t forward the plot. Don’t ramble on for ten pages about the view. Do dive into the internal emotions of the MC(s), but not for so long that I forget what’s happening. Don’t be afraid to leave a few things to the imagination. Do keep things moving and put the characters into situations that force them to grow and learn. No pressure. 😉

JacQuell Peterson Ease of connection with characters and plot… You can tell when an author is not connected or is hesitant of their own world. The more I can sense an author’s love and belief, the NEED to keep telling the story, the more I can’t resist devouring the pages. I have fallen in love with the most unlikely of fantasy stories simply because of the intricate details that have gone into MAKING me see what the author is seeing.

Amelia Nichole DeField Likable or relatable main characters. Witty banter between characters. Character growth. A betrayal that I didn’t see coming. A dash of romance. A world that feels rich and full of detail. Like I could take a left where the characters took a right and go on an adventure of my own.

Aletha Bakke Engaging characters that I can feel connected to and care about what happens to them. A book could have amazing world building and the best plot, but if the character is flat, I will put it down a few chapters in.

Karen Eisenbrey Characters I care about and something important for them to do that feels organic to them and their world.

Wow. I don’t know if I can add anything to this amazing collection of thoughts on great fantasy. Two things that seem to stand out across the responses here are Characters and World-building, but there are so many other great points mentioned as well. What about you? Is there anything you would add to this list?

Before I sign off for the day, I want to take a moment and share 10 Great Fantasy Books that I think you all need to read. How many of these have YOU read?

  1. Howl’s Moving Castle
  2. The Prydaine Chronicles
  3. Ella Enchanted
  4. The Lunar Chronicles
  5. Lord of the Rings
  6. Spice Bringer
  7. The Scorpio Races
  8. Arena
  9. Dragon Slippers
  10. So Sang the Dawn

BONUS: Peace Like a River: This last one isn’t true fantasy, but there are some amazing “spiritual-fantasy-like” elements worked into this historical fiction novel that give it that otherworldly-feel at times.

Don’t forget, if you want to see what the other authors are posting to check out the Schedule of Posts over at Jenelle’s blog.

7 thoughts on “February is Fantasy Month: What Makes Great Fantasy

  1. Loved hearing other readers’ views on what makes fantasy great. I would agree with much of what they said.
    Also, yay, a top ten list where I’ve actually read most of the books! The only ones I’m missing are Arena and So Sang the Dawn. I’ve heard of the latter, but not the former; who wrote it?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Jenelle Schmidt February is Fantasy Month: 2019 Schedule + Hashtag Game

  3. Jenelle

    Fun to see all these different thoughts on what makes a great fantasy story! And neat to see the recurring themes, as well. I have not read 7-9 on your list, but concur with the ones I have read, for sure!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Tessa LaBuff

    I’ve read:
    Howl’s Moving Castle
    Ella Enchanted
    The Lunar Chronicles
    Lord of the Rings(well, 2/3 of it. anyway)
    The Scorpio Races

    In fantasy books, I like it when it’s clean. I always like it when romance isn’t really prevalent, but the way the characters interact make me ship ’em anyway. I like it when adventure and magic are at the forefront of the story rather than relationships. I like humor mixed in with…well, everything. But generally, I’m pretty easy to please.

    Liked by 1 person

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