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Fantasy Or Reality?

April 1, 2022

A friend posted this question:

Which is easier to write, reality based fiction or fantasy?

People made arguments for both sides.

Those arguing for Fantasy had a good point. In Fantasy, you get to just make stuff up. You don’t have to be bound by the limits of reality. The entire genre is created out of the author’s head. You can “world build” as much as want.

I think that’s one of the weaknesses of Fantasy as well. We fall in love with fantasy worlds, or really any world in literature through the details. Think about Harry Potter. The movie staircases don’t really add to the story. They are just a unique. . .fantastical. . .detail. In The Hobbit, we are introduced to dragons and orcs, trolls and dwarves. And yet, the issue of Bilbo’s handkerchiefs is an important detail because it helps make him more relatable and interesting. Even Lord of The Rings has bits of detail that make the story so much more interesting.

And in Fantasy, you have to come up with those details. Your world building has to be both big and small. My friend Dave explained how even magic has to make sense. If your magic system doesn’t have a cost, your story will be weak.

Details. Details. Details.

You have to have details in reality based fiction also, of course. Or, even reality based science fiction. As a writer you must include the details. But, the difference is that with reality based writing the details are already there. You just have to choose which ones to include. Like dust. Dust gets everywhere. Occasionally, dust will figure into the plot of a story. But, most often if dust is mentioned, it’s a detail to make the world seem more real.

It seems like dust doesn’t figure much into fantasy stories. Think about it, open flames, drafty castles, there’s bound to be lots of dust. But, it rarely gets mentioned. I guess Cinderella would be an exception, although her work to get rid of dust is kind of a plot point. And we have Peter Pan’s pixie dust that let’s you fly. But, just regular dust? We don’t get much of that.

Most of my writing is reality based science fiction. I get to pull my details from the real world. But, I also have an entire world that is based on people being deaf. . .and the world having no metal. It’s science fiction but has the same issue as fantasy.

Neither one is easier or harder in my opinion. It’s about the author. The author constructs a story around a central conflict. And wether reality based or completely made up, the elements of a good story remain the same.

But just because there’s no right answer doesn’t mean that authors won’t argue about it. (Have you heard the one about the Oxford comma?)

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. Order Miscellany II, an anthology including his latest short story, “The Mercy System” here

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2 Comments
  1. I don’t hear many opine on this subject. Have you read Prof. Tolkiens’ essay “On Fairy Stories”? He discusses this very issue, what he calls ‘sub creation’. Definitely not easy, but to me the distinction between good science fiction and good fantasy seems to be more a matter of degree than of kind. Consider that science fiction nearly always employs one or more possible technologies that are not yet fully developed and may never be. Asimov had not just FTL flight but the positronic robot brain, improbable life extension and a vast ‘world mind’ as part of his Foundation series. And just like any good fantasy he had to develop rules that made it work within his sub-world, remember them all and take each into account on every page. His success in doing so is what keeps him remembered.

  2. In terms of this discussion I think Science Fiction and Fantasy are a lot the same. Especially if you are talking about something like The Foundation series where Asmiov created an entire universe.

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