Understanding Subgenres

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B.G. Dobbins

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I was reading into historical fantasy, and almost everything I found on it agreed that historical fantasy is set in the primary world or at least alongside it. What about fantasy that is a stand alone secondary world but has inspired elements from primary world cultures? I then thought high fantasy, but then most people agree high fantasy is only for large scale plots, so more intimate, character-driven plots may seem out of place.

My main question: Is it still historical fantasy if it's a secondary world? What would be a better label for a fantasy with a setting that feels historical (lack or low technology, innovation, etc.)? Not necessarily epic in scale, but something that can apply to intimate plots, as well.
 

Cobalt Jade

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Well, Guy Gavriel Kay's novels are usually classed as historical fantasies, even though they are not "our" world, because they mirror actual historical events so closely. For example, The Lions of Al-Rassan with the story of El Cid, Tigana with the invasion of Venice by the Turks.
 
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InkFinger

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What are you trying to achieve with the label?
 

lizmonster

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To better market my work.
How much in-genre reading have you done? The best way to nail a subgenre is to find a book (or, preferably books) that "feel" similar to yours in terms of setup.

From what you've said, I think both historical fantasy and second-world fantasy are probably descriptive enough to hit your readership. Not sure where you're doing your marketing, though, and what specifically the subcategories would give you.
 

InkFinger

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To better market my work.
I wouldn't get lost in the marketing end of it until I was completely happy with the writing and the story. You already know the piece is a fantasy. Target markets with similar stories and the publication, publisher, or agent will help you place the right label on it.

What's the gist of your story?
 
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B.G. Dobbins

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I wouldn't get lost in the marketing end of it until I was completely happy with the writing and the story. You already know the piece is a fantasy. Target markets with similar stories and the publication, publisher, or agent will help you place the right label on it.

What's the gist of your story?
Well, they're a series of shorter intimate stories in the same storyverse following different characters. One, for instance, the main character is a young woman feeling out of place amongst a group of warriors. They basically look after her because her father was one of them before he died and she does chores for them. But she feels unfulfilled and lacking when comparing herself to some of the powerful, confident women that are apart of the group. She eventually recognizes and pursues a skill she is passionate about and realizes not all worth and power comes in the form of physical prowess.

Not exactly world changing stuff of a lot of fantasies I've read, even some of the smaller scale stuff, but it's something I like and want to do more of.
 

B.G. Dobbins

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How much in-genre reading have you done? The best way to nail a subgenre is to find a book (or, preferably books) that "feel" similar to yours in terms of setup.

From what you've said, I think both historical fantasy and second-world fantasy are probably descriptive enough to hit your readership. Not sure where you're doing your marketing, though, and what specifically the subcategories would give you.
Most of what I read is some form of fantasy, and I read about a book a week. I'm not sure I've come across something quite like what I'm doing right now. I suppose it's like taking a fantasy world like Middle Earth, but focusing on smaller tales within that universe like one of the no name soldiers making it back to his family and the intimate details about his journey.

I'm just obsessing. You're probably right in that's broad genre label will work fine.
 

InkFinger

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Well, they're a series of shorter intimate stories in the same storyverse following different characters. One, for instance, the main character is a young woman feeling out of place amongst a group of warriors. They basically look after her because her father was one of them before he died and she does chores for them. But she feels unfulfilled and lacking when comparing herself to some of the powerful, confident women that are apart of the group. She eventually recognizes and pursues a skill she is passionate about and realizes not all worth and power comes in the form of physical prowess.

Not exactly world changing stuff of a lot of fantasies I've read, even some of the smaller scale stuff, but it's something I like and want to do more of.
This sounds like straight fantasy to me. I wouldn't get lost in historical fantasy versus something else. Tell your story and when it's crisp, share it. It will find it's home.
 

lizmonster

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Most of what I read is some form of fantasy, and I read about a book a week. I'm not sure I've come across something quite like what I'm doing right now. I suppose it's like taking a fantasy world like Middle Earth, but focusing on smaller tales within that universe like one of the no name soldiers making it back to his family and the intimate details about his journey.

I'm just obsessing. You're probably right in that's broad genre label will work fine.
I mean, I'm all about obsessing. :) I do think sticking with "fantasy" is fine, especially if you're querying agents. If you're self-pubbing, Amazon/IngramSpark/etc. are going to give you lists of boxes you can tick for subgenre; at that point, more research might be helpful, if you're feeling the need to be more targeted with your marketing.

That said...trade publishers can and do get genre wrong, and it's worth understanding what you've written to the best of your ability. If you find yourself having to argue with an entire marketing department, it doesn't hurt to have done your homework.

And cheers to you, by the way, for writing what you want to read, even if you're concerned it's not "fashionable." It actually sounds like the kind of thing I'd enjoy very much, and I doubt I'm alone.
 
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greendragon

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There's a difference between fantasy as a genre and, say, epic fantasy, as a subgenre, which I think is what you're describing as the 'world-changing' stories above. Yes, epic fantasy, like Lord of the Rings, has huge, sweeping plots, etc. But straight-up fantasy can be small, intimate vignettes. High fantasy is full of magic, magical races, etc. There is always some crossover in genres and subgenres. Don't fret it too much. Even for marketing, if you target fantasy or historical fantasy (the latter will need some historical details from our world - like the Chronicles of Saint Camber, for instance) then your readers will find you.
 

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