Dragons. Vampires. Werewolves. Ghosts. Faeries. Sorcerers. Beasts of myth, heroes of legend. Fate and destiny taken up or broken down. Worlds and creatures that simply are. Magic.
Fantasy fiction is a pretty broad genre that holds all kinds of crazy, mysterious, and, well, fantastical, ideas. But what is it that draws us to it?
I've read hundreds of books with their own twist on fantasy fiction, and each one brings something new to light. In fact, I tend to mentally categorize the books I read - and the ones I intend to read - by what kind of fantasy devices are most heavily used. Real-world setting with a heavy dose of magic and murder mystery? The Dresden Files. (A series which I cannot recommend highly enough and have two friends engaged so thoroughly they are racing to see who can finish the entire series first. It's highly entertaining to watch.) Another good choice, with more intense focus on the supernatural creatures like werewolves, shapeshifters (or walkers in this case), and vampires, are theMercy Thompsonnovels. Both of these series also have a bunch of other things I'm a sucker for: suspense, action and fighting (with everything from guns to swords to magic), good internal conflict, and a hint of romance (but let's not overdo anything. If I sense teen angst in a book, I hear the sirens go off and the ever-so-perky warning system advising me to Abandon Ship.)
I love strong characters. Some people prefer to always read a book with a male lead, others a female lead. As long as it's someone I can zoom in on and really get invested in, I don't care. But the second that lead is someone I can't identify with, I'm gone. Then I'm not reading a story about a real person anymore - it's just a canned shadow. And there are too many good books out there to spend my time on a mediocre one. (This may be the only time I will ever call myself a real people person!)
Plot is crucial - surprise, surprise. Without it, the characters have nothing to do. Fortunately, with strong characters, there's always some kind of plot, because real people don't just sit around with no reactions to themselves, each other, and the world at large. It's what they do that drives the story.
Setting is important too, but I know there are plenty of people out there who love it more than me. If you asked me about "the scene in this one book where the two characters are talking when the lights go out," I'll probably be able to tell you where they were, but that's about it. Way more likely is that I'll recall the actual discussion going on, how the characters were feeling while they were talking, what they were trying to get from each other, etc.
Good books of all genres have these three basic tools and use them well. And there are a lot of genres and sub-genres to pick from. So why fantasy fiction? I know for me, it's the thought of something more- something beyond what happens in my day-to-day life. Something just a little mysterious and unexplainable. As a kid, I played make-believe and told bizarre stories and read like crazy - and all of that all had some kind of magic. (I blame my parents. They read to me when I was little and then I never stopped. My favorite story from when I was young even had magic in it - the animals were crazy smart and helpful. But No Elephants - check it out, even if you're not a little kid. I still have my copy and I still love it.)
One of the hard things about editing a book is trying to figure out how all the pieces fit together - and whether all those pieces are even right. I write like I read, so I'm more inclined to focus on characters and leave the setting to the bare-bones. So, as an author and as a curious fellow reader, I'm asking: What do you like most about fantasy fiction? (Got any good book suggestions?)Really... What makes you read?