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Author Topic: Trends in Contemporary Fantasy  (Read 7699 times)

Offline JMack

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Trends in Contemporary Fantasy
« on: March 07, 2015, 02:24:15 PM »
This is a post for the writers among us:

What are the most important trends in Fantasy today of which a writer should be aware when trying to find an audience? This is not a question of which trends we might like or not, but of which are important in today's market?

A related question might be: What sub-genres or styles are "out", and if you want to write them, you need to bring something new or know you'll audience will be smaller?
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Offline DRMarvello

Re: Trends in Contemporary Fantasy
« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2015, 02:42:52 PM »
From what I've seen, dark is in, contemporary settings are in, kick-ass female heroines are in, fast pacing is in, and vengeance stories are in. I don't think that means you can't succeed without those elements, but your market might be limited for the time being if you choose to go in other directions.

These things change over time, though. I've decided to just write the kind of stories I like to read and hope there are other readers out there who like the same kind of thing. That way, I'll always have at least one fan. ;)
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Offline stevenpoore

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Re: Trends in Contemporary Fantasy
« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2015, 02:51:38 PM »
maybe ask instead: what will be the next important trends? because whatever today's trends are, they were being sought & sourced by agents etc as far back as a couple of years ago. if you write with current markets as a target, you aren't going to get very far. better to focus on making your own work as professional, distinctive and marketable as you can, i reckon.
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Offline JMack

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Re: Trends in Contemporary Fantasy
« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2015, 03:12:48 PM »
maybe ask instead: what will be the next important trends? because whatever today's trends are, they were being sought & sourced by agents etc as far back as a couple of years ago. if you write with current markets as a target, you aren't going to get very far. better to focus on making your own work as professional, distinctive and marketable as you can, i reckon.
Interesting point. Care to venture some prophecies?
« Last Edit: March 07, 2015, 03:16:06 PM by Jmacyk »
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Offline stevenpoore

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Re: Trends in Contemporary Fantasy
« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2015, 05:26:30 PM »
heh. i'm neither agent nor publisher, i'm afraid. i can tell you that apparently nobody wants portal fantasies, which is why i'm writing one... :)
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Offline Elfy

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Re: Trends in Contemporary Fantasy
« Reply #5 on: March 07, 2015, 11:53:30 PM »
The problem with trends and publishers following them is that you wind up with a glut of one thing until someone comes up with something that catches the public's interest and forms the next trend until the business catches onto it and then floods the market again. I think it's why sequels and series are so popular, and this applies to the film industry as well, God forbid that they should have to have an original idea or try something a bit different.
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Offline K.S. Crooks

Re: Trends in Contemporary Fantasy
« Reply #6 on: March 08, 2015, 04:08:03 AM »
To venture a guess on the future based on not much at all:
A switch from a female lead that is learning about the greater world in which she lives from a male love interest or mentor (Bella and Edward and Jacob, Katniss and Shamus, Clary and Jace, Tris and Four, etc.). To either the male being the one who needs to learn how the world really is from a female already involved in that greater world or some team fantasy stories, perhaps following the way the current superhero movies have trended towards. Maybe one of us can start the next trend and have other people to complain about it being over-done.
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Offline Elfy

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Re: Trends in Contemporary Fantasy
« Reply #7 on: March 08, 2015, 11:30:49 PM »
heh. i'm neither agent nor publisher, i'm afraid. i can tell you that apparently nobody wants portal fantasies, which is why i'm writing one... :)
I've written one of those too, and I also heard this. I'm sure J. K Rowlings and all the copies of Harry Potter that she's sold beg to disagree with that particular belief.
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Offline Roxxsmom

Re: Trends in Contemporary Fantasy
« Reply #8 on: March 09, 2015, 03:49:10 AM »
What seems to be popular right now outside of urban (which I've heard is getting a bit glutted anyway) is YA fantasy (it seems to be where a lot of fantasy writers are migrating, especially female ones), grimdark (100% male from what I can tell), epic fantasy with a more contemporary storytelling/narrative style ala George RR Martin or Scott Lynch, gunpowder fantasy and so on.

It seems like stuff with elves and dwarves and many traditional old style HF tropes are less common now, though some writers (Sullivan comes to mind) still do well with them.

A number of agents seem to be saying that YA paranormal and dystopian are glutted right now, and some specifically say, "Please no vampires, zombies, or werewolves."

The problem with looking at what's jumping off the shelves right now (and tailoring your writing to that) is that, unless you're a very fast writer (and even then if you're currently unpublished), the process of writing, polishing and querying a novel takes years, and then it's usually at least another year or two after an agent signs you before the book would be on the shelves (assuming it doesn't need substantial revision work and sells quickly).

Also, what established authors are selling may be different from what debut authors are selling.

So writing to today's market is probably not a great idea. The most common advice agents and editors seem to give at cons and workshops is write what you yourself would like to see more of, write it as well as you can, and hope for the best.

I'm querying a novel right now, and from the "wish lists" agents who accept fantasy have on their pages, I'm getting a vibe that while urban fantasy is still pretty popular (some agents seem to "only" take urban) secondary world settings have had a resurgence in popularity, and many agents are saying they want secondary world settings that aren't based on medieval Europe. A number specifically say they'd like to see more diversity and characters from underrepresented groups, including differences in gender identity, sexual orientation, and ability levels in fantasy too. Some say they're looking for books that blend or mix up genres in unexpected ways too.

I've also noticed that a couple of agents specifically said they're looking for "high" fantasy. I'm not sure if they're using this to simply mean "secondary world in pre-industrial settings," or if they're anticipating a return of the older style of "elevated tone" medievalish fantasy with elves and so on after all.


Offline Ryan Mueller

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Re: Trends in Contemporary Fantasy
« Reply #9 on: March 09, 2015, 04:58:09 AM »
I would interpret the calls for high fantasy to mean they're looking for fantasy with more magical elements. Something more along the lines of Brandon Sanderson than low fantasy like you see from someone like Joe Abercrombie, or even GRRM (to an extent).

Of course, I could be wildly wrong on this (or maybe hopeful, since all my fantasy tends to feature a more fantastic setting).

Offline Raptori

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Re: Trends in Contemporary Fantasy
« Reply #10 on: March 09, 2015, 05:34:32 AM »
I would interpret the calls for high fantasy to mean they're looking for fantasy with more magical elements. Something more along the lines of Brandon Sanderson than low fantasy like you see from someone like Joe Abercrombie, or even GRRM (to an extent).

Of course, I could be wildly wrong on this (or maybe hopeful, since all my fantasy tends to feature a more fantastic setting).
Interesting interpretation of "high fantasy". I always took it to mean fantasy with an epic scope, so the likes of LOTR and most of Sanderson's work are firmly within that genre. According to that definition ASOIAF is supposedly a mixture of high fantasy and other genres, with the high fantasy more of a backdrop, but as I haven't read them I can't really say for sure  :P

As for what trends there are... for speculative fiction in general, dystopia has been a surprisingly resilient trend. Darker fantasy as well of course, which sucks for me because I generally don't enjoy it much. No idea what the future trends will be, but a move away from dark coupled with more atypical settings would be perfect for my tastes. It's what we're aiming for at least!
« Last Edit: March 09, 2015, 05:36:25 AM by Raptori »
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Offline Yora

Re: Trends in Contemporary Fantasy
« Reply #11 on: March 09, 2015, 11:17:16 AM »
I think  the traditional concept of High Fantasy is "not set in our world or including characters from our world". Both Lord of the Rings and Conan have little hints here and there that these worlds will eventually become our world, but they are clearly not historical fantasy.
The big problem with these categories is that there are always at least two or three definition that all contradict each other but have all been used so much that it's impossible to tell which is the real one. Some people consider Lord of the Rings Heroic Fantasy, even though I would say it's the opposite of it and Epic Fantasy. The worst one is Low Fantasy, which really has no meaning left at all.

The only category that has a useful definition is Sword & Sorcery, because Leiber invented the term to mean his own fantasy stories, Conan, and Elric with the specific intent of telling them apart from Lord of the Rings.  ;D
Still didn't stop people from calling Lord of the Rings Sword & Sorcery, but that's fortunately rare and you can prove to those people they are using the term wrong.

What I still see becoming a big thing in the future is short length ebooks with 10 to 30,000 words given away for peanuts. Mega Series with 5, 8, or 10 books with 400,000 words each are super popular now, but there are plenty of people who just won't bother with even attempting to read them. 20,000 words for 50 cent is no commitment and if you don't like it you neither wasted any real time or money on it. And as ebooks, you can sell them piece by piece instead of anthologies or magazines, so readers can get exactly the one they are looking for and not need to pay for anything else.
If a story is popular and the writer has fun doing it, they can easily be made into serials and it's not much of a problem to release one or two every month. Entry barriers are also very low as there are pretty much zero production cost and you can write these stories entirely as a hobby with no need to make a profit or break even. It's a format from a hundred years ago, but I think it's now becoming relevant again like it hasn't for fifty years.

But of course publishers wouldn't know about that, as it completely circumvents their distribution system and doesn't really need them.
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Offline sennydreadful

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Re: Trends in Contemporary Fantasy
« Reply #12 on: March 09, 2015, 12:04:42 PM »
To be brutally honest, I feel that attempting to write a book to fit in with a certain trend is a bit of a dangerous game. As already mentioned in the replies above, the book you're writing and planning now won't be out for at least a year, and more likely 2 years - and that's if you get an agent and/or a publishing deal straight away. In that time, the current fashions can change a great deal, particularly if you have a certain book come along that changes the market for everyone in drastic ways.

I can't help thinking you're better off writing what you want to write, and what you want to read - that love for your subject matter will come through in your writing, and that's got a better chance of selling your book than what was fashionable two years ago. Agents and publishers do keep an eye on the market and what's popular, of course they do, but what they really want is an amazing book.
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Offline CameronJohnston

Re: Trends in Contemporary Fantasy
« Reply #13 on: March 09, 2015, 01:10:30 PM »
To be brutally honest, I feel that attempting to write a book to fit in with a certain trend is a bit of a dangerous game. As already mentioned in the replies above, the book you're writing and planning now won't be out for at least a year, and more likely 2 years - and that's if you get an agent and/or a publishing deal straight away. In that time, the current fashions can change a great deal, particularly if you have a certain book come along that changes the market for everyone in drastic ways.

I can't help thinking you're better off writing what you want to write, and what you want to read - that love for your subject matter will come through in your writing, and that's got a better chance of selling your book than what was fashionable two years ago. Agents and publishers do keep an eye on the market and what's popular, of course they do, but what they really want is an amazing book.

Totally agree with this. Also if that book does somehow get picked up you might get stuck writing something for years when your heart is not in it, and it will show sooner or later. What I think might be more useful is ignoring the trend-of-the-week stuff (vampires, werewolves, angels, kids in deathmatches or whatever is super popular at the time) and try and identify longer term trends, things like:

- Swooning and useless princesses needing to be saved are out & women with agency are in.
- Heroes with whiter than white goody-goody moral codes are out & more realistic moralities and troubles are in (sign of the times). Which is not to say you can't write about good people, just be more realistic, have them make troubling choices and struggle to choose the right thing etc.

Of course, then is the counter-trend to consider. For example, Gritty and Grimdark this and that can be monotone in its bleakness, what better than a fun old-school adventure romp? Portal/D&D fantasies reached utter saturation in the 80s/90s and that subGenre seems to be a particularly hard sell, but so what, it might be against trend to write but if really well done it might be just what people are looking for as a change.

You could tie yourself in knots trying to work it all out. Better to just keep some long-term trends in mind and write what you want to write.

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Offline Yora

Re: Trends in Contemporary Fantasy
« Reply #14 on: March 09, 2015, 01:41:26 PM »
Looking at it from the opposite direction, it's probably quite useful to look at things that went out of fashion and spending some thought on why they are no longer popular. If you can identify some key elements that are problematic for current audiences,  you probably have a much better chance of reviving an outdated genre you like while avoiding the old mistakes.

I had some long discussions with other people about how one could possibly revive Star Trek as a TV show by recapturing the original essence while not repeating outdated concepts from decades earlier that just no longer fly with modern audiences. I think that was was ultimately made the last show fail and getting canceled. (Which was already 10 years ago!)
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