Oh, no, you might think. He’s not trotting out this tired, old horse again, is he? Yes. Yes, I am. And I’ll keep doing so until voices from behind upturned noses stop declaring fantasy and science fiction as genres that have quietly wandered off into obsolescence. Also: for some reason, I found my brain stuck on this topic again first thing after waking up and so I figured that was a good sign I might as well run with it. Especially since my brain has been, from a creativity standpoint, been reduced to being able to produce little more than Post-It Note short stories during down-time at work.
Fantasy and Science Fiction are just like any other genre in that they are only limited by the boundaries of imagination, and also in the sense that at least one stuffy academic will point out all of the perceived inherent flaws they hold within.
Before I go too much further, I will admit that there are stories that have been played out a good deal. That’s true of all genres. However, I counter this point by saying that no two writers have identical voices, even if one is trying to imitate another. There will always be some small differences, and as such it could be argued that no two stories written by two different people are ever really the exact same thing. Yes, fantasy has some limitations. If it’s historical fantasy, it’s easy to say that Medieval towns weren’t and were equipped with certain things. Science Fiction has to have some basis in science or it won’t really work. Or we could, perhaps, reflect on these works being of ones of fiction, and their end-goal is to provide some level of fanciful adventure to worlds like and unlike our own. If someone decides, for instance, that the Cloud Dwellers of Stratospheria are why wind turbines are banned in the future as sources of alternative energy as they are perceived as violent acts of war, that’s entirely up to the writer. There’s plenty of room in the world for all variations of science fiction and fantasy, and there will most certainly always be a market for it as there will always be room for escapism.
Let’s go with the Fantasy example again, because being told fantasy is an antiquated genre will, as it seems, stay with me like a stealth popcorn kernel fragment lodged too far between two molars. I’m talking wizards-and-dragons Fantasy writing, which has so much room for variety. Starting with the tone: is the story serious or is it humorous? Is it dark and gritty? Perhaps it’s lighthearted instead? How many of these narrative tones can one story combine?
To build further on this, let’s look at some of the many possible permutations of a simple fantasy story premise: the knight who goes on a quest to slay the dragon and save the kingdom. The basic version of this, boiled down from all of its trimmings and trappings, is as mentioned before: a knight is tasked with traveling afar to slay a dragon that is causing havoc in the kingdom. From this simplified idea, it’s possible to create so many other possible stories. A knight travels afar to slay a dragon, only to discover the dragon is trying to take back a kingdom that is its rightful property. A knight quests to slay a dragon, only to have it revealed at the story’s end how the knight is an agent of an evil kingdom of dragon-poachers. A dragon journeys forth to slay a particularly dangerous knight who is intent on wiping out the remaining dragon population as part of some twisted blood-sport. And so on and so on.
To write Fantasy and Science Fiction is to tap into the strangest, most fantastic parts of the question What If? and build outwards from there, and it’s something that everyone can do. I think, to some extent, this is why these genres receive such bullshit remarks. For anyone to be able to write a story with potential publishability makes writing feel like less of a gated community and more like Free Swim at the local public pool; everyone is able to get involved and, regardless of the end-result, something has been created at the end (the comparison fell apart a bit there, I’m aware). They are common art-forms that are easy to partake of but hard to really nail down, and I say this as someone who is still chasing the precise balances of the mystical and humorous in his own stories.
All genres of writing are perfectly valid, as they are all a means by which a writer better hones their craft. I’m not saying everything ever written in any genre is going to become best-selling material, and I acknowledge not all stories are created equally (or written well, necessarily), but to belittle one particular genre over another is to create an air of exclusivity to a form of art that almost everyone is capable of partaking in. It’s childish, obnoxious, and part of why some people hesitate to admit they consider themselves writers. Even fanfiction serves its purposes, and though I’m loathe to admit it I have to point out that even fanfiction can evolve into something much larger than its originally intended purposes (Hey there, Fifty Shades of Abuse Porn). If we all took more time to focus on refining our own creative processes instead of looking down on people who create things we don’t necessarily like…Hell, just imagine how much more everyone would accomplish.