How Human Are Your Fantasy Characters?

Reblogged from Traditional Fantasy:

For quite a long time, I've been mulling over why Fantasy books are somehow different now than they were in say the 1960s. Since Twilight, vampires have moved from the Horror Genre into Paranormal Romance and these books are often found under Fantasy on Amazon, yet their target demographic is very different from that of older Fantasy.


Add to this the trend for fae, mer people and other fantasy creatures in a lot of YA and Romance books and the result is a certain level of genre confusion. Readers who love these newer books that take them into a romantic fantasy realm often don't like what they find in books by Tolkien, Moorcock or Zelazny, while readers of the older Fantasy genre dismiss these newer stories as young female Romance.


So, I've mulled this over for some time now. You can have a relationship between characters in the old Fantasy books, yet it doesn't read like a Romance book. You can have fairies, werewolves, vampires, and all sorts of supernatural creatures in a story and still it reads like a Romance. Where do you make the division?


Some authors have started differentiating by bringing in another new genre, Fantasy Romance or Romantic Fantasy. This is good, but with marketing advice telling them to put their books under as many categories as possible, the books still show up when a reader does a search for Fantasy. Some readers are even looking under Fantasy to find those books.


Some old style Fantasy writers are tagging their books with Traditional Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, etc. to try to indicate their type of Fantasy and that it isn't Romance. The trouble is, a lot of stories don't actually fit into any of those categories and used to be just categorized as general Fantasy, so we're back in the slush pile of books mixed together but two very different audiences searching for something they want to read.


I had an epiphany last night that I wanted to share. It doesn't solve the category problem, but it provides an insight into the difference that makes some books target a mostly female, romantically minded audience and others appeal to the Sword & Sorcery and other older style Fantasy readers.


Do the non-human characters have very human attributes? Alluring vampires, hunky werewolves, most modern stories about fae, share a level of humanity in the characters that makes them human enough to stimulate romantic fantasies. Most 'shifters' stories  are populated with characters that although they acknowledge a provocative, shadow animal nature, are inherently human in their thinking processes and emotional attachments.


Contrast this with similar creatures from stories in the other camp; Anne Rice's Lestat, who although he displays some human characteristics, has a vampire nature that deals with human interaction in shockingly callous ways; Traditional werewolf stories, where the savage nature of the wolf precludes any chance of romantic entanglements; a certain story about goblins that raised some controversy because the mating customs of the non-human species includes injecting a male with a paralysing venom before the female takes him sexually. To a human, this would be a consent issue (although the goblin in question is established as psychic and would have known if there was an objection), but compared to a black widow spider, the guy gets off easy. Watch chickens, dogs or cats mate and you don't see human considerations in their methods. To the female goblin, she is only doing what is considered normal and acceptable in her society.


This comes up in science fiction a lot, both books and movies, when aliens are involved. What is normal for humans or aliens is very different. Those books that are being classified as Science Fiction Romance require human characters to have human relationships. If an alien gets included in the story, it only works as a Romance if he has been humanized.


So the demarcation for the reader demographic really comes down to whether the reader is looking for a Romance or YA story that has some Fantasy elements to spice it up, or whether they want a Fantasy story that will take them to completely different worlds where creatures are not human and don't act like humans, but have their own customs and cultures that humans may not understand. This is sometimes the basis of stories, finding the conflict in these different ways of life.


I'm a Traditional Fantasy reader. I don't really like Romance and see the YA and Romance books in the Fantasy category and feel that they don't belong there, but under Romance. I love a good Fantasy with alternate worlds and creatures and they are still being written, but they have become harder to find in the Fantasy category among the Romance stories targeted at young women. This is an issue that isn't likely to go away soon, but is more likely to increase.


All I can say to the readers of this material is to enjoy reading what you like. We're all entitled to that. But when you come across a story with creatures who don't behave like humans or fit your romantic ideals, just remember that we were there first. The non-human creatures of traditional Fantasy stories are what once defined the genre. There is no other place for us to go.