When we say “fantasy”, certain images and expectations come to mind. Dragons. Powerful wizards. Magical creatures. Past kingdoms. But just like with science fiction, fantasy is a much broader genre than that.
At its core, fantasy is driven primarily by magic or some otherworldly influence. If the plot can only be resolved by something that defies all the laws of science in our world, there’s a good chance it’s fantasy.
With a definition like that, the sky really is the limit with the fantasy subgenres. You can stick to the more traditional Earth-similar stories – the epic history of a kingdom or the heroic journey of one farm boy who dreams of being someone more impressive. You can drop all manner of supernatural creatures on well-known Earth cities. You can even arm elves with magical amulets and laser guns and place them on spaceships. That’s the fun of fantasy.
Fantasy is also one of the rare genres where the good guys don’t have to win. As long as the story is good and supports them losing, it can happen and your average veteran fantasy fan won’t want to flay the skin from your bones. They might expect you to explore how the good guys are going to turn things back around, but they aren’t married to living happily ever after.
If you want to explore the challenge of hosting an afternoon tea where the guests include a couple of fairies, a vampire, and a hedge witch, chances are good you’re writing a story that will fall in the realm of fantasy.