Fantastic Fiction:
From Lists to Authors and Beyond

I often "google" the keyword I'm going to write a page about. In this
case it's fantastic fiction. I wanted to see what other pages came up with that search.

Now to me, fantastic doesn't just mean "speculative" fiction (aka science fiction, fantasy and some horror). To me, it means "wonderful" fiction and "books you want to read again and again" fiction.

So in order to please both definitions, I'm going to talk about the things I found while researching, and a little about what makes a book fantastic in the most basic sense of the word.

Let's Start With Lists

The largest collection of "returns" I got when I searched fantastic fiction were pages with lists.

Now, I've nothing against lists. I'm always asking others what "best fiction books" they recommend for my reading leisure.

But for this search, I was hoping for something a little more "meaty".

Nevertheless, I did peruse a few of the lists and found they matched ones I'd seen before when I'd looked up the top 100 fiction books for fantasy and science fiction. I recognized the names of those authors because I've read a lot of them.

Harry Potter tops these lists. But he's got good company, and company that's been around a long time, too. Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Hobbit, The Golden Compass... Most speculative fiction lists will include these titles and many more.

I'd personally add some of my own favorites, but that's my taste, and not necessarily popular opinion. But then, isn't it your own taste you want
to please?

You may also want to look at a best selling fiction books list to find the most recent titles that people are talking about. If they're being talked about, they tend to be good. Just keep in mind they might not be good in your eyes, even if thousands of people say they liked them.

Who Writes Them?

No good list of fantastic fiction will give titles without the fiction authors attached. If you want to read really old "fantastic" titles, try H.G. Wells and Jules Vern. If they aren't on the lists, they should be.

Of course now we have J.K. Rowling along with J.R.R. Tolkien, Philip Pullman, William Goldman, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ursula Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, C.S. Lewis... If you're going to name names, these will usually come up, too.

To me the list is endless and ever-changing. What I liked as a teen now bores me (partially because when I was a teen, no one was writing anything very exciting for teens). My tastes have "matured" with me (or possibly regressed?). I look for different things than I used to, and I actually read a wider variety than I did as a kid.

I still have my favorite authors for this list of "fantastic"; ones that don't always make the cut on "popular" lists. But again, this is my taste, so why shouldn't I include Katherine Kurtz, J.D. Robb and Mercedes Lackey?

At the same time, I exclude the venerable Stephen King from my list, whose work is also of a speculative variety, but who scares the daylights out of me with his imagination. Hat's off to you, Mr. King, but I can't read your stuff. I will definitely include you in the list of fantastic authors, however. I know you are.

Don't feel stifled by "lists", then. Try each author at least once (if you're the adventurous sort), and add to your own favorites list the ones you like best. As far as I'm concerned, that's the list that matters.

What Makes a Novel Fantastic?

Without limiting myself to the speculative fiction category, I'd define fantastic fiction as a book that pulls me in deeply and keeps me there to the end. One I'll read repeatedly because I enjoyed it so much.

Characters always matter most to me. They don't necessarily matter most to everyone, but to me, without a character I can empathize with and literally "get into", I'm not going to enjoy the ride.

That's why I don't write unsympathetic protagonists. Too many readers will lose interest if they don't like the "hero". So why torture yourself?

However, I have occasionally come upon a novel with decent characters that I didn't read to the end. Why? Those characters didn't do anything. Or what they did made no sense. (I've seen a few movies like that, haven't you?)
So a fast-paced, can't-put-the-book-down plot is another thing I look for when I read.

Now, I know not everyone wants to read fast-paced fiction. And I enjoy
the occasional jaunt into gentler territory. But for me, the more suspense the better.

Your definition of "fantastic" might not coincide with mine. That's fine. That's human. Only you can decide what you like and why you like it. But if you want to write novels that readers will pick up in droves, you do have to figure out why you like the novels you read and how to write similar ones.

Pick them apart enough to understand the craft that keeps you reading, then practice writing the same way. Then you, too can join the ranks of authors who write fantastic fiction!

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