Moral Limits in the High Fantasy Genre?


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Thread: Moral Limits in the High Fantasy Genre?

  1. #1

    Moral Limits in the High Fantasy Genre?

    Over the past 26 years Ive had fairly good luck publishing my non-fiction, but I have always longed to master the novel. I never got it right after three tries, and finally my son defined the problem: You just dont have an observational eye for contemporary reality. You could walk down the street and miss every store window ad for cell phones and cars because youre dreaming of ancient mythology and legend. And he was right. He also suggested a solution: Why dont you try High Fantasy, so you dont have to be connected to the modern world and can make your own mythic worlds.

    So Im working on a High Fantasy series, even though I have read only a few works in the genre, and Im pretty happy with it and its flowing nicely. I admit that I have never read or watched Game of Thrones, because for me it has become just too much of a Hollywood circus and I would rather not be influenced by all of that.

    My question is: What about sexuality? Some characters and situations in my book are potentially kind of sexy. Bear in mind that I am referring only to mild, implicit sexuality, nothing intense or explicit. But most of the High Fantasy novels I have read (LOTR being a shining example) are about as sexless as any works of literature could possibly be.

    I can see why this might easily be a cardinal rule. Although High Fantasy is often presented in advertising as if it were intended for adults, it is a simple fact that many teenagers and even pre-teens form a large part of the core readership of the genre. If High Fantasy includes sexual scenes or situations, publishers might very well feel that such a work will lose a significant portion of the core audience (due to watchful parents rather than the teenagers themselves, of course).

    So, since I have read so little of the genre (though of course I am always on the trail of more), I wonder: Is sexuality of any kind or in any degree simply unacceptable for the genre? Are there exceptions to the rule? If so, what are they and how far do they go?

    Any information or advice will be appreciated.

  2. #2
    Supervisor velo's Avatar
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    Have you read any of GRR Martin? LOL Admittedly not 'high' fantasy but in the ballpark.

    I honestly think you should write the way you want. "It's always been done this way" that the hidebound traditionalists use isn't much of an argument. Break the rules, do something that hasn't been done before.

    To your point, I loved high fantasy as a teen. I read LoTR multiple times, the several Shannara series, Elric, Amber, and many, many others. There wasn't a lot of sexuality in those books but it was a bit of a more innocent time. If you think any teenager in the western world hasn't seen some level of porn these days.... I'm not saying write smut but I think what you're describing isn't going to raise many eyebrows in 2019. Hell, just watch any 10minutes of telly and you'll see very overt sexuality in shows and adverts.

    I'm not making a value judgement on this either way, just that I don't think your book is going to cause an international scandal.
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  3. #3
    Well, as mentioned, I have stayed away from Game of Thrones because it is SUCH a Hollywood circus, but maybe I will give it a try (and stick to the books). And you're right. The sexuality is fairly understated, so it won't cause any international incidents. Thanks. I'll let the characters be themselves (and they would probably prevail over my reservations anyway).

  4. #4
    A lot of people will tell you some variation of 'just write what the story requires and who cares about the snowflakes'. This may be philosophically sound but in the real world, yeah, people care and that advice is nonsense.

    The 'moral limits' of your work should match those of your audience. The reason Game Of Thrones can get away with having sex and violence in droves is solely because it's target readership (i.e adolescents/young adult men and up) are not offended, and in fact are often rather attracted to, that kind of content.

    On the other hand, if I am writing cozy mysteries I absolutely cannot have any murder or rough sex or heavy profanity. Unless I am going for some kind of subversion, I cannot put that kind of content in there because the predominantly female, middle-aged-to-grandmas who make up the majority of that genre's mainline readership won't typically want that. Likewise if I am writing YA and anything aimed remotely at children obviously has very stringent moral limits. Sex in a teen romance is usually treated very differently than in a western, which is again treated differently to in erotica, and that's not an accident. No shit, right?

    Think of morality like sugar. Some people tend to like their food really sweet (kids) and others tend to like it not sweet at all (diabetics? soccer moms?). Most of the rest of us like moderate sweetness with certain demographic groups generally preferring things a little sweeter to others. Your job as a writer is to know your target reader well enough to make a wise decision as to how much sugar they would likely want/expect/tolerate. I would imagine your target reader for 'high fantasy' is going to be young-ish, most definitely male, probably a high school graduate or above, with some interest in medieval aesthetic or whatever your 'fantasy' is inspired by. That kind of reader typically has a set of values that you can and should take into account.

    On that basis...your work is likely fine. Hell, maybe not even sexy enough.
    Last edited by luckyscars; May 18th, 2019 at 07:08 AM.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  5. #5
    Thanks for the encouragement. Most of my non-fiction is aimed at adults, and I doubt if the present work would appeal to pre-teens, so I would say that the target audience is late teens to adults, definitely with a high school education and probably some college. I'm not sure I would say that it is aimed primarily at men. Though it's definitely not a piece of feminist revisionism in the mode of Bradley's Avalon series, some of the female characters are among the strongest and most complex in the book. Women who enjoyed the magical doings of the Bene Gesserit in Herbert's Dune books might enjoy this as well.

    I'm an older guy and definitely not afraid of explicit sex. The reason I'm employing a lighter touch here is because I don't want to clutter up the narrative with non-essential elements. So it will be as explicit as the narrative demands, and no more. I probably don't have much to worry about.

    I'
    m new here and haven't reached my tenth post, but when I do, you'll see parts of the work showing up in the creative forums.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Johnson View Post
    Thanks for the encouragement. Most of my non-fiction is aimed at adults, and I doubt if the present work would appeal to pre-teens, so I would say that the target audience is late teens to adults, definitely with a high school education and probably some college. I'm not sure I would say that it is aimed primarily at men. Though it's definitely not a piece of feminist revisionism in the mode of Bradley's Avalon series, some of the female characters are among the strongest and most complex in the book. Women who enjoyed the magical doings of the Bene Gesserit in Herbert's Dune books might enjoy this as well.

    I'm an older guy and definitely not afraid of explicit sex. The reason I'm employing a lighter touch here is because I don't want to clutter up the narrative with non-essential elements. So it will be as explicit as the narrative demands, and no more. I probably don't have much to worry about.

    I'
    m new here and haven't reached my tenth post, but when I do, you'll see parts of the work showing up in the creative forums.
    So a couple of things here.

    First, it doesn't necessarily matter what you are aiming at. This isn't really about your book's content so much as it's perception and the baggage that goes with genre - how people will judge it. Fantasy IS male dominated, epic fantasy even more so. Regardless of whether your fantasy is more 'for women', the very fact it is 'fantasy' will mean that it will have more male eyes browsing the section. So you may end up alienating the established fantasy readership (by not giving them what they want/expect) while not gaining much/any alternative reader share because - how will you get them to look at your work?

    This is not me saying don't do it, though. ! If you are writing a fantasy aimed at women or whatever I say go for it. Actually, there's probably a huge gap in the market for precisely that. Plenty of women who perhaps are interested in fantasy from Game Of Thrones or whatever who are perhaps struggling to find a book that isn't all tits. You can draw on those readers. There's also the fact most readers of fantasy traditionally are white and middle (or upper middle) class. You can draw on readers who are not white and middle class. Incorporate their values, write compelling and authentic characters, create a story that appeals.

    This is ultimately how your work comes to stand out. However if you are going down the road of being 'different' you have to make the differences very obvious, to really work on creating something that stands out. Having 'some of the female characters being among the strongest and most complex' might work, but you may find that it comes across as tokenism and, as a man (and I will assume a man who is white and middle-ish class) you may not be best placed to tap into that demographic. Plenty of really good male authors have real trouble writing women well. Just a thought.

    But yes, rule number one is to take into account the VALUES your readership has, starting from the obvious: If you want to attract female readers, make sure you lay off the misogyny. If you want to attract male readers, lay off the man-bashing. And go from there.

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  7. #7
    Wɾʇ∩9 bdcharles's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Johnson View Post
    Over the past 26 years Ive had fairly good luck publishing my non-fiction, but I have always longed to master the novel. I never got it right after three tries, and finally my son defined the problem: You just dont have an observational eye for contemporary reality. You could walk down the street and miss every store window ad for cell phones and cars because youre dreaming of ancient mythology and legend. And he was right. He also suggested a solution: Why dont you try High Fantasy, so you dont have to be connected to the modern world and can make your own mythic worlds.

    So Im working on a High Fantasy series, even though I have read only a few works in the genre, and Im pretty happy with it and its flowing nicely. I admit that I have never read or watched Game of Thrones, because for me it has become just too much of a Hollywood circus and I would rather not be influenced by all of that.

    My question is: What about sexuality? Some characters and situations in my book are potentially kind of sexy. Bear in mind that I am referring only to mild, implicit sexuality, nothing intense or explicit. But most of the High Fantasy novels I have read (LOTR being a shining example) are about as sexless as any works of literature could possibly be.

    I can see why this might easily be a cardinal rule. Although High Fantasy is often presented in advertising as if it were intended for adults, it is a simple fact that many teenagers and even pre-teens form a large part of the core readership of the genre. If High Fantasy includes sexual scenes or situations, publishers might very well feel that such a work will lose a significant portion of the core audience (due to watchful parents rather than the teenagers themselves, of course).

    So, since I have read so little of the genre (though of course I am always on the trail of more), I wonder: Is sexuality of any kind or in any degree simply unacceptable for the genre? Are there exceptions to the rule? If so, what are they and how far do they go?

    Any information or advice will be appreciated.
    Velo and Luckyscars pretty much covered it with Game of Thrones on the subject of more adult content in fantasy. I suspect GRRM had the same thought you did. Additionally maybe check out Robin Hobb (Farseer Trilogy, Tawny Man Trilogy) where there is adult content though not so graphic as GoT, more kind of romance-flavoured. Personally, and as a frequent reader of epic fantasy, I don't object to it. I think as long as it works and is not shoehorned in then go for it.


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  8. #8
    Hi Ken,
    welcome to WF. I am very pleased to meet you.

    I suspect the rules, as such, are more to do with marketing than story telling. Are you willing to compromise your art for money?
    Good luck
    BC

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