This week’s discussion of sub-genres is all about coming-of-age fantasy. This genre, both fantasy and otherwise, is fairly popular, particularly for young adults and teens. Why? Probably because the entire premise has to do with change and growing up or finding your place. But we’ll look at things a bit more closely in this post, so let’s get started!
Defining Coming-of-Age Fantasy
As noted in the introduction, coming-of-age fantasy places a large focus on how someone who is unique in some way or another goes from normal life to a new normal. These stories, as a result, generally start out with the protagonist losing something or someone. Some event acts as a catalyst to force them to move from the comfortable place they were at into the unknown where they will discover themselves and ground themselves in who they really are.
These can make some awesome stories for teens and young adults since that’s the age where many young people are doing exactly what the characters are doing: finding themselves and figuring out where they fit. But people of all ages can and do enjoy coming-of-age stories, and fantasy lovers are no exception.
Please note that, unlike many sub-genres we’ve discussed before, coming-of-age fantasy is often more a theme than it is a specific sub-genre. In virtually any tale, a character can be forced to move from comfort to a hard road towards self-discovery. As a result, the coming-of-age fantasy sub-genre can fit in with many other sub-genres, even if it isn’t the main focus per se. It fits particularly well with epic or high fantasy in many cases because the themes and storylines mesh very well.
Writing Coming-of-Age Fantasy
Now, on to the interesting part! How do we write coming-of-age fantasy? As I said earlier, this sub-genre really works well with almost any genre of fantasy and even with non-fantasy genres. It’s popular with younger audiences because it’s relatable, and because of it’s flexibility, you as a writer can utilize it as a theme with your main sub-genre of fantasy even if you don’t intend to write it as a main sub-genre.
So, let’s dive in to some of the aspects of coming-of-age fantasy.
Because of the nature of coming-of-age fantasy, the level of magic in your story may vary greatly. Magic is a great way to force the characters to move from innocence to experience in the novel or short story, though, so it is often a strong feature in these stories. Or, at least, the discovery of it and subsequent struggle to learn to use it and control it often ends up being a pivotal point in these stories. Because it’s so useful for getting the ball rolling, most fantasy tales that are going to be specifically coming-of-age stories will feature magic heavily. The protagonist, antagonist, and most of the supporting characters met along the protagonist’s journey will likely be special in some sort of magical way. How, however, is widely variable and entirely up to you.
Unlike some of the sub-genres we’ve been looking at in the last month or so, coming-of-age fantasy is actually low violence in most cases. If there is violence, it’s rarely disturbing in nature. This makes these books great for younger readers, assuming the content is free from explicit sexual content.
Speaking of sexual content, this is one area where coming-of-age fantasy really can vary. When older characters are the focus of a coming-of-age novel, I’ve seen a lot of variation in this one. Some of them do include content that won’t be appropriate for younger readers, particularly if the focus is romantic in nature. However, if the character’s story arc is more focused on self-discovery and belonging in other ways, then the stories may still be safe for teens or kids. Because of the low violence level, this area is the main one where parents may worry. As a writer, then, you have to decide on your target audience. If you want something everyone can enjoy, then skip the sexually explicit (and preferably all sexual) content just to be safe. But if you’re aiming for an older audience and choose to include it, that’s your choice too. It’s fine not to be all things to all people. However, you have to decide who you want to appeal to. So this is one area where you’re going to have to make a decision since there isn’t necessarily a standard for the sub-genre one way or another.
Social Implications or Grand Ideas and Themes
This one varies quite a bit too. It honestly depends on the story. Some of our previous sub-genre discussions have been non-negotiable here due to the type of writing. On this one, it’s not such a hard and fast rule that social implications must be made or larger ideas and themes incorporated. It doesn’t mean they won’t be, but here you should go with what feels right for your story. If those kinds of themes and ideas fit in well, then include them. If they don’t, avoid forcing the issue. It isn’t necessary, and readers of the genre don’t necessarily expect it to go one way or the other.
By nature, the genre tends to lend itself to higher characterization. The focus is, after all, mainly on the character’s journey of self-discovery and new experiences. This means that the attention is fixed firmly on our protagonist(s), and as such, readers will want to get to know them. Complexity might not always be extremely high in the plot, but the characters must feel real and inviting to the reader because otherwise, the reader won’t want to take the journey witht hem.
I hope this has been helpful to anyone considering writing coming-of-age fantasy or thinking about including it as a theme within another sub-genre. Do you have something to add to the comments made about coming-of-age fantasy? Or maybe you have more questions? Feel free to comment below with either! I’m always happy to hear from you guys as readers and writers!
Further Reading and Resources
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series
**Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy (Hobb is not an author I recommend for children, just based on what I know of her work. For older teens or young adults, they may be a good fit. She is a good writer for those looking to learn what good fantasy looks like.)
Patrick Rothfuss’s The Kingkiller Chronicles (Some of Rothfuss’s work may be suitable for teens, but parental review is suggested.)
**Tad Williams’s Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn (Not sure on the appropriateness of this series for children as I haven’t read anything by Williams.)