Fantasy or SciFi?

2019-08-19T16:44:54-07:00September 1st, 2019|

Guest Blog by Cheryl Campbell

When people learn I am a writer, their first question is usually: “What do you write?”

My answer: “Science fiction and fantasy novels.”

The next question is: “What’s the difference?”

The answer lies in genre conventions. A romance novel will have a love story. If it doesn’t have a love story, it’s not a romance novel. Can’t have a crime novel without a crime. Period. Those are basic but rather obvious genre conventions.

Common conventions for fantasy are things like magic (think Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings). They can also have fantastical creatures such as dragons, wizards, elves, dwarves, fairies, etc (Eragon, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Peter Pan).

Some of the conventions for science fiction include space ships, aliens, advanced technology (examples Aliens, Ender’s Game, Star Trek).

You can also get genre blends where there is a mix of both conventions. A great example of this is Star Wars where you have Jedi’s using The Force (magic) plus advanced technology and space elements (Death Star, anyone?)

Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game) is oft-quoted with describing the difference between fantasy and scifi book cover art as fantasy having trees and scifi having rivets. Both are applicable as conventions for the genres and are spot on. Lord of the Rings had talking trees in it. Doesn’t get more fantasy than that! Rivets … Ender’s Game was set in space on space ships.

When I first started writing, I initially lumped my Burnt Mountain series into scifi. A friend and fan of Orson Scott Card who was familiar with the trees versus rivets quote pointed out to me that I was indeed writing trees instead of rivets. He was right, too. I had been writing fantasy (complete with magic and fantastical creatures) and had the genre’s name wrong in my head the entire time. Thankfully I still managed to hit the fantasy conventions even if I, as the author, was calling it by the wrong genre name. I had to laugh at my own mistake with this, but I still learned from it. My first five novels are fantasy, and my trilogy in progress falls squarely into science fiction, complete with aliens and advanced technology.

If you ever want to do a deeper dive into different genres, I recommend Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid website or book. Both have the same information. For genre conventions, read your favorite novels or watch your favorite movies and note the consistencies between them for particular elements. You’ll start to see certain things develop. For people I talk to about fantasy and science fiction, once they get the idea of magic (or trees) and advanced technology (or rivets) down, they start naming off movies or books and can identify them on their own for which genre they belong. It’s easy to distinguish between the two genres once you know what to look for in the story.


Cheryl Campbell was born in Louisiana and lived there and in Mississippi prior to moving to Maine. Her varied background includes art, herpetology, emergency department and critical care nursing, and computer systems. In the Spring of 2018 she returned to her interest in a wandering lifestyle which she first did during her graduate studies of garter snakes on Maine islands. She is now rarely in one spot for more than a week before relocating. She lives in Maine, when not nomadic, and has won five awards through the New England Book Festival for her fantasy series, Burnt Mountain. Cheryl is currently working on a science fiction trilogy. The first book of the trilogy, Echoes of War, releases on 10 Sept 2019 via SparkPress. Facebook and Instagram – cherylscreativesoup

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