I was going to start this post with a little bit of Portentous Writing about the crossover between “serious” and “fantasy” fiction (weird distinction, when you come to think of it, since all fiction is, by its very nature, fantasy), but then I decided not to, partly because that’s been done but also because it would be much more fun to eulogise Terry Pratchett. It’s always puzzled me that he doesn’t get more respect from the writing community; you’d never get a fantasy novel put forward for the Booker, for instance. I believe that’s why Iain Banks wrote his fantasy as Iain M. Banks, to distinguish between the “serious” novels and the fantasy ones (and probably also to acknowledge that at a subconscious level, different things were going on), although The Player of Games is, as a novel, as good as anything I’ve ever read. (Whoops, I seem to have lied – I am writing about the crossover between serious and fantasy fiction).
Perhaps the main difference between fantasy and serious fiction is that fantasy writing is mainly concerned with telling a story, usually the archetypal story involving the hero’s struggle to overcome an Obstacle whilst serious novels are more about the exploration of themes and character. Massive, unfounded, and probably completely tenuous argument, but there you go. With one or two honourable exceptions, I couldn’t put the majority of Pratchett’s writing on a par with Iain M. Banks, which do explore themes and character; most of Terry Pratchett’s books are stories, good and proper, generally on a well-tried template, in which heroes and heroines (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, protagonists, since the majority of Pratchett’s main characters are anything but heroic) go on An Adventure (or, in storytelling parlance, A Quest), the unfolding of which is the plot of the story. There is not generally, it would be fair to say, a vast amount of character development, in the sense that the characters don’t radically change; they respond to outside circumstances, rather than to forces within themselves.