Genre & Theme
3 min read

A short guide to human fantasy

A woman in the most fantastic cape you can imagine, with a fighting stick strapped to her back.

Human fantasy in storytelling blends real-world settings with fantastical elements and focuses on human emotions, relationships, and personal growth. As a subgenre within the broader reality genre, human fantasy allows writers to explore the potential and limitations of humanity while crafting emotionally resonant and engaging stories. This article provides an overview of the reality genre, examines the history and key elements of human fantasy, offers techniques for compelling human fantasy storytelling, and guides writers in choosing human fantasy as their reality genre of choice.

Understanding the reality genre

The reality genre includes various storytelling styles that emphasize realistic, true-to-life narratives. This genre has several subgenres, including factualism, realism, and human fantasy. Each subgenre has unique characteristics that appeal to different reader preferences. Choosing the appropriate reality genre depends on the writer's interests, the story's focus, and the intended audience.

When to choose human fantasy as your reality genre

Human fantasy is an ideal choice for writers who:

  • Are interested in exploring the possibilities of human potential and limitations
  • Seek to create stories that blend real-world settings with fantastical elements
  • Aim to create stories that focus on human emotions, relationships, and personal growth

The origins of human fantasy

Human fantasy has its roots in ancient myths and legends, which often featured humans interacting with gods or other supernatural beings. Over time, human fantasy has expanded to encompass various forms of storytelling, including novels, short stories, films, and television.

Notable early human fantasy authors and works:

  • C.S. Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia"
  • Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time"
  • Ursula K. Le Guin's "Earthsea" series

Key elements of human fantasy

Human fantasy stories typically focus on characters' emotional journeys and personal development. These narratives blend familiar, realistic settings with magic or supernatural elements to explore what humans can achieve when faced with extraordinary circumstances. Characters in human fantasy stories are often relatable and well-developed, allowing readers to connect with their struggles and triumphs.

The key elements of human fantasy:

  • Focus on human emotions, relationships, and personal growth
  • A blend of real-world settings with fantastical elements
  • Exploration of the possibilities and limitations of human potential
  • Engaging and relatable characters

Techniques for effective human fantasy storytelling

  • Balancing realism with fantastical elements: Strive to create a seamless blend of the real and the fantastical, ensuring the story remains grounded in relatable human experiences while incorporating magical or supernatural elements.
  • Creating vivid and immersive world-building: Develop detailed, believable settings that enhance the story and provide a rich backdrop for your characters' journeys.
  • Crafting multidimensional, relatable characters: Create characters with depth and complexity, allowing readers to empathize with their struggles and celebrate their successes.
  • Developing engaging and emotionally resonant plots: Design plots that draw readers in and keep them invested in the characters' emotional journeys and personal growth.

Examples of human fantasy in contemporary storytelling

Notable authors and works:

  • Neil Gaiman's "American Gods" - A novel that blends mythology, folklore, and Americana, as a man named Shadow Moon becomes embroiled in a conflict between old and new gods.
  • Alice Hoffman's "Practical Magic" - A magical realist tale of two sisters navigating love, loss, and their family's history of witchcraft in a small New England town.
  • Susanna Clarke's "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" - A richly detailed alternate history set in 19th-century England, where two magicians attempt to restore magic to a world that has all but forgotten it.

Popular films and television series:

  • "Pan's Labyrinth" - A dark fantasy film set in post-Civil War Spain, where a young girl discovers a magical world filled with wonder and danger.
  • "The Shape of Water" - A romantic fantasy film about the unique bond between a mute janitor and an amphibious creature held in a secret government facility.
  • "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" - A television series that combines supernatural elements with high school drama, following the adventures of Buffy Summers, a young woman chosen to battle vampires and other forces of darkness.
  • "The Magicians" - A television adaptation of Lev Grossman's novel series, following a group of students at a secret magical academy as they uncover hidden truths and face various magical threats.

Challenges and criticisms of human fantasy

  • Striking a balance between realism and fantasy: Human fantasy writers must balance conveying real-world experiences and incorporating fantastical elements without sacrificing the story's emotional resonance.
  • Navigating the line between human fantasy and other reality genres: Human fantasy is closely related to other reality genres, and writers must be mindful of their chosen genre's specific conventions and expectations.
  • Addressing the potential for oversimplifying complex human experiences: Human fantasy storytelling can sometimes be criticized for simplifying or romanticizing real-life challenges and struggles, which can be detrimental to the story's impact.

Human fantasy in storytelling provides a unique and powerful means of exploring the complexities of the human condition. It challenges traditional narrative structures and provokes thought and introspection in readers. By understanding the history and key elements of human fantasy and mastering the techniques of effective storytelling, writers can create compelling works that push the boundaries of storytelling and contribute to the rich tradition of human fantasy narratives.

Exploring human fantasy as a reality genre enables writers to delve into human emotions, relationships, and personal growth, crafting stories that resonate with readers.



  1. Coyne, Shawn. 2015. The Story Grid. New York, NY: Black Irish Entertainment.