What Makes a Fantasy Buoyant?

Where do the top fantasy books come from? Can we establish a formula for their genesis, some model that includes them all? Naturally they come from the same place all fantasy books come from, from the active imagination of an author; but what makes them rise to the top? A staggering amount of fantasies are created each month but most of them are so derivative that no very great attention is paid to them. They sell a few copies but then it costs too much to store them or print more if they don’t sell well and so they get withdrawn.

One characteristic of the top fantasy book is that it must be different; it must have a new viewpoint or a new plot twist or some new characters we haven’t seen over and over again. Fantasy is already a novelty by its very nature but the top fantasy requires novelty within novelty. That is what makes the book buoyant; that’s what makes it float where others sink.

Another characteristic is the quality of the writing and this is one thing that distinguishes all top books in any category. Put high quality writing together with a new twist and you’re almost there.

The most difficult quality to produce or predict is nebulous and impossible to pin down. Some fantasy books rise to the top because they “have a finger on the current pulse”; they have tapped into some trend such as arises mysteriously in any culture but probably more often in an urban culture of rapid change and development. Why does one toy like the hula hoop suddenly capture the attention of thousands of people? Why does a particular actor become an icon? Why does a new tool suddenly become indispensable? The top fantasy books, like Gahan Hanmer’s The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality, are the ones that have the mysterious unpredictable finger on the pulse of the times.