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Fantasy vs Fiction: What is the Difference? (New 2024) - Mastering Arts and Charts

The difference between fantasy vs fiction is a simple one, yet a lot of people seem to not believe it exists.

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The primary difference between fantasy and fiction is the construction of their stories; fantasy stories are written so that the central conflict is physically observable, while fiction stories do not always need the central conflict to be physically observable. Fantasy shows the physical conflict through things like the power system.

That is the very basics of it all, but for more, you may read along.

Table of Contents

    1. Themes

    The first difference between fantasy and fiction is that fantasy themes tend to be visual shown through the magic system of the story, while fiction themes may be shown visual but are mostly shown through character actions.

    Fantasy stories tend to have physical interactive themes in the form of magic systems.

    The primary benefit of fantasy is that they can visually show things that other stories can’t. This is why most angry character’s tend to have fire based powers. This physical manifestation allows the characters in the story to be able to interact with each other, and the world, and the winner of these interactions shows us which is better. For example, a fire based angry character being defeated by a water based character could show the value of nurturing over destroying.

    Fiction’s themes on the other hand tend to be shown mostly through actions.

    In our article on how to find the theme of a story, we discussed how one of the methods is by observing the most requiring actions, and most requiring words. The most requiring words is often the theme stated out loud. However, the most requiring actions could tell us something similar – for example, if there are characters who forgive a lot in the story, this shows forgiveness is the theme of the book.

    In this way, fiction themes tend to deal with everyday situations like forgiveness, drugs or infidelity, while fantasy themes tend to teach deep virtuous things like honor, glory or friendship.

    2. Characters

    The second difference between fantasy and fiction is that fantasy characters tend to be embodiments of virtuous flaws, while fiction characters tend to be embodiments of human flaws.

    Fantasy characters progressed in a way that makes their central conflict to revolve around principles of virtue.

    Character progression is the process of writing a character’s story arc, meaning you write their flaws and how they will overcome their flaws, and false beliefs in the story. Fantasy stories tend to write a virtuous problem as the core issue of the main characters. So throughout the stories, the character’s have to overcome their virtuous flaw in order to be able to overcome the enemy and their trials. For example, Jon Snow’s character progression is duty, Ned Stark’s character progression is honor, and Jamie Lannister’s character progression is honor.

    Fiction character’s though tend to embody human psychological embodiments.

    In fictional stories, the story explores experiences, and may teach morals that are more human/ behavioral, rather than being virtuous, and mystical. So you will find that the character progression of characters in stories tend towards the direction of human exploration.

    Fantasy shows these virtuous ideas in their stories.

    Through their character development, and design, the character’s virtue is shown. Their physical appearance, their backstory, and their motivations tend to be virtue bound. This allows the writer to be able to use the character’s in anyway that they want.

    Fiction on the other hand develops its characters in realistic ways.

    3. Settings

    The third difference between fantasy and fiction is that fantasy settings are designed for the purpose of being explored by the readers, while fiction settings are not necessary.

    Fantasy story settings are often extravagantly designed, and detailed in their mechanics.

    The simple reason for this is that people read fantasy in order to be transported to an entirely new world. Unlike in other forms of fiction, the fantasy world can be as important if not more so, than the story. This is how you end up with places like middle earth. As a consequence, readers may want to enjoy the story just to explore these worlds.

    In contrast, fiction settings may not be as extravagantly made, and may only exist to house the characters, and show the themes of the story.

    The grand majority of fiction settings only exist to set the tone, and to facilitate the plot. That’s why movies like Seven have such a rainy city. This is to create that dirty, grimy tone which fits the crime of the story. It may also happen sometimes that a fiction story may have a world that shows the themes of the story. It is rare, but it can happen too. An example of this would be a story where the poor live at the bottom, while the rich live at the top. We see something similar in the Great Gatsby.

    4. Point of view

    The fourth difference between fantasy and fiction is that fantasy tends to use a point of view that allows the reader to explore the world most intimately, while fiction may value point of viewers that allows the reader to explore the main character.

    Fantasy stories mostly take place from 3rd person limited perspective.

    The reason for this is fairly simple: this is the point of view that is most accommodating to world exploration. 3rd person omniscient would allow the reader to explore the world completely, but it would feel like reading a geography text book. 1st person would allow the reader to experience the main character’s feelings, but they’d be too restricted from the world. 3rd person limited allows you to strike the perfect balance: you get to have an intimate experience of the world.

    Fiction tends to have the widest variety when it comes to pov.

    Remember how fiction tends to embody human experiences in their character? This is also reflected in how these character/s view the world – literally. Whatever is most appropriate in allowing the reader to embody the feeling that the writer is looking for, they will use it in fiction. They may use 4rd person omniscient to make you cut off, or 1st person to make you feel naïve, and claustrophobic.

    5. Plot

    The fifth difference between fantasy and fiction is that fantasy tends to follow a heroes journey with it’s plot structure, while fiction can be far more diverse.

    Fantasy stories tend to have stories that follow a heroes journey arc, even if that may not show literally all the time.

    A lot of fantasy stories tend to follow a coming of age character plot, and this is no coincidence. Fantasy is often targeted towards children, and younger people. They tend to be more attracted by a story with a fantasy character that is growing like them. However, it can be interesting to adult readers for the same reason.

    That’s why it is lucky fiction exists for everyone’s taste.

    Fiction books are diverse in their intensions for being written, which is something that is shown through a number of methods. One of those is the plot. Some fiction books seem to literally have no plot at all. This is seen in works such as ‘The Crying of Lot 69’ by Thomas Pynchon.

    6. Central Conflict

    The sixth difference between fantasy and fiction is that fantasy fiction may often rely on virtuous principles to be overcome, while fiction central conflict rely on more diverse principles.

    Fantasy stories build their core message and thus the core conflict around what it would take to be a virtuous person. This leads to a situation where the victory can only be attained through virtue.

    A lot of fantasy stories tend to find that the heroes, and the villain fall on opposite sides of a virtuous issue : forgiveness vs vengeance, duty vs honor, and the likes. This then leads to the situation where a lot of stories need the people to behave virtuously in order to out perform the villain. Additionally, this is something see in Lord Of The Rings, where it is Bilbo’s mercy towards Gollum, then Frodo’s forgiveness of Gollum, that leads to them winning.

    Fiction on the other hand may focus on more physical, and day to day life problems when dealing with issues.

    Fiction stories tend to have core issues that are based on things that people experience. These could be things like personal trauma’s. So a good example of a typical fiction central conflict is something like grief, and pain. Overcoming these traumas, and becoming the person you have to be to rule.

    7. Character Development

    The seventh difference between fantasy and fiction is in the fact that fantasy character’s a developed around these virtuous themes. Meanwhile, fiction characters re developed around psychological themes.

    Fantasy characters are developed with virtue as their core driver.

    Development of characters refers to selection of the character’s fatal flaw, and the false belief. If the story is a story about fantasy character’s then the fatal flaw and false belief will be virtue based. Then, the character needs to learn the true virtuous lesson, and that’s the only way the eventually over come the villain. Maybe the hero believes they can act with impunity, and they meet a villain dirtier than them. Only when the character hands themselves in, and acts in virtue do they outwit the villain.

    In fiction, the characters are developed with psychological slights as core drivers.

    These fatal flaws, and false beliefs can be things like believing they are unloved. This leads to them being reckless, and the villain hires them for a certain task. Only when they are loved do they realize that they are loveable. This leads them to value their life, and behave in a way the villain could not predict. Thus, they end up winning the battle, and fleeing.

    8. History

    The eight difference between fantasy and fiction is that fantasy tends to have histories that are long and robust. Meanwhile, fiction just takes the history it needs for the present day plot.

    Fantasy stories tend to have histories that are extensive.

    This goes back to the immersive experience of fantasy. Readers want to read fantasy word’s that feel lived in. The simplest way to make a world feel lived in is to simply give it a history. Additionally, you can tie this history to modern day characters to enhance the plots, or enhance the themes of the story.

    Fiction stories tend to not care to much about the history.

    Instead, fiction stories are only interested in the history of the present so that they can fix the main plot of the story, and move on to something else that needs to be done.

    9. Fanbase

    The final difference between fantasy and fiction is their fanbases.

    Fantasy tends to have fans who are enthusiastic.

    This enthusiasm for the fantasy may lead to them growing their own niche spaces, and spots. They may end up going to comic cons, and dressing like their favorite characters. Finally, they may often imitate their favorite characters in their speech. This tends to lead to them being seen as a bit eccentric.

    Meanwhile, fiction fans tend to not be as overtly enthusiastic about their passions.

    This leads to them being more reserved, and held back. Fiction fans may even end up seeing their favorite books being read and analyzed in universities. By then, their work will look a bit more sophisticated and high class. This leads people to view fiction fans as being more sophisticated, and cultured.