The Relative Problem

Dear Knowledgeable Katrina,

I’m at a family event and desperately want to finish my amazing book so I can catch up with everyone! But everyone keeps interrupting to ask what I’m reading! This way, I’ll never finish!

I don’t want to be rude to my family, but my book is complicated and I would rather be reading than explaining. I could just say it’s fiction or fantasy and get back to my paper world, but those genres never really cover what I’m reading. To one aunt, “fantasy” will mean “fairies and love” but to a cousin it would mean “Lord of The Rings knockoff.” Both of which would ruin my literary cred!

Save me!


Kindhearted Katrina



Dear Exclamation Extremist,

You are not alone. I fondly call this the “Relative Problem” and come across it more often than I like.

To really explain, you would have to cover the entire plot, but even that is barely the bones of a decent novel. Even then it takes 10 minutes to make “it’s about this girl that works in a post office with monsters” express the heartbreaking horror a book creates.

So here are some fancy terms that narrow down that “fantasy” genre and make you sound impressive and help you get back to your book.


High/Epic Fantasy: This takes place in a different world with different laws of physics, magic etc. Think “Lord of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones.”

Low Fantasy: Not meaning low quality (although…), but this genre is just low on how much fantasy is involved. These books will take place on our “real” world, or a rational and familiar other world which we can easily relate to. Any paranormal young adult — e.g. “City of Bones” or “Twilight” — would fit here.

Weird Fiction: This is a weird one to define. Here, supernatural things happen but nothing is ever explained as fantasy. If you finish a book and realize “I still have absolutely no idea what was going on” you were probably reading something in this genre or “Crime and Punishment.” An amazing novel that falls under this is Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods.”

Dark Fantasy: Where horror reigns and heroes are just better disguised villains. Here the characters will be the worst people you have ever met, but more real than anyone you know. If you call any of these protagonists “fairies and love” they would probably gut you where you stand. A popular one is Leigh Bardugo’s “Shadow and Bone,” but a personal favorite is Anne Bishop’s “Written in Red.”

Arcanepunk: Here, authors play with how science and magic mingle and clash. If you’re interested in this idea, Neil Gaiman’s “InterWorld” shows it quite nicely.


Knowledgeable Katrina