High Fantasy vs Low Fantasy, the Differences

High Fantasy vs Low Fantasy, the Differences


High and Low Fantasy are broad terms used to categorize fantasy books. More often than not, books are neither precisely one nor the other, but these terms, which are subgenres of fantasy, help describe common traits and story elements.

In this article, we'll explore the differences between these two subgenres of Fantasy.

Why Subgenres?

First off, what's the purpose of subgenres? Some reasons why subgenres exist include:

  1. To help readers find the books they want to read
  2. To tell bookstores on which shelf a book belongs 
  3. To help authors market their books to agents and publishers
  4. To allow people who love the same kinds of books to find each other and form communities

Fantasy contains many subgenres. Novels often overlap across subgenres, but, generally speaking, they'll feature prominent characteristics of one subgenre and some elements of others.

Subgenres continue to play a pivotal role in the publishing industry, for both fiction and non-fiction.

High vs Low Fantasy

The exact definitions for these two subgenres vary, but the ones that make the most sense to me, and that I follow when reviewing my writing, are as follows.

High Fantasy is:

Low Fantasy, on the other hand, is:

  • Set in a world similar to our own — which could mean our actual world, but with a spice of magic, such as in the Harry Potter, or Chronicles of Narnia.
  • Deals with conflicts that are often smaller in scope — for example, the egos of two powerful individuals clashing.
  • Often features gray morality, where the actions of characters, just like any real human, are flawed, nuanced, and not fully right or wrong.
  • Victory is often achieved through military strategy, politics, and logistics.

Despite their differences, both subgenres ultimately fall under the Fantasy genre, and as such feature fantastical elements, such as magic, mythical creatures, and gods.

How to Write High and Low Fantasy

In my experience, I discourage using the definition of either subgenre, whichever variation you may pick, as a framework to write your novel.

I made this mistake at the beginning of my writing journey. Let's break down what I did.

  1. I walked into a bookstore
  2. I bought a book from the High Fantasy section
  3. Reading it, I thought High Fantasy was cool
  4. I decided I wanted to write my own High Fantasy stories
  5. I researched the definition of the subgenre
  6. I compiled a mega-list containing all of the different definitions of the term
  7. I turned the list into a checklist, making sure I ticked off items as I wrote my first draft

The approach above, which I generally discourage, can be useful for complete beginners who set out to learn the craft, keeping in mind that the result may not be ground-breaking, especially if it's your first attempt.

However, if you're giving a real shot at a novel, this approach may result in a draft with too many tropes and cliches. Unless you combine the elements in intricate new ways or introduce interesting new concepts (which is a good idea in any case), then a better approach is to just write the story you want to write.

Then, in your second and third drafts, you can make sure that your novel broadly resembles at least one subgenre, so that you can pitch it to agents more easily, and help the bookstores know where to place your book. This categorization of your work is important in traditional publishing, but it's also advantageous in indie publishing, as strategically locating your novel in the correct Amazon subgenre, for example, can make or break your success as an independent author.

I found this approach to be healthiest long-term, as you want the subgenre placed onto your story to enhance its marketability and reach, rather than dictate exactly what you need to put into your book.

If you feel that you're not yet comfortable writing your own thing, and feel like you need guard rails, so to speak, a better approach would be to replicate the writing style of your favorite authors, without worrying about subgenres. This can help you learn the ropes of writing with some reference material to guide you throughout. With this approach, proper care should be taken to ensure you're not committing plagiarism, whether intentionally or not.


In this article, we explored the concept of subgenres and the purpose that they serve in the publishing industry. We defined the terms High Fantasy and Low Fantasy and discussed how to best approach them while writing your own story.

Andrea Cerasoni in Rome, Italy
Andrea Cerasoni

I'm Andrea, a Software Engineer, Technical Editor, and aspiring Fantasy Author. I'm originally from Rome, Italy, but am currently based in Glasgow, United Kingdom. I read and write classic Fantasy: the sword-and-shield, dragons, and wizards kind. In my articles, I talk about writing fantasy fiction, productivity, coding, building a website or platform, establishing a personal brand, and more!

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