Recently at Joseph Beth's YA Author Panel, I asked seven authors: What can you get away with in fantasy that you can't in Contemporary (and vice versa)?
At first there wasn't an obvious answer because, as Christine Johnson pointed out, as long as you write consistently, there's not much difference in what you can get away with. There are rules you have to follow no matter what genre.
So I prompted with "death" being a much deeper issue in Contemporary books. For instance, in Kristina McBride's ONE MOMENT the entire book pivots on the death of one character (not a spoiler, it's on the jacket copy). But in fantasy, like Rae Carson's THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS there are deaths in battle, deaths on the journey, death from injury and illness, etc. You can't harp forever on these things or the books would be even longer!
I personally think that "body count" is something you can't "get away with" in Contemporary. Everything pivots so much on the emotional arc of characters that death is too big to be brushed over (as in a fantasy battle scene).
Julia Karr seemed to agree. She said that in Contemporary, the "emotional reaction, it must fit, go with what the real world is." It's a limitation of sorts.
Similarly, Rae Carson said that fantasy "takes real world concepts" and "puts them in a fun atmosphere" to examine issues such as government, environment, economics, politics, etc. In doing so, fantasy oftentimes gets away with things that just wouldn't fly in real life. And isn't that why we love it so much? It allows a space for escape so that serious issues--even death--can be examined.
But sometimes real life is depicted so well--even the horrors--that Contemporary informs us of those simple and basic themes of human nature. For me, personally, this is an advantage rather than a limitation. And a way in which both Contemporary and Fantasy inform each other as genres.
Of course there are exceptions. And you might not agree with me. So what do you think? Do fantasy writers get away with murder? Do Contemporary authors harp on too much over issues?
To Be Clear: This is not pitting one genre against another, but rather a comparison that, I think, highlights the strengths of both genres. xx