Jump To Section
What Is a Fantasy Story?
Fantasy is a genre of literature that features magical and supernatural elements that do not exist in the real world. Although some writers juxtapose a real-world setting with fantastical elements, many create entirely imaginary universes with their own physical laws and logic and populations of imaginary races and creatures. Some of the most central themes of twentieth century fantasy writing include elves, witches, trolls, goblins, hidden worlds with different time streams, and a preoccupation with nature and powerful magic.
Fantasy writing conjures a world not bound by reality or scientific fact, driven by very human motivations. It doesn’t matter how outlandish the world of your story is — it should feel real to the reader.
The fantasy genre includes a robust and ever-growing number of subgenres, some of which writers combine in their works. There are a few essential subgenres to choose from, like epic fantasy (also known as “high fantasy,” which features a magical environment on a grand scale, typically centered on a single, well-developed hero or a band of heroes) to modern fantasy derived from dark spins on classic children’s fairy tales.
5 Tips for Writing a Fantasy Story
You’re probably familiar with the literary giants of fantasy—J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings), C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia series), J.K. Rowling (the Harry Potter series), George R.R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire). None of them are unicorns; rather, they are work horses of the imagination.
- Build your world. The bestsellers among fantasy books are ones with an engrossing universe. That’s why the first step in writing fantasy novels is worldbuilding. This is not just the actual landscape that your characters will inhabit, but the tone of your story, its major preoccupations and themes, as well as the nature of its morality. You will probably not know all of this up front, but setting down the basics will help you start writing. To learn more about worldbuilding, use our guide here.
- Remember the rules. Every world has rules, and ideally your characters will discover those rules the hard way. Come up with a quick list of rules that might exist in your world, and remember that you’ll probably discover more as you go along.For example, if you’re going to have magic in your world, know that a lot of writers argue that magic has to make sense or have some sort of internal logic, even cause-and-effect behaviors (all of which undermine very old notions of magic). You don’t have to create a super-system that can stand up to scientific scrutiny, but it’s good to remember that there are different types of magic.
- Determine your narrative point of view. One of the best tools for revealing your world is having your characters observe and respond to its features. You’ll want to let your reader know what it feels like for them, what it sounds and smells and tastes like. No matter what kind of world you’re creating, this creative writing technique can bring more vividness to your writing. Learn more about point of view in our guide here.
- Find the story structure. Many fantasies (along with adjacent genres like historical fiction) follow a similar narrative arc, like The Hero’s Journey, but it doesn’t have to: Maybe your fantasy fiction is a collection of dystopian short stories centered around a main character.
- Keep writing. If you get stuck, write the next thing you know. Spend time with a new character, explore a neighboring planet. Anything to keep you anchored in the world you’ve built and moving the story forward.
Want to Learn More About Writing?
Become a better writer with the MasterClass Annual Membership. Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by literary masters, including Neil Gaiman, David Baldacci, Joyce Carol Oates, Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, and more.