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Writing

How to Write Fantasy Novels: 10 Tips for Writing Fantasy

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 30, 2020 • 3 min read

Fantasy writing can transport readers to a vast array of fictional realities—from primitive lands ruled by dragons, to familiar spaces cohabitated by superheroes, to futuristic visions where aliens vie for supremacy among the stars. Common to all fantasy, though, is the act of intensive worldbuilding. Without the guardrails of scientific or societal laws, authors are free to invent any sort of reality they choose. Doing so typically involves a great deal of care.

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10 Tips for Writing Fantasy Fiction

  1. Read and re-read. You can only write as well as you read. Study the classics of the fantasy genre, taking note of what grabs you about each fantasy author’s approach—for example, world-building, character development, or plot twists—and how the storyteller navigates the aspects you find most daunting. You can reread your favorite fantasy books while applying the same lens.
  2. Know your market. For first-time fantasy writers, it’s especially important to consider your audience. Are you writing for kids, young adults, or more mature readers? Which of the many fantasy subgenres would your story fall into: high fantasy, steampunk, dystopian, paranormal? Identifying your market can help with a sales strategy as well as inform creative decisions.
  3. Start small. Creating a fictional universe is a massive endeavor. Get to know your fantasy world by writing short stories involving your main character or others—with no plans to publish. Before writing The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien penned multiple unreleased tales set in Middle-Earth. Doing so allows you to shape your fantasy fiction without pressure.
  4. Next, go big. Writing fantasy often involves creating a new world. Spend some time doing just that by imagining not just the geography of the place, but also the customs, culture, and history. The best fantasy intertwines these sometimes mundane details into the plot. Consider, for example, how George R.R. Martin uses the seasons—particularly winter—in A Song of Ice and Fire.
  5. Choose a point of view. A fantasy novel or fantasy series can play out in third-person via an omniscient narrator, or first-person through the eyes of one character or many. While the first approach lets you dole out details however you please, allowing your characters to lead means your readers will discover the world as they do, building in suspense and surprise.
  6. Meet your characters. Avoid tired fantasy tropes by designing characters who are as complex, unique, and imperfect as people in the real world. If you can literally sketch your characters, do so—if not, write down everything you can about them. “Interview” your characters by asking each a standard set of questions about their motives, emotions, habits, and history.
  7. Outline your story. Novel writing is always complicated business, but telling a fantasy story is typically challenging. Even the pros use outlines to keep track of their timelines, plots, and characters—J.K. Rowling has shared bits of her handmade Harry Potter spreadsheet. Such a practice ensures no thread gets lost, and provides a way forward if you get stuck.
  8. Make, and keep, rules. Even the most epic fantasy has to be grounded in its own reality so that it feels believable. If this is your first book set in a fictional world, consider researching some societal basics like politics or economics. Ask obvious questions like, “Where do rivers come from?” Even magic systems can, and should, have their own plausible rationale.
  9. Write authentic dialog. Your characters’ respective styles of speech can speak to moods and motivations, as well as their cultural origins within the civilization you’ve created. Rather than cram unnatural amounts of exposition into the conversation, use action to advance the plot while treating dialog as an opportunity to convey a better sense of who your characters are.
  10. Take your time. Once you’ve built a unique world and populated it with rich characters, it can be tempting to explain everything and introduce everyone in the first few pages, but doing so could overwhelm the reader. Instead, reveal your carefully crafted fiction bit by bit, using all five senses to bring the world to life as the narrative draws your audience deeper into the tale.

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