Fantasy is now one of the fastest-growing genres. Together, science fiction and fantasy , lumped together with Science Fiction, has earned a total global sales of $590.2 million.
Despite the expansive creative freedom this genre offers writers, fantasy can be one of the most challenging genres to write in.
Nevertheless, fantasy writing skills can be learned and developed by applying the basic elements of the fantasy novel and practicing worldbuilding technqiues.
What Makes a Great Fantasy Novel?
A great fantasy novel needs the following elements:
1. A Magic System
Magic or other supernatural elements is what sets the fantasy genre apart from other types of fiction.
While these elements may not be reflective of the real world, they are considered a normal part of your characters’ world.
A creatively-designed magic system will give your novel a unique selling point to attract readers, so let your imagination soar.
2. A Believable World
Worldbuilding plays a crucial role in fantasy writing. You need to develop your world thoroughly and in a logical way so as to make it believable and relatable.
This means thinking through all the details of your fantasy world, from its topography, to its laws and customs, and the creatures that inhabit it, among others.
J.R.R. Tolkien was said to have developed Middle-Earth over the course of several years, but you don’t have to strive for as many details in your world as Tolkien’s. Start small and build your way up.
3. Three-Dimensional Characters
As is the case for any novel, fantasy writing requires you to flesh out your characters to show their strengths and weaknesses. Avoid sticking too closely to character archetypes—you can base your characters on these archetypes, but take the time to make each one unique and original.
4. A Main Conflict
Although fantasy stories have the added advantage of intriguing new worlds for your readers to explore, your novel will fall flat without a well-developed plot revolving around a central conflict.
Thankfully, your fantasy world gives you more room for pushing the stakes higher, as more things can take place that may not be possible in the real world.
5. Its Own System of Government
Part of what makes fantasy interesting is its whole new world of laws and power structures. One key to remember is that most fantasy novels have forces of good and evil battling it out, whether or not the ruler of your world is a single person or a council of magical creatures.
Once you decide on the main leaders, you can build the hierarchy of power, giving your fictional society the stability it needs.
Fantasy Writing Tips
With these elements in mind, here are 5 important fantasy writing tips:
1. Read, read, read!
One of the most important things to do before you start to write is to read books from your genre. Explore different types of books in the fantasy genre, as well as those catering to different age groups.
The wide variety will give you greater exposure to fantasy worlds, which may help in your own worldbuilding.
2. Choose your audience
First, determine what age group you are writing for. Readers of different ages tend to be surprised and enchanted by a wide variety of things.
While it’s easy for an aspiring writer to say he’s writing in the fantasy genre, there are many sub-genres that you need to weed through. Some of the most common sub-genres of fantasy are:
- High or epic fantasy: These grand tales are set in a magical environment with its own physical laws. A good example in this sub-genre is The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Low fantasy: Low fantasy stories have the real world as their setting, with the addition of surprising magical elements, such as the wish-granting Psammead or Sand-Fairy in E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It
- Magical realism: Magical realism is similar to low fantasy, with fantastical elements woven in as a normal part of a world that is essentially similar to our real world. One example is Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
- Sword and sorcery: Like the name suggests, this sub-genre revolves around heroes that use swords and sorcery, such as stories about King Arthur and Merlin, among others.
- Dark fantasy: Dark fantasy combines elements of horror into the fantasy genre. Stephen King’s The Dark Tower is a prime example of this sub-genre.
- Fables: Fables use speaking animals and supernatural elements, and usually give a moral lesson. Aesop’s Fables and the Arabian Nights are prime examples of fables.
- Fairy tales: These stories set in distant fantastical worlds are typically written for children, and includes fairy tales and folk tales. Hans Andersen’s fairy tales and the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales are two of the best-known collections.
- Superhero fiction: Superhero fiction features superheroes with inborn supernatural powers.
Why is it important to identify your audience and genre?
Different sub-genres call for different elements. You would not think of grouping together Terry Pratchett’s Discworld with Stephen King’s The Dark Tower.
The fantasy genre is so broad that you need to pick your niche: the sub-genre you choose will affect your setting and characters, as well as your competition. So before you start writing, decide which sub-genre you are writing in.
3. Write short stories to develop your world
Jumping right into a full-length novel is daunting in itself. But having to build an entire fantasy world makes the task seem impossible. Cut it up into bite-sized pieces by writing short stories first.
However, don’t insist on using these short stories as part of your novel, so that you don’t get constrained by whatever rules you’ve set in each story. Instead, use it as a springboard for developing the intricacies of your fantasy world.
For example, J.R.R. Tolkien is known for having written tons of short stories set in Middle Earth before he ever started writing The Hobbit.
4. Outline your book before you start
Just like any other novel, outlining your story before you begin is very helpful. Some authors, like Stephen King, are known as pantsers, meaning they can write spontaneously, or “by the seat of their pants.” But unless you have that gift, chances are, you will write better with an outline.
Another important reason to outline, especially for a fantasy novel, is that you need to be intentional about tying in your plot with your worldbuilding.
5. Add unique elements to common tropes
A literary trope is a recurring theme, image, or device that has reached the point of being commonly associated with a genre.
When writing fantasy, you might be tempted to steer clear of fantasy tropes and push yourself to invent everything from scratch.
But a better stance would be to learn to use tropes while adding your own unique touch to them. Don’t worry about using images that everyone else is familiar with; even the best fantasy writers use tropes, but in a distinct way.
For example, the broomstick is a cliché for a story about witches, but J.K. Rowling used them not as a witch’s transportation method, but rather as equipment in a wizarding sport called Quidditch.
Fantasy tropes include character archetypes, worldbuilding tropes, and plot tropes.
The following tips will help you put your own spin on the familiar:
- Deconstruct the trope: Decide if you want to keep the trope with its typical elements.
- Contradict readers’ expectations: Because tropes are familiar, you can surprise your readers by offering a logical, but surprising, twist.
- Acknowledge the use of the trope: Instead of pretending that the element you chose is not cliché, you will do better to highlight it and build up explanations to make it a believable part of your narrative.
Again, remember to write your fantasy novel with your audience in mind and with your well-developed storyline foremost in priority.
While the task may seem more daunting, having a plan in place to write a trilogy, for example, will remove some of the pressure of explaining your fantasy world in a limited space of only one book.
That way, you can focus on developing your story and letting your magical world serve its purpose, in its proper place as the setting for your story.
What’s your favorite fantasy novel or film? Share your thoughts in the comments below!