8 tips for writing fantasy
Do you dream of writing a fantasy adventure featuring a marvelous universe and fascinating creatures?
Best friend of the imagination and inexhaustible source of reverie, fantasy literature is enjoying growing success, as evidenced by the adaptations that flourish on the small screen ( Game of Thrones, The Witcher, Dark Materials )
If you want to bring your stone to the fortress, get started! But be sure to follow specific rules because we do not write fantasy in the same way as a contemporary or detective novel. This literary genre has its codes and issues, which it is better to know before attempting the adventure.
How do you create a rich, cohesive world that will transport your reader? Should clichés be avoided? What place should be given to action and combat scenes? Why will echoing reality make your text deeper?
Please take a seat; I’ll take you on a dragon’s back to discover the powerful and fascinating world of fantasy writing.
1. Arouse dreams and wonder
Why does a reader choose to read a fantasy novel?
To cut yourself off from the real world, the time of reading it, and take advantage of the moment of dream and escape that this type of literature brings.
Grandiose universes, fantastic creatures, and supernatural powers: fantasy allows the imagination to dream and travel far beyond the limits of our world.
In La Passe-Miroir (Christelle Dabos), people live on arches that float in the clouds. Game of Thrones (George RR Martin) involves dragons capable of bringing an entire kingdom to its knees. In The Dreammaker (Laini Taylor), the heroine’s powers allow her to enter the dreams of sleepers to influence their thoughts.
Do you see what I mean?
To write fantasy is to write a story that provides a sense of vertigo and wonder to readers.
Put aside everything you have read before and unleash your imagination: its possibilities are your greatest asset for writing fantasy. It’s your turn to think big!
2. Work on your fantasy world
The world you will create will be the basis of your writing project. It is, moreover, the desire to invent its world that generally pushes authors to write fantasy!
When to get started?
It is better to work on creating this universe before starting to write the story itself. Think about the various components of this world, from geography to climate to types of people.
Tolkien took 17 years to write The Lord of the Rings. A professor of medieval literature at Oxford, he created a fantasy world of unprecedented richness, inventing dozens of languages to bring his saga to life. Tolkien also drew many maps before giving birth to Middle-earth, the birthplace of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
Tolkien’s example is beautiful but a bit extreme.
Unless you want to spend 17 years there, no one is forced to invent several languages and draw many maps to write fantasy. The design of your universe should not take you a monstrous time, at the risk of indefinitely delaying the moment of writing your story.
Check out my “Create a Fantasy World for Your Novel” Writing Kit. It contains a 41-page digital guide to help you create an immersive and coherent world + sheets to facilitate your action!
3. Stay consistent
When you write fantasy, one of the difficulties is to remain coherent in the universe that you deploy. Indeed, it is not because your world is not really that it should not respond to a particular logic!
Harmonize all the elements participating in your fantasy universe, from the magic system to the bestiary through the characters’ names.
Take inspiration from the real world. Based on existing cultures or mythologies is the best way to build a coherent system and start from landmarks known to the reader so that he is not lost in front of the singularity of your world.
Katherine Arden created a fantasy world inspired by Medieval Russia in The Bear and the Nightingale. We discover snowy landscapes, creatures from Slavic legends, and characters with first names from the East (Vassilia, Soloveï, Morozko). The coherence of these inspirations makes the saga’s universe all the more harmonious!
4. Focus on action
One of the pitfalls to avoid when writing fantasy is presenting your world over dozens of pages right from the novel’s start. There is nothing worse to make the reader yawn and make him want to fall asleep in the book.
Creating a solid world in which to germinate one’s story is essential. But it’s better to distill the background information bit by bit throughout the book, integrating it into the characters’ actions and adventures.
For the first lines of your novel, prefer a teaser scene that will appeal to your reader and make him want to know what’s next, which shouldn’t prevent you from subtly evoking the universe in the background.
Here’s how Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law fantasy saga begins :
“Logan dashed through the trees. His bare feet slipped on the wet earth, the half-melted snow, and the damp pine needles. A hoarse breath scraped his chest, his blood pounding against his temples. He stumbled and sprawled, nearly splitting his chest open with his axe. Panting, he lay there watching the forest bathed in shadow. »
More catchy than a thirty-page genesis.
Typically, in a fantasy novel, the action is just as necessary as the setting. Work on your plot at least as much as creating your world so that it is captivating and surprising.
5. Echo reality
Fantasy novels are about real-life behind epic adventures and supernatural creatures.
The feelings experienced by the characters make our humanity vibrate. Their way of fighting calls on values that we share at our level. The themes covered in the story resonate with us.
That’s why a fantasy novel can be deeply touching, in addition to being entertaining and exotic.
Do not hesitate to address broader themes that affect you in your fantasy novel. And, even if your heroes are elves or orcs, they express their desires, contradictions, and evolution as the story progresses. It will hook the reader and make him want to get emotionally involved in his reading.
The Lord of the Rings became cult ten years after its publication. Tolkien’s work had this belated success in American universities, where young people saw this story of people fighting against oppression as an echo of their struggle.
6.Divert fantasy clichés
Fantasy literature is full of platitudes. It can be seen again: the old mage full of wisdom, the brave hero, the sinister villain having no scruples.
Or even diagrams already read dozens of times, like the cliché of the young orphan, apparently without history, until he discovers that a prophecy destines him to save the world.
This kind of cliché tends to annoy an experienced reader.
So, should we banish clichés when writing fantasy?
Of course, it’s less risky to avoid stereotypical characters, especially when you’re just starting. But be aware that your way of telling a story and playing characters can make your novel unique despite everything (JK Rowling did very well with the orphan diagram of the prophecy, which saves the world!)
If the adventure tempts you, why not play with clichés, revisiting them or making the psychology of stereotyped characters more complex to bring them an unprecedented depth?
George RR Martin does this brilliantly in Game of Thrones (SPOIL). Throughout the saga, he plays with the cliché of the knight thanks to the character of Jaime Lannister. Young, the corresponded to the chivalric ideal: handsome, talented, and reckless. But he finds himself falling after having killed his king, hence his humiliating nickname of Regicide.
By discovering specific chapters of the Iron Throne, thanks to Jaime’s point of view, we find out how he experiences this decline and how his meeting with Brienne, a woman who embodies the purest chivalrous values, will revive in him a sense of buried honor.
7. Take care of fight scenes.
The confrontation scenes are mythical passages in fantasy!
Who forgot the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Lord of the Rings? Or the fight between Oberyn Martell and the Mountain in Game of Thrones?
When you write fantasy, you have to pamper your combat scenes, whether a duel or a battle between thousands of soldiers.
Here are some tips for making the reader gasp along with your characters:
- Be fluid and transparent in your story; we must be able to read this scene without effort.
- Write short, edgy sentences that match the pace of the fight and the sense of urgency that comes with it.
- The sound of clashing swords, the smell of smoke, and the sharp pain of a wound Evoke the exacerbated feelings of your characters to make the scene even more poignant.
- Visualize the scene in slow motion to transcribe it accurately.
- Impart an idea of movement to your scene, like a dance where the fighters take turns gaining the advantage.
See how this fight scene from Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher is dynamic and precise: “Geralt jumped back and spun around, the Striga grazed him, lacerating the air with his claws. She didn’t lose her balance and immediately went on the attack. His teeth chattered just in front of Geralt’s chest. The Riv leaped the other way, whirring around three times, disorienting the Striga. Jumping back, he struck her in the head with a limp but powerful blow, with the silver spikes stuck in his glove at the knuckles. »
8. Start with a one-volume novel
When you write fantasy, you almost always have a multi-volume project in mind. And that’s quite normal: the greatest fantasy successes being long sagas, we take as a reference what we know.
The problem is that when you start writing, tackling a project in several volumes is quite uncertain. For a novice, writing a single novel to the end is already a challenge. However, it is easier and more formative to build a plot that holds up, with an actual ending, in a single volume.
If you want to get your book published and have no experience showing off, you’ll have a more challenging time finding a publisher for a multi-volume project.
Keep your dream of a twelve-volume series in mind. But, for your very first novel, why not practice by writing a one-shot? Perhaps by placing it in the same universe as your dream saga? Or by writing a slightly ambiguous ending, leaving the door open to a sequel if you feel like it?
Know that there are excellent fantasy novels in one volume. Naomi Novik’s Uprooted is one of them: this dark and enchanting story about a forest overrun by darkness is one of the most talked-about fantasy releases. Even though it’s a one-shot, the author has written a rich and dense story, where all the threads connect at the end.
There you go, you know the basics of fantasy writing!
It’s a literary genre that requires thought and work but is as exciting to read as it is to write, hoping you’ll let yourself be tempted by the adventure
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8 tips for writing fantasy