“The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real… for a moment at least… that long magic moment before we wake. Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli.”– George RR. Martin
Have you always wanted to create your own fantasy world? Do you love the fantasy genre and its subgenres? Got some ideas for your own story? Ever wondered how to write a fantasy novel? If so, you’re in the right place.
This article will explain how to craft great fantasy stories, whether you want to write a short story or an entire novel. We’ll look at the different fantasy subgenres, crucial elements of fantasy literature, and how to create characters that readers will love.
How to write a fantasy novel
Writing fantasy is a wonderful way to get creative. The genre allows for an incredible level of imaginative play and exploration.
Fantasy writers create entire worlds and magic systems in their minds, and when those stories are successful, those worlds are known by the masses.
We’re all familiar with Hogwarts School for Witches and Wizardry, The Shire, or the enormous continent of Westeros. These known and loved settings are pure figments of the author’s rich imagination.
So, if you want to write a fantasy novel, you must know the elements involved in writing a great one.
First things first, it’s crucial to develop a deeper understanding of the genre. Later we’ll look at some of the critical elements of fantasy that you should include in your story.
Understand the genre
Fantasy is a term that encompasses a wide variety of subgenres. Epic fantasy is one of the most popular subgenres (think JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy or George RR. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series).
Other genres are also incredibly popular, such as sci-fi fantasy, dark fantasy, and urban fantasy.
So, if you want to write a fantasy novel, it’s important to understand the genre in which you write.
There are specific rules and reader expectations for each genre, and you may bother your readers if you’re careless with those rules and expectations.
Elements of fantasy
What makes a great fantasy story? Each fantasy subgenre contains elements that set it apart from others, but there are some elements universal to each. Consider the following crucial fantasy elements when writing your story.
If you give each element focused consideration and include each in your story, you’ll be well on your way to writing a fantasy story that readers will love.
The world of a fantasy story is limited only by the author’s imagination.
Given the unrealistic and other-worldly nature of the genre, there is significant scope for authors to build an entirely new world, unlike anything a reader has ever seen before. Well-written stories offer a fantastical yet still believable world for the reader.
At the same time, many fantasy story worlds and settings share common features.
Landscapes are essential to the genre. Medieval fantasy in particular, such as Lord of the Rings, often features glorious mountain ranges, huge open skies, and powerful bodies of water, like huge lakes or a rough sea.
The settings described in fantasy take the reader out of the world they know and immerse them in a new world with its own rules and laws. The setting also plays a huge role in a story’s magic system, another important element we’ll explore later.
These settings play vital roles in the story in their respective accounts. They are nothing like the world in which we live, but when an author takes the time to construct a unique world carefully, we become familiar with it.
Magic and magical elements are key ingredients in good fantasy fiction. They set fantasy apart from other genres, and one could argue that magic systems are the genre’s defining feature.
Magic systems are rules, laws, and powers that don’t exist in our world (as far as we know!). Sorcery, wizardry, and witchcraft are common types of magic. Supernatural abilities, incredible powers, and some source of the magic in the first place, such as a geographical anomaly or an important ancient object, are also part of the magic system.
As a fantasy writer, spending focused time creating your magic system is crucial. A half-baked attempt at creating a system will generate one full of holes, which is disrespectful to the genre and likely to irritate readers.
As such, spend some time crafting a solid system that holds up.
Consider the source or magic, if there are politics surrounding it, who can use it, how it works, and when it can be used.
Don’t rely on your magic system solely as a plot device to move the plot and characters forward. Give it serious consideration.
Consider its disadvantages, advantages, and limits. What happens when this magic is misused?
Types of magic
- gods and deities
- Spells (wizardry and witchcraft)
- Supernatural (angels, demons, spirits)
When readers finish your story, the characters and their character development is the element of your story they’ll remember most.
Strong characters are crucial to any great story, fantasy or otherwise.
For most readers, characters hook them into the story. We want to relate to the characters about whom we read, even if they live in a world entirely unlike our own.
You must spend time fleshing out rich, interesting, complex, and memorable characters no matter what fantasy subgenre you write about.
Offer the readers someone, they can relate to, support, despise, hope for, or laugh at, and you’ve hooked them.
Most fantasy novels feature a hero’s journey, whereby the main character carries the plot and readers root for their success.
Whether a young boy discovering his powers or a veteran wizard on a redemption arc, your main character will be one of the unique elements of your story, so it’s wise to spend time making them original and exciting.
Consider Frodo Baggins or Harry Potter. These strong characters are household names because their creators managed to vivify the reader’s experience of them through engaging story-telling and strong character development.
Conflict is central to any good story. A story without interesting conflict isn’t much of a story, especially in the fantasy genre.
A central conflict in your story raises the stakes for your characters and helps you develop them. The trials and tribulations your characters go through, how they approach conflict, whether they succeed, and the lessons they learn through said conflict are all critical story elements that matter to the reader.
There are several types of conflict.
Inner conflict is that which is experienced in your character’s inner world. Perhaps they’re faced with a task for which they feel unequipped.
Maybe they need to decide on their life that affects others, and they don’t know what to do.
Inner conflict is a powerful writing device that helps writers add dimensions to characters.
Interpersonal conflict helps you explore character relationships and dynamics. The central conflict pits your protagonist(s) against a more significant force, such as an oppressive authority or other powerful external force.
The most common type of conflict in most fantasy series is the protagonist’s conflict with an oppressive authority, government, or other power structure. The power structure in place is often linked to the magic system.
For example, in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the most potent source of magic is the One Ring. The authority over the One Ring is the Dark Lord Sauron, the Ring’s creator and the central antagonist in the story.
Sauron’s attempts to find the ring bearer and the destructive powers in the Ring itself create a huge conflict for the characters, and that conflict moves the plot forward.
Who or what is the power structure or authority in your story? Is there one central antagonist, such as a corrupt Prince like George RR. in Martin’s Joffrey Baratheon, or a vengeful Wizard like JK Rowling’s Voldemort?
Is it an oppressive religious order, like the Magisterium in Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass? Is the authority simply the society a character lives that they may once have been part of but now fight against?
Antagonistic power structures are key to any good fantasy story. They are often the reason why engaging and exciting fantasy stories exist in the first place.
As such, make sure to flesh out a complex and rich antagonist to make your story engaging.
Readers want to see your hero, the underdog, take on the challenge, so make that challenge something worth reading about.
Tips for writing fantasy
Still grasping at straws on how to begin your upcoming fantasy bestseller? Here are some more tips to help you out.
1. Focus on the story
The most important consideration when it comes to writing a fantasy story, and any story for that matter, is the story itself.
You may be a fan of the genre and want to play with common elements, like magic, mythical creatures, and beautiful landscapes, but those elements won’t make much impact if the story itself is lacking.
Patrick Rothfuss is one of today’s most popular and successful fantasy writers. Consider his wise words if you want to write a fantasy story that makes an impact.
“If you want to write a fantasy story with Norse gods, sentient robots, and telepathic dinosaurs, you can do just that. Want to throw in a vampire and a unicorn while you’re at it? Go ahead. Nothing’s off-limits. But the endless possibility of the genre is a trap. It’s easy to get distracted by the glittering props available to you and forget what you’re supposed to be doing: telling a good story.“Patrick Rothfuss
Fantasy is an incredibly popular genre, which means that many seasoned and first-time writers try their hand at it.
Given the mass of fantasy stories being written daily, a lot of work lacks quality. One of the most common reasons a story fails to make an impact is because, even though it contains several crucial elements of the genre, it falls on the actual plot.
2. Create a story outline
One of the most effective ways to write a novel is to create an outline first. The outline is an overview of your plot, characters, and setting and how they interact.
Your outline is not your first draft but a framework that you can refer to repeatedly throughout the writing process.
3. Know your audience
As mentioned earlier, there are several fantasy subgenres. Beyond classification such as epic, dark, urban, medieval, and sci-fi fantasy, there are also age-related subgenres, such as children’s fantasy and young adult (YA) fantasy.
Understand the audience for which you write. When you understand who your audience is and what they like, it becomes much easier to sell your novel after it’s published.
Moreover, by conducting diligent research on the market, you’ll learn about popular terms and descriptions, which you can then add to your meta-description or tagline on online bookstores, thus helping your audience to find you.
4. Write short stories
To go from scratch to a finished fantasy novel is no easy feat.
Writing a novel, in general, is challenging, but given the popularity and complexity of fantasy, writing a novel in this genre can be an even greater endeavor.
To build an entire fantasy world, create complex and engaging characters, and ultimately craft a story that readers will love takes time and effort.
One way you can progress with your creation is to write a series of short stories based on or related to the main story.
This will help you explore the world you’ve created and make it easier to write subsequent stories and novels later.
Now that you know the essential elements of fantasy fiction and how to create a story that makes an impact, you’re on your way to writing your first fantasy novel.
If you feel intimidated at writing a novel, refer to one of the tips suggested above – the outline.
Writing with an outline is a helpful practice and is employed by even the most successful writer when they sit down to write a new story.