Fantasy novels transport readers to a vast array of fictional worlds—from lands guarded by dragons to magic castle realms to space stations far away. All fantasy fiction results from thorough worldbuilding, and sometimes, we get so caught up in building our world that other aspects of writing take a back seat.
I’ve created this list of top tips to keep you on track for writing great fantasy fiction.
I know you’ve heard it before, but it is one of the best ways to learn your craft. It’s been said, “You can only write as well as you read” (The MasterClass Staff).
When you read—probably reread—your favorite fantasy fiction novels, pick out what grabs your attention and pulls you into the story. Worldbuilding, the characters, character arcs, plot twists…
How does the author describe the setting? Through the characters’ eyes, the narrator, dialogue? Most likely it's all three.
Take note of how they do this with sedulity, so you can improve your writing.
2. Know the market
Not the stock market, the market for your book. While you should write what you want to, it is a good idea to know what is selling to help you choose specific aspects for your novel so you can satisfy your audience's expectations.
Research what is selling and in what POV are they written. Different genres and age groups enjoy certain tropes written in varying POVs.
Are you writing for children, young adults, or adult readers?
What subgenres would your story fall into? For example, paranormal romance, high fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian, steampunk?
Knowing your market will help you create a better marketing strategy and increase your sales, because you will know who you are targeting and what genres to tag your novel when you publish.
3. Take Small Steps
Try writing individual scenes or short stories that involve your main characters, before tackling the entire novel. This allows you the freedom to create your fictional world and characters without pressure, as these scenes or variations on your short stories can be used in your novel, depending on if they fit into your plot.
4. Attack the Big Picture
Since writing fantasy fiction involves creating a new kind of world, take time to imagine its geography and history, as well as the customs and culture of the people who live there.
If you enjoy world building, you probably already know this, but if not, start by answering questions about your world and its inhabitants. (Sign up for my newsletter, and I will send you a guide to help you get started with this.)
At times, we can become so involved in creating our complex worlds, we delay writing the actual story. Avoid this by limiting the amount of worldbuilding you do before writing. Also, keep in mind, as your story progresses, you may add or change things about your world.
To keep track of your world and its rules, use a spreadsheet, style sheet, or program built for worldbuilding and writing. Campfire is my favorite program, but there are many others.
5. Select your point of view
Fantasy novels or series can be in third person via a close or an omniscient narrator. Younger readers enjoy first-person, seeing through the eyes of one or more characters.
While third person lets you dole out details of characters and the world with more freedom, first person lets your readers discover the world as the character does can build more suspense.
6. Get to know your characters
Character sketches are like interviews with your fictional characters. Ask them questions about their past, habits, motives, feelings, and flaws can give you with the ability to create characters who are as complex, unique, and imperfect as real people.
I like to write introductory scenes between two or more characters meet. This helps me learn about them through their interactions with others.
Neither way is right or wrong. Try both and see what works for you.
7. Outline your plot
Insert eye roll here.
I get it if you’re not a plotter, but it is a good habit to get into with fantasy. Since it isn’t based in the real world, writing fantasy is more complex and complicated than other genres. Many professional authors use outlines to make sure they don’t end up with plot holes.
Again, spreadsheets or writing programs can help you keep track of timelines and smaller plots.
If you are a pantser, a basic outline will help. I promise.
8. Stick to your rules
Even epic fantasy fiction is grounded in reality. Having certain aspects of the fictional world be consistent with the real world makes the story believable and understandable. You can have your story take place on a different planet, but there will still need to be a light source or sources for your characters to see. There can be multiple suns or only moons, or a technological source of light. Moons, suns, skies can be different colors, days can be shorter or longer, but something must exist.
Gravity, geological formations, water (or some form of liquid), politics and economics still need to be in your world and have a specific set of rules.
Recently, I was asked if a belief system needed to be in the story. At first, I thought it’s possible. Upon more reflection, I think it is important to have at least one belief system. It doesn’t matter what the inhabitants of your world worship or believe in, but I think they need to believe in something. Whether that is a person, god(s), animal, nature, technology, or even a concrete building, it must make sense in the context of your world.
If your world contains magic, their needs to be limitations as well. Possibly different types of magic or only certain people have access to it, or only one magical skill per culture/person. Whatever you choose, you will need to stick to the rules to make your story plausible.
9. Write authentic dialogue
Your characters’ styles and patterns of speech should vary. If all of your characters are from the same part of the world, they can speak similarly, but consider having each person use a specific phrase that sets them apart.
If there are characters from different parts of the fictional world or societies, using different sayings, slang, or words for things can create a more believable story.
Try to think of dialogue as an opportunity to reveal who your characters really are. Personally, I speak to my parents differently than I do to my siblings, which differs from how I talk to co-workers. So, there is a lot to consider when writing authentic conversations.
If your characters speak a made-up language, make sure you keep track of what words mean, so you can be consistent.
10. Take it slow
Your world is exciting, and you want to explain everything about it to your reader. And you will, just not all at one time. If you try to enlighten your readers about the history of your fictional world, the people, and your MC in the first few pages, it will overwhelm and possibly bore your readers.
Try to reveal your beautifully crafted world and complex character backstories slowly. Using the first few chapters and revealing some things later will actually pull your readers in deeper, because you will leave them wondering about things they just have to know about, which will make them keep reading.
I hope these top tips help you on your fantasy writing journey.
Kristin Noland – Speculative fiction and crime fiction editor