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 certain rules, because we do not write fantasy in the same way as a contemporary or detective novel: this literary genre has its own 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 echoing reality will make your text deeper?

Sit down, I’ll take you on a dragon’s back to discover the powerful and fascinating world of fantasy writing 

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 enjoy 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 (Chistelle 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…

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 own imagination: its possibilities are your greatest asset for writing fantasy. It’s your turn to think big!

Illustration Phil Jaeger

Work on your fantasy world

The world you will create will be the basis of your writing project . It is also the desire to invent their own world that generally drives authors to write fantasy  !

When to get started?

Better to work on the creation of 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, going so far as to invent 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!

Stay consistent

One of the difficulties, when you write fantasy , is to remain coherent in the universe that you deploy. Indeed, it is not because your world is not realistic that it should not respond to a certain logic!

Harmonize with each other all the elements participating in your fantasy universe, from the magic system to the bestiary through the name of the characters…

Take inspiration from the real world. Based on existing cultures or mythologies is the best way to build a coherent system, but also to start from landmarks known to the reader so that he is not lost in front of the singularity of your world.

In The Bear and the Nightingale , Katherine Arden created a fantasy world inspired by Medieval Russia. 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 universe of the saga all the more harmonious!

Focus on action

When writing fantasy , one of the pitfalls to avoid is presenting your world over dozens of pages, right from the start of the novel. Nothing worse to make the reader yawn and make him want to fall asleep on the book…

Creating a solid world in which to germinate one’s story is important. But it’s better to distil the background information bit by bit throughout the book, integrating it into the action and the adventures of the characters.

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 :

“Logen 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 own axe. Panting, he lay there watching the forest bathed in shadow. »

More catchy than a thirty-page genesis, isn’t it?

Typically, in a fantasy novel , the action is just as important as the setting. Work on your plot at least as much as the creation of your world , so that it is captivating and surprising.

Echo reality

Basically, behind the epic adventures and supernatural creatures, fantasy novels are about real life.

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 in your fantasy novel broader themes that affect you. And, even if your heroes are elves or orcs, express their desires, their contradictions and their evolution as the story progresses. This is what 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 from American universities, where young people saw in this story of peoples fighting against oppression an echo of their own struggle.

Divert fantasy clichés

Fantasy literature is full of platitudes. It can be characters seen and seen again: the old mage full of wisdom, the brave and courageous hero, the diabolical 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 absolutely banish clichés when writing fantasy ?

Not necessarily.

Of course, it’s less risky to avoid stereotypical characters, especially when you’re just starting out. But be aware that your own 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, he corresponded to the chivalric ideal: handsome, talented and reckless. But he finds himself fallen after having killed his king, hence his humiliating nickname of Regicide.

By discovering certain chapters of the Iron Throne thanks to Jaime’s point of view, we discover 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.

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 it’s 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 clear 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, 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, turning around. His teeth chattered just in front of Geralt’s chest. The Riv jumped the other way, whirring around three times, disorienting the striga. Jumping back, he struck her in the side of the head with a limp but powerful blow, with the silver spikes stuck in his glove at the knuckles. »

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 what we know as a reference.

The problem is that when you start writing, tackling a project in several volumes is quite uncertain. For a novice, managing to write 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 a real ending, in a single volume.

Not to mention, if you want to get your book published and you don’t have any experience to show off, you’ll have a harder 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 that of 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 in recent years. 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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