Wednesday Writing Tips: 13 Tips for Writing Fantasy

13 Kick-Ass Tips For Writing Fantasy From Professional Fantasy Editors

By: Reedsy

Has there ever been a better time to be writing fantasy? Where once it was a fringe genre, now fantasy is everywhere in pop culture, from Harry Potter to the memes surrounding Jon Snow.

There’s also never been a more exciting time to write fantasy. The genre is changing daily, as authors such as Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, and Patrick Rothfuss continue to interpret, subvert, and stretch it to attain new pinnacles. What’s more, the public can’t seem to get enough of it, proving that there is a market for fantasy — and it’s a big one.

So, if you’re an author, where can you find a place for yourself in today’s talent-rich terrain?

In our search for the finest writing tips in the realm, we spoke to seven of the top fantasy editors on our marketplace. They’ve worked with George R.R. Martin, James Dashner, Brandon Sanderson, and many more of the brilliant authors who are re-defining the genre. Here’s what they said.

1. Identify your market

If you don’t know your market, you’ve already made a mistake, says Erin Young, an agent for Dystel Goderich & Bourret, which represents authors such as James Dashner of Maze Runner fame.

“Oh, my market is fantasy,” you might say, waving your monthly subscription of Imagination And Me. But is your story steampunkurban, or grimdark fantasy? Is it for children or young adults? Are there elves or tech? Is it set in the modern world, or is it a re-imagining of an alternate past? Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, for instance, doesn’t target Discworld’s readers, and no-one would instinctively group Harry Potter and Stephen King’s The Dark Tower in the same category.

AstraFantasyIllustration

Indeed, “fantasy” is such a broad genre that you’ll need to dig deeper to find your niche — but it’s important as your subgenre not only informs your characters and setting, it also allows you to identify your competition and audience. As Young says: “If your characters are younger, you should be writing YA or MG, not adult.”

To get a better picture of the various subgenres within fantasy, check out this guide as well as this post on the evolution of fantasy since the 1900s.

2. Develop your world through short stories

Did you know that JRR Tolkien wrote a gazillion short stories about Middle-Earth before ever starting The Hobbit?

He needed somewhere to begin. That’s exactly what Jenny Bowman, an editor who worked on Robert Beatty’s Serafina and the Black Cloak, advises: a good way to build your world is to write short stories that feature some of your characters. “Do this with the intention of excluding [these stories] from your book,” she says. “This gives you freedom to create a new universe with no boundaries.”

“Build your fantasy world through short stories that feature your characters,” and more tips inside

So if you can’t churn out the full-blown novel inside of you just yet, don’t sweat it. Dip your toe into the water through short stories, instead.

3. Plot out your story before you begin

Stories in the fantasy genre are often complex and epic — all the more reason to plot it out before. You don’t want to accidentally trip over all 99 of your storylines. And you don’t want to be that writer who gets to the end of the book and realizes they’ve forgotten to tie a knot in one part of the plot. Hello, darkness, my old friend.

That’s why Young says to get a general sense of your plot before you start writing. “You’ll know your world so much better if you know your story first,” she says. “Then, once your story is plotted out, you can use the plot structure as a skeleton to show where you want to build your world, scene by scene.”

For more food for plotting thought, you can read up on narrative arcs here.

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Wednesday Writing Tips: How to Write Fresh

Writing Fantasy: How to Write Fresh When Following a Recipe
by: Jeff Wheeler

When a reader falls in love with a new fantasy world, they can be skittish about trying something new. One of my heroes growing up (and the man who inspired me to write) was Terry Brooks and his Shannara books always outsold his other series. I was willing to follow him into the world of the Magic Kingdom series and his urban fantasy series, but like many others felt the recipe of Shannara to be the most enjoyable. I was always ready for another helping!

During my own writer’s journey, I did not want to be constrained to write in a single world. My imagination has always been like the opening credits of Star Trek, with a craving to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go—well, you get the drift.

But that leads to a problem. How do you entice readers to try out a new world when everyone already loves the old one? Why start from scratch when the recipe works?

In my view, the wonderful thing about ingredients is the variety of offerings. Whoever decided to crush Oreos into vanilla ice cream was a genius. Authors are inspired by a variety of sources and then mash-up different ideas to create interesting new concoctions. Some work, some don’t. We explore and play with many. I’ve always liked to push and test myself to do something nontraditional.

So how do I make it easy for readers to swallow?

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Wednesday Writing Tips: Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding

By: Daniel Arenson

Fantasy and science fiction are about other worlds. Sometimes worlds in the distant past, full of wizards and dragons. Sometimes worlds similar to our own but touched with magic. Sometimes other planets or our own planet in the future. One of the most challenging yet rewarding parts of writing speculative fiction is building your world. How can you invent a world that is unique, exciting, and feels real?

THE PREMISE

Does your world have a high premise, a unique selling point? A Song of Ice and Fire is about a world where seasons can last for years. Dune is about a desert planet. The Chronicles of Amber is about one true world casting infinite “shadows,” including Earth.

You can create an imaginary world simply by inventing new locations–a forest here, a mountain there. But a unique “theme” to your world will help it stand out.

My series Moth is about a planet that doesn’t spin around its axis, leaving one half in perpetual sunlight, the other in eternal night. Each side developed its own cultures, and day and night clash throughout the series. I could have created a simple world where two kingdoms battled, but actually dividing the world between day and night made Moth more memorable.

What makes your world unique?

THE MAP

Fantasy novelists often draw maps for their worlds. This process can help you learn more about your world. As you draw coastlines, mountains, swamps, forests, ruins, and settlements, you can let your imagination run and invent new locations and cultures as you go.

When I created the map for Moth, I used software called Campaign Cartographer. But a map can be as simple as something you draw with pen and paper.

Take a look at my map for Moth here. As you can see, I divided my world into two halves–one half in eternal sunlight, the other in endless night–fitting the theme of my world. I then added geographical features (mountains, forests, rivers) along with cities, roads, ports, and borders. As I was drawing the map, I was also inventing new cultures. Who would live in the desert? What would my islands’ civilizations look like? Drawing the map helped me invent not just the geography but also the people living here.

THE CULTURES

Fantasy and science fiction worlds often feature different cultures. Each of your fictional civilizations should be unique. What weapons do they use? Longswords, scimitars, katanas, ray-guns? What armor and clothing do they wear? What gods do they worship? What are their naming conventions? What is their history? What is their cuisine? The list of questions goes on.

When creating my fictional cultures, I often “borrow” bits and pieces from real Earth cultures. In Moth, the people of Ilar wield katanas, wear samurai armor, and build pagodas, all borrowed from Japan. Meanwhile, the people of Orida sail longships and live in mead halls, giving them a Nordic feel. The ruins of Til Natay, deep in a jungle, are inspired by the ruins of Ta Prohm in Cambodia.

While my fictional kingdoms aren’t copies of any real civilizations, they do include elements from cultures in our own world–weapons, ship designs, architecture, and so on. For your own worlds, you can seek inspiration from Earth or simply create your nations whole cloth.

You can also let your civilization’s environment influence its culture. On the dark side of Moth, there is no flora. That affects the cuisine of the people living there. I show them eating a variety of mushrooms, salted bat wings, deep water fish, and other foods that don’t require sunlight. Fire is precious on Moth’s dark side, with public fireplaces being elaborate and holy places of congregation. My “night folk” even wear the luminous lures of angler fish as jewelry, trapping the light in glass beads. Different environments–desert, mountain, sky, planets with vastly different geographical features than Earth–will similarly affect your world’s cultures.

Many fantasy novelists simply create copies of medieval England. For your world, you have a chance to create more varied cultures, seeking inspiration in all of Earth’s continents and your own imagination.

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