13 Kick-Ass Tips For Writing Fantasy From Professional Fantasy Editors
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 steampunk, urban, 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.
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.”
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.