How to Write Fantasy

Here you'll find information about how to write fantasy, with advice on the dos and don'ts of creating magical worlds. This is just one of many pages on this website about creative writing techniques. At the bottom, you'll find links to related pages about how to write a novel, as well as the chance to take free creative writing lessons.

How to write fantasy - what's a fantasy novel?

Fantasy is a genre or category of fiction that is about things that are generally considered to be impossible. This includes magic, and magical creatures such as elves, dragons, and unicorns (the tooth fairy is, of course, real). Fantasy is often based on myths, legends, and folklore, and frequently includes elements from the Middle Ages. It tends to be action-packed, including quests or adventures. A conflict between good and evil is a common subject in fantasy.

How to write fantasy - things you should do:

  • Read a lot of fantasy fiction. Learn about the traditions of the fantasy genre.

  • Research the folklore and traditions related to the magical elements you plan to use in your story.

  • If you are setting your story in medieval times or using elements from those times, research medieval life in the real world. Any innovations or changes you make to reality should be based on your informed artistic decision, not just a lack of knowledge. If you have a sword that doesn't work like a real sword because it is magic, you can let readers know how and why, and that's fine. If you have a sword that doesn't work like a real one because you haven't got a clue about swords, you might risk confusing your readers or losing their trust.

  • Plan your magical worlds before you start, figure out all of the details, and get to know them as well as your own neighborhood. This will help you write about them more naturally and make them more real for your reader. It will also help you avoid getting into a mess where the pieces of your magical world don't fit logically together.

  • Figure out the rules of any kind of magic in your book. The magic has to have some kind of limits. If your hero(ine) or villain can do anything s/he wants, then the story will be over before it starts -- there is no chance for a struggle or suspense. Let readers know what the important rules are, and follow them.

  • Show your magical world in detail. Besides your book, where will readers have the chance to meet magical creatures or see magic in action? Make them feel like they're there. Click here for tips on writing strong descriptions.

  • Let your hero(ine) conquer obstacles and solve problems based on his or her own abilities, instead of events outside your character's control.


How to write fantasy - things you shouldn't do:

  • Don't feel that you have to tell readers everything you know about your characters and your magical worlds. Even though you'll do a lot of planning before you start, there's no need to put every detail in the book. All that preparation will make your worlds real to the reader because it lets you choose the right details to include.

  • Don't forget that you can give your reader information by "showing" instead of "telling." Read more about that here.

  • Don't fudge or break your own magical rules. If you do this, readers will feel cheated. And they will no longer trust what you've told them or shown them about the worlds you've created. The story will stop feeling real to them.

  • Don't copy stories, settings, characters from other fantasy authors. Although fantasy often uses elements from very old traditions, you should try to do something new with them. No one needs another Lord of the Rings spin-off. Use your imagination to create a magical universe that has never been seen before.

  • Don't lose track of the story. It's fun to create worlds with their own histories, geography, customs, creatures and magical rules, but don't get so caught up in those details that you forget to have anything happen. Invent a main character or characters, give them a goal or a problem, throw in some complications, and you're on your way.

misty castle, illustrating a guide to how to write fantasy
Photo credit: Cederic X. @ Unsplash

How to write fantasy - what next?

Choose a link below:

  • Click here to brush up on plot development techniques.

  • Click here to read about how to write fantasy novel outlines.

  • Click here to read more about how to write fantasy on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association website.

  • Click here for a list of CWN pages about different types of novels and novel writing tips.


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