Fantasy writing is often viewed in one of two ways to the outsider: all fun and games and the art of making stuff up, or very serious, detailed, and hard to parse. In reality, both and neither are true! Like any other genre, writing tales of fantastical and their captivating inhabitants is endlessly varied – and every writer has their own style. Whatever that style is, though, you can be assured that their fantasy writing is nothing less than fantastic. And, if you’re looking to flex your fantasy-writing muscles and create something unforgettable, you’ve come to the right place.
Read on for a series of words of advice from fantasy writers we’ve featured on our blog and podcast. These authors write across the fantasy sub-genre spectrum; there’s definitely something for every kind of fantasy writer here!
On your fantasy novel’s first draft:
You need to let go of the idea that the first draft should be good in any way. Like, it’s not supposed to be good. It’s a rough, horrible, lurching skeleton to which you will graft like muscle, and skin, and organs, and then arrange them later.” – Meg Smitherman
On the reality of gaining a readership for your fantasy series:
“A lot of [my romance readers] were saying, “I don’t read fantasy, but I will try it because it’s you.” And I’ve gotten a lot of really fantastic feedback, from those readers, especially. So, that makes me really, really happy. I knew going in that it would be a much slower progression, in terms of success for this book. So I know I need to get the second [book] out, … and potentially, the third before, and I think the readership will grow. It’s not going to be an overnight success, put it that way.” – K.A. Tucker
On writing a successful fantasy setting:
“Join setting, plot, and character: some novel settings are so vivid because they are integral to the plot. Think about setting in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The circumstances associated with each setting are intricately arranged pieces of the grand plot: Frodo journeying to Mordor to destroy the One Ring, taking detours across Middle Earth. Tolkien’s story would not have been nearly as interesting if Frodo and Sam had travelled in a straight shot all the way to Mordor, not to mention the sub-plots and battles taking place elsewhere. Do not simply consider setting as the environment in which your plot takes place — by interweaving the two, you add dimension to each. Setting can also be used to develop a character or group of characters. Think of the association between the lush, rolling hills of the Shire and its comparatively peaceful dwellers, the Hobbits. Does Sauron, the ultimate villain of Middle Earth, dwell amongst rolling hills? Not so much. His evil nature is reflected in the sulfurous pits and jagged peaks of Mount Doom.”
On creating a great escapist feel for your fantasy:
“Your world doesn’t have to be utopian, even pleasant. But it should still be a place readers want to visit.
A big part of speculative fiction is the escapism. Readers want to explore forests of magic, enter mighty castles, fly on dragons, and sail on ships to exotic lands. Much of your world can be violent, ugly, and scary, but it should still include some elements to draw in your readers: excitement, wonder, mystery.
When we read The Lord of the Rings, we feel like we’re in Middle Earth. Some locations are pleasant, such as the Shire. Others are frightening, such as Shelob’s lair. All offer the reader a new experience, an escape from mundane life.
Create a world full of wonder, rich with sights, sounds, and smells, from mountaintop ruins to underground labyrinths. It doesn’t have to be a place readers would like to live in—who’d want to live in Westeros or District 12?—but it should be a place readers want to explore.” – Daniel Arenson
On the importance of research:
“If you think writing fantasy is easy because you get to make everything up, think again. Your setting, props, and characters have to ring just as true in fantasy as in other kinds of stories, so learn as much as you can about the environment, life forms, objects, and background on which your world will be based. These things may be real or imaginary, but in either case, there is much to know about them. Find out all you can about vampires, and I don’t mean read Stephanie Meyer. Get as close as possible to the original source material. Find out everything you can about the original vampire myths. If you’re writing about dragons, learn about the Komodo dragon and other real-life analogs. If you can, observe in the real world. Do dragons do pushups like those lizards we see in our backyards? Know more than you’ll ever be able to use. The more you understand the roots of your world, the more believable you’ll be able to make your story.” – Paula Berinstein
What is your favourite sub-genre of fantasy to write? Have you never written a fantasy novel before, and are looking to start now? We hope you have gleaned some valuable advice from these amazing fantasy authors!