How to Write Your First Fantasy Novel

If you are a fantasy novel lover, chances are you have dreamed of writing a bestselling fantasy novel. Here are some tips if you dream to be the next George R. R. Martin or J.K. Rowling of the current era.

The success of fantasy novel series like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings are proof that this genre has a huge market. Readers adore the idea of escaping to a fictional world that embeds supernatural elements and magical creatures.

If you possess a flair for fantasy, you may start jotting down ideas right away. However, it takes a lot of hard work and skill to reach the bestseller’s list. The competition in this genre is high; hence, your story will need originality to stand out.

Here are some great tips on how you can succeed with your first fantasy novel.

1. Read a lot

An individual who is not a regular reader of good books lacks the intellect for writing one. A writer needs inspiration, which comes from powerful literature produced by exceptional authors. Reading books is a great way to polish your language skills as well.

Go to your nearest library or bookstore and explore the fantasy section. Getting your hands on all the award winners is awesome, but don’t forget to check out some of the unfamiliar authors as well. Compare the standards and take note of mistakes you don’t want to repeat. The more books you read, the more your vocabulary will expand. You will come across different writing styles and develop favourites. You will learn how to structure your sentences, ace your grammar, and avoid common spelling mistakes.

2. Determine your sub-genre

Fantasy is an umbrella term. Simply naming “fantasy” as your preferred genre is not enough to communicate your literary strengths. For example, “steampunk fantasy” combines the Victorian era with high tech. It is up to you whether you compose your fiction around elves, robots, wizards, vampires, or some other mystical creatures. Fantasy can be based on an epic romance, thrill, horror, or adventure. You can associate it with the medieval times or bring it to a modern scenario.

Another important factor of writing is to determine your targeted audience. Whether you write for kids, young adults, or a more mature age group, it needs to show in your style.

Pinpointing your sub-genre from the beginning helps evade confusion during the writing process. Writers who do not understand their audience face fierce criticism from literary experts and general public.  

3. Build your world bit by bit

Imagining your fictional world and illustrating it through words is a beautiful experience. You may have thought of infinite elements that make up your virtual land, thus revealing them altogether can overburden the reader. A person is likely to feel bored or overwhelmed by prolonged descriptions that do not move the story forwards.

Disclose your fantasy world bit by bit to keep the reader interested. Leave a part of it to be unveiled in every chapter, where it forms a connection with the story or its characters. Allow readers to put the pieces together and discover a pleasant surprise.

4. Develop realistic characters

Character sketching is one of the most fundamental aspects of a novel. Human beings are not perfect, so the idea of a flawless protagonist is not desirable. People want to indulge in characters that sound and feel relatable.

The character development of a hero or a villain must establish positives and negatives. There must be an explanation for how the star character achieved his/her super powers and why the bad guy/girl chose the path of evil. Your supporting characters are equally important, so do not let them come across as vague or monotonous. Allow every character to shine in their moments; highlight the strengths and weaknesses.

5. Introduce laws and politics

A world that has no rules or boundaries is unworkable. You need to demonstrate a functional society to make it feel real. For instance, if your story centers on a community of vampires, you shall incorporate a whole system to support their existence among other beings.

Your story should remain true to the order you introduce into it; defying your own law leaves you with zero criminal defence. Let us assume that your story features a clan of witches who lose their powers if they fall in love with a mortal. Do not allow the protagonist to overthrow this imperative, or the plot will lose its integrity.

6. Avoid overstuffing in the initial chapters

Like any other novel, your fantasy book must be written in a natural flow. Do not mention all your characters and the entire setting in the first chapter. By doing so, you are asking the reader to memorize too many details in order to make sense of the story in following chapters. The reader chose your book to revel in a fantastical world, not to prepare for a quiz. If the reader yawns just after reading the first few pages, chances are that he/she may not even finish the first chapter.

7. Add mystery or build anticipation

Keep the readers guessing; none or too many hints in the initial chapters are equally disappointing. The reader must be able to connect some dots, but not all of them way before the climax. When the reader is perpetually unsure of what will happen next, he/she will struggle to put the book down. If the connection between two prominent characters is strong, twist and turn it before giving readers what they want.

8. Minimize clichés

Do not use props and stereotypes that have already been exhausted by fellow writers. Originality is compulsory to get noticed in the fantasy crowd. If your characters, dialogues, and descriptions sound too familiar, readers may perceive you as creator of fan fiction, rather than an individual author.

Playing with words may work in your favour. However, too much poetic stuff can be off-putting. Using colours, inanimate objects or the weather to describe a character’s feelings may cause resonance in certain situations; however, making it a norm may come across as plain ridiculous.

9. Do not exaggerate diversity

Modern novelists are very concerned about including diverse personas and controversial topics in their story. Emphasizing on people of color, same sex/biracial relationships, and unique cultures is a good thing, only when it is relevant to your story. If you choose a black heroine and a gay best friend as leading roles, ensure that it doesn’t seem forced.

10. Sidestep unnecessary romance

Every epic fantasy does not need a hero and heroine to fall in love, then live happily ever after at the end. It is absolutely fine if you prefer a solo adventure or want the leading characters to bond by friendship alone.

Everybody loves a good romance; however, you won’t be able to do it justice unless you are involved. Romance works when it is a primary aspect of the story; adding it as a tertiary component does not sit well.

11. Start small to establish your plot

It is commonplace of writers to overflow with contrasting ideas. It is nice to have more than one stories in your head, but it is important that you keep them separate. If you attempt to fuse different concepts into one, the confusion in your head will show on paper. You can start by writing short stories that surround your leading roles. These stories do not have to be part of your novel. This exercise will simply help you understand your characters better and shape your story accordingly.

12. Insert details to bring life to your story

Your readers must be given enough to visualize your protagonist or antagonist as a real person. The dressing style, food preferences, everyday hobbies, and spoken accent, are a few things that you can mention. For example, if you’ve read the Harry Potter series and someone asks you about the favorite beverage among wizards, you are likely to recall the iconic ‘pumpkin juice’.

13. Be creative with the names

The names of important places and characters are fundamental components of your story. Make an effort to come up with something extraordinary and memorable. Nonetheless, do not invent names that are too long or impossible to pronounce correctly. Names like Jon Snow, Winterfell, Draco Malfoy, and Hogsmeade are not complicated, but have a certain ring to them. Readers admire unique names and some go as far as naming their pets/children after famous fictional characters.

14. Exercise consistency

A confusing plot ruins the story. The setting and characters should complement each other. If your novel depicts a golden age, where people lived in castles, travelled on horses, and wrote letters, introducing an army of robots in the middle of it would be an outrage.

The combination of medieval and modern times would only work if you were writing an intricate fantasy that involves time travel. Adding different shades to your hero’s personality is fine. Nonetheless, avoid using character development as an excuse for hyperbolic transformation.

15. Proper use of existing myths

Several bestselling writers make use of existing myths to communicate their fantasies. Fairies, elves, vampires, werewolves, centaurs, and zombies are supernatural creatures we all love and admire.

While there is nothing wrong with utilizing ancient myths, you still need to bring something new and altered to grab the reader’s attention. Run wild with your imagination by deciphering new theories that support past representations of a paranormal species.

16. Don’t be too predictable

There is no denying that the majority of the fantasy literature fan base roots for a happy ending, though it does not necessarily have to be conventional. Instead of marrying off the princess to a handsome prince, make her the queen of the krakens or something.

Do not hesitate to consider an alternate sad ending as well. After all, the real world is imperfect and very few die with fulfilled dreams. The modern trend is to finish off on a cliffhanger, which is an interesting way of leaving the reader bothered for ages.

17. Add personality to the dialogues

The way you deliver character dialogues can make or break the spell of your fantasy novel. Dialogues are so important because they give voice to characters we adore and love to hate. As dialogues represent direct speech, they tend to harbour greater emotion and influence. Dialogues do not always have to follow the rules of prose, because spoken language is different from written language.

You are permitted to use slang, misspelled words, and strangely organized statements. The dialogues you write must compliment the character’s mood, accent, and cultural background.

Final words

There you have it, some top tips on how to write your first fantasy novel. No matter which of the above tips you want to employ, working on a consistent basis, manage your time well and never procrastinate (or at least try your best to minimize it) are the key to success. If you ever encounter a writer’s block while working on your first fantasy novel, be sure to check out this post to find 12 tips to overcome it!

What are some other tips you may have? Leave them in the comments below!