Like all genres, fantasy has its challenges and its freedoms. While the imaginative possibilities are vast, the absence of 'reality' can make it more difficult to construct a believable plot. It is often the limitless possibilities connected to the fantasy genre that captivate writers, however. If you're looking to get started in this genre, then read on for some advice on how to unleash your imagination and conjure fantastical worlds.
“Write what will stop your breath if you don’t write.”
― Grace Paley
When it comes to writing fantasy, there are several subgenres to consider. It will help with marketing if you can slot your story into one or two of these categories. Examples include high fantasy (epic), low fantasy (set in the real world), magical realism, and dystopian fantasy, amongst others. Some websites suggest more than twenty fantasy subgenres, so it's worth reading about them all and learning what they entail.
“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
― Jack London
Identify your market
Are you writing for adults, young adults, or children? Is there a specific 'type' of reader within these broad categories that you are hoping to reach? As an author, you should always be aware of your market, known as your target audience. Without knowing where your book will be placed and who will read it, you may find it difficult to reach readers and meet their demands. Having said that, it's important not to become caught up in who will read your work, especially during the early stages of your writing. While a consciousness of your audience is useful, don’t let it define your story.
“An author must learn the principles of good storytelling
only in order to write better from the heart.”
― Uri Shulevitz
Find your USP
No book is complete without a USP (Unique Selling Point). There are thousands of fantasy novels already on the market, and thousands currently being written, so finding your unique edge is important. Your USP is personal to you. No idea is entirely new, but it’s up to you, the writer, to find a fresh perspective. Write about what you love and what you know, but don’t be afraid to push the boundaries.
“I believe that writing is derivative. I think good writing comes
from good reading.”
― Charles Kuralt
Read fantasy stories
All writers should be prolific readers. Reading can help writers to understand plot and perspective and what makes a novel successful (or not). It's worth paying particular attention to books within the genre you intend to write. If you want to write an epic fantasy, read books like The Lord of the Rings and A Game of Thrones. Reading quality novels to gain inspiration isn't a crime. It's a great way to become knowledgeable about what's already on the market and to learn how different writers apply their craft.
“The difference between real life and a story is that life has significance,
while a story must have meaning.”
― Vera Nazarian
Make your story believable
This doesn’t mean you should drown your story in facts or dull it down with lengthy explanations. Making your imagination realistic simply requires the ability to bring your story to life. Readers want to believe in the stories they are reading and find a sense of escapism. A poor plot, weak characters, and unimaginative settings will imply that you don’t have faith in your own creations. Write in a way that shows readers your world is real; convince them to believe in your story.
“Write what disturbs you, what you fear,
what you have not been willing to speak about.”
— Natalie Goldberg
Do your research
If you’re writing fantasy, it’s likely that you’ll draw upon your knowledge of the world to inform your ideas. Stories are often inspired by real places, people, and events, and the world around you is the best place in which to conduct research. Visit or read about places around the world, learn about real events (past and present), reflect on your own life experiences, and take notes about your dreams. Through observation, experience, and knowledge, you can create fantastical worlds that will feel believable and your story will leap from the page.
“The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams."
— George R. R. Martin
Know your world inside out
If someone were to ask you a character's middle name, would you know it? Would you be able to talk about their background, their hobbies, their behaviour? To build a believable setting and plot, you must know your fantasy world inside out. Learn everything there is to know: what it is called, where it exists, what it looks like, what makes it 'fantastical'. Even if you're not writing about another world, you still need to familiarise yourself with the key elements of your story, fantasy and otherwise.
If you write fantasy, or any type of fiction in fact, we'd love to know how you make your writing believable.