Writing a fantasy book can be a sunny vacation or a tooth ache. I’ve done what I can to make my practice as an artist as pleasurable as possible. Whoever said art gets better with suffering was not an artist. Art become better when you practice it and you are only going to want to practice art when you enjoy doing it. So, what can we do to make the adventure feel more sunny and less like a trip to the dentist? Here are five tips to help you write a fantasy novel. Everyone’s process is different, so I don’t want to prescribe this as the only method. Some authors start with scenery as inspiration, others use music, and still others their past experiences. No matter the process, these tips are fairly universal.
Tip 1: Know the tropes.
Writing an odd ball book may make your soul happy for a time, but if no one “gets” it… that’s soul crushing. The best middle ground is to make your art with a few key elements to help the typical reader. Not every trope needs to be jammed in, but having a few makes the story easier to read. Since these are fantasy stories, four common tropes include:
1.) A Chosen One – This can help introduce the reader to a much larger world. As the chosen one discovers the world, and why their unique, the reader discovers it as well. This lends itself to a natural worldbuilding. Unnatural world building is often done in info dumps where too much information is shared in a giant chunk. That becomes tedious for readers to work through and remember. The trick with a “chosen one” is to give them positive and negative attributes. If they only have positive attributes, they come off as fake and wish fulfillment.
2.) The Mentor – In this trope a wise person guides the events happening. This can be used to help set magical scales of size. For example, if a mentor easily deals with a giant problem, then the problem doesn’t look as huge. If the mentor turns around, then runs away screaming from a black eyed child… you know that child is a much bigger problem than it appears to be. However, one problem with the mentor role is that it can become an ‘instant solve’ button that water down the conflict. If a wise mentor has the perfect solution at the perfect time, then the danger must not have ever really been real. Many authors kill the mentor after they introduce the world to help prevent accidentally watering down conflict later on.
3.) Powerful artifacts from ancient eras – This is much like the mentor, where it can help set the scale of the world. However, this helps setup an ancient era that feels like an ongoing mystery. The moment you introduce an item of power, a lot of questions need to be solved. This can make writing answers to all these questions a burden. People will want to know why the artifact was lost, how it got so powerful, why couldn’t the artifact be used in this way or that way, could the artifact be mass produced, and more. While this can help a character dive into an ancient mystery, if the novel isn’t supposed to go that way, then it can really hinder things.
4.) Obvious good and bad – With a lot of fantasy, the bad guys are very easy to pick out. The same is true for the hero. The hero wants to save the world, the bag guy wants to rule/destroy the world. This simplistic narrative leaves no room on who the audience needs to cheer for. The problem is that people are never simple, which makes simple representations of them feel fake. An evil wizard clad in black who cackles as they torture a spirit… feels kinda boring. If the here and villain don’t feel realistic, then the audience will not connect with them as authentic people.
Tip 2: Prepare an outline and then listen to music.
I love the snowflake method of preparing to write. I don’t follow it closely, but the general theme is important. I have an idea of what I want to write. A small single thought that I want to develop into a book. I then choose the story arch and character arch’s that fit that tale. I then build settings that fit into the key scenes in that tale. Finally, I find several “cool nuggets” to help tell the story. These are little observations that when put into the writing help draw the reader in. All of this planning may be completely thrown out the window. However, it makes it easier to write a story when I know the basics of where it needs to go. If I want to write to the outline, I can. If the story feels like it is going in another direction, I am okay with that too. The outline is just there to help make it easier to write.
Once I am about to write, I find musical and vision inspiration. Items that help set the scene and make it feel authentic. The music helps me feel what the characters are feeling. The visual inspiration helps me write observations that are unique and interesting. Ultimately, the story needs to not only follow an outline, but have the right “tone” as well. That’s where choosing the right inspirations come from. Many times I include the inspiration sources next to the outline. That way, not only do I know what I want to write, but I know the tone I need to strive for.
Tip 3: Find a cheap, brutal editor to read and destroy.
Everyone thinks they can sing until they hear their voice being repeated back to them. The sound we make is very different coming out than when other people hear it. The same is true for all other forms of art. The person writing the story feels a certain connection and relevance to their story. However, an impartial editor does not have that same “tone deaf” ear. Getting one that is cheap, but brutally honest, is a great way to see what you were missing. I say that it’s good to get a cheaper one because they are used more often and hear a lot more “bad ones”. In addition, you can re-hire them to see if you got it correct a second time. However, while price is negotiable, brutal honesty is not. You need someone to really rip into your story. The more the story survives each time, the stronger it will become.
Tip 4: Half the story is told in the rewrites.
There are things that just don’t work. There are loose ends that you may not have even realized were dangling out there. There are descriptions which sound weird. There are characters who feel one dimensional. Many stories simply don’t have a strong narrative or theme until the rewrites. In fact, many stories don’t have their key moments fully realized until after the story is done. Once these scenes are complete and identified, then the author needs to find ways to pump them up. Much of a story is done fixing these key oddities. Don’t be afraid to throw away if things are not working or need to be fixed. It is much better to build a stronger story than to get a “darling” through, because often times “darlings” lose their appeal quickly. A cool concept is a lot less interesting after you’ve sat on it for a bit.
Tip 5: Cover, Blurb, and Purpose.
The best and worst part of writing is when your book comes alive. These are moments when other people take your work and infuse it with their own creative styles. You have to find a way to settle on an interesting cover that engages others. If only yourself understands all the cool Easter eggs in the cover, it is going to be hard to sell. The same is true for the blurb. The purpose of your book is to be read, and that starts with making materials that others want to engage with. In addition, you want to know why you are writing this book in the first place. If money is your motive, then you need to have an idea of how to market. If holding your book in your hands is the main objective, then you need to understand physical printing. If you want to see your book in your local library, you need to understand that technology. This is the ideal ending point of your story. Where is is read and by whom?
Hopefully these five tips have helped you build a wonderful fantasy story. There are many more ideas and tips that could be discussed, but hopefully this gives you a sense of how to make your author journey more pleasant. Best of luck on your future writing endeavors! Here is a video with even more tips to help you.