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How to Write a Fantasy Novel


Fantasy as a genre has boomed in the past decade, particularly with the popularity of the television show Game of Thrones, an adaptation of the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin, and recent film versions of fantasy classics such as Lord of the Rings. Fantasy writing, as fun as it is to read, can be a challenge to write. Knowing some tips for success can help you move your fantasy novel from your mind to the page.

Building a World

World building in a fantasy novel is important because the fantasy genre is focused on creating an unfamiliar world in which to immerse the reader. Your reader needs to believe completely in this new world and it needs to be fully formed, including details such as economy, government, social structures, family life and religion. Fantasy worlds can range from being just slightly different from the real world to being completely fresh. For example, think of the Harry Potter universe vs. the universe of the Song of Ice and Fire: One looks like the real world, with a few changes and secret differences, while the other includes elements of Viking, Germanic, Celtic and Middle Eastern cultures as inspiration. Have a thorough sense of your world before you begin plotting your novel.

Creating Magical Systems

Most fantasy stories include an element of magic or the supernatural. Since this element is central to the fantasy genre and your creating an exciting realm, it's important to explain how the magical system works in your world. For example, let your readers know how characters develop magical abilities in your novel and how the magic works, such as through reading spells, verbal spells or blood magic.

Incorporating Mythology

Mythology is important enough that it must be considered on its own, as many other elements, such as religion and magic, relate to it. Martin suggests that fantasy writers shouldn't be afraid to borrow from mythology of existing cultures to build their own new mythologies. For example, consider how J.R.R. Tolkien worked elements of Norse and Celtic mythology into his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Explain how the religion of your novel interacts with mythology and choose pieces of mythology you can work into the novel to create your own fresh take.

Graying Your Characters

Although world and plot take precedence in fantasy, it is always important to have compelling characters. Martin advises having more "gray" characters, those who are not simply "good" or "bad" but are complicated, with multiple motivations and possible ways to react in any situation. A prime example of this is the character Gollum in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. This character is often sinister, but also deeply flawed and has multiple motivations and moments of character development. Create characters that are beyond simply "heroes" and a "villains" and provide your reader with more shades of gray.

About the Author

Ann Trent has been publishing her writing since 2001. Her work has appeared in "Fence," the "Black Warrior Review" and the "Denver Quarterly." Trent received a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Ohio State University and has attended the Macdowell Colony. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in counseling.

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