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Blog • Perfecting your Craft

Last updated on Jul 08, 2022

How to Write a Fantasy Novel: Tips From Professional Fantasy Editors

Has there ever been a better time to be writing fantasy? Where once it was a fringe genre, now fantasy is everywhere in pop culture, from Harry Potter to the memes surrounding Jon Snow.

There’s also never been a more exciting time to write fantasy. The genre is changing daily, as authors such as Neil Gaiman , Susanna Clarke, and Patrick Rothfuss continue to interpret, subvert, and stretch it to attain new pinnacles . What’s more, the public can't seem to get enough of it, proving that there is a market for fantasy — and it’s a big one.

So, if you’re an author, where can you find a place for yourself in today’s talent-rich terrain?



How to Write Fantasy Fiction

Learn to combine worldbuilding, plot, and character to create literary magic.

In our search for the finest writing tips in the realm , we spoke to seven of the top fantasy editors on our marketplace. They’ve worked with George R.R. Martin, James Dashner, Brandon Sanderson, and many more of the brilliant authors who are re-defining the genre. Here’s what they said.

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1. Start by researching the fantasy fiction market

If you don’t know your market, you’ve already made a mistake, says Erin Young , an agent for Dystel Goderich & Bourret, which represents authors such as James Dashner of Maze Runner fame.

“Oh, my market is fantasy,” you might say, waving your monthly subscription of Imagination And Me . But is your story steampunk , urban , or grimdark fantasy ? Is it for children or  young adults ? Are there elves or tech? Is it set in the modern world, or is it a re-imagining of an alternate past? Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell , for instance, doesn’t target Discworld ’s readers, and no-one would instinctively group Harry Potter and Stephen King's The Dark Tower in the same category.

Writing Fantasy Astra

Indeed, “fantasy” is such a broad genre that you’ll need to dig deeper to find your niche — but it’s important as your subgenre not only informs your characters and setting, it also allows you to identify your competition and audience. As Young says: “If your characters are younger, you should be writing YA or MG, not adult.”

To get a better picture of the various subgenres within fantasy, check out this guide  as well as this post on the evolution of fantasy since the 1900s.

2. Learn from the greatest fantasy novels

You should read good books, says Chersti Nieveen , a proofreader of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn , with an emphasis on  good . Your writing’s only going to be as great as what you’re feeding it. So read.

Castle Ruins, art by Jeff Brown

“You’re absorbing ideas. You're absorbing grammar. You're absorbing sentence structure and rhythm and prose,” she says. “Read books with description or dialogue you admire. Read the books that are classics—they are classics for a reason—and read the books that are bestsellers and read the books that are award winners. Read and read and read, and you'll start to see your own writing improve.”

To take specific action, Nieveen suggests picking the 10 books that you most admire. Then, it's just a matter of re-reading them and noting strengths in their plot, dialogue, characters, and scene structure. Learn from the best — and then go forth and tilt the arena again yourself.

3. Define the setting of your novel

Sometimes writers get so caught up in their world that they write block paragraph after block paragraph (after block paragraph) of description. This is a mistake. “Don't tell your reader what your world appears to be,” says Young. “Give them scenery when it relates to the story by getting your characters to interact with their surroundings.”

Writing Fantasy Narwhal

Did we ever get an ultra-wide shot showing the whole of Middle Earth in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy? Absolutely not! That would be boring to the viewers, not to mention meaningless. Young observes: “Instead, cinematographers carefully plan each shot to give you a view of where the actors are. This is exactly the way you should show your world.”

Worldbuilding can be a daunting task. There's a lot to consider, from geography, to ecology, to economy — and that's before you get into any magic systems or fantastical elements! Luckily, we've built a worldbuilding roadmap to help navigate this all: our ultimate worldbuilding template.



The Ultimate Worldbuilding Template

130 questions to help create a world readers want to visit again and again.

4. Develop your fantasy world through short stories

Did you know that JRR Tolkien wrote a gazillion short stories about Middle-Earth before ever starting The Hobbit ?

He needed somewhere to begin. That’s exactly what Jenny Bowman , an editor who worked on Robert Beatty’s Serafina and the Black Cloak , advises: a good way to build your world is to write short stories that feature some of your characters. “Do this with the intention of excluding [these stories] from your book,” she says. “This gives you freedom to create a new universe with no boundaries.”

So if you can’t churn out the full-blown novel inside of you just yet, don’t sweat it. Dip your toe into the water through short stories , instead.

5. Create rules for your universe

To make a world feel real and functional, you also want to make sure that it’s grounded by rules — an internal rationale , so to speak. This should encompass everything from the workings of your society to, yes, your magic system (if your universe possesses magic).

Easier said than done, maybe. How to actually go about it? Nieveen advises you to read up on the basic and fundamental fields. “Become familiar with the basics of economics, politics, philosophy, and more, and you’ll create a believable world of your own,” she says.

Writing Fantasy Kinsea Map

Don’t know where to start with your magic system? Check out Brandon Sanderson's useful theories about magic systems, referred to as  Sanderson's 3 Laws of Magic .

6. Obey your own worldbuilding laws

That said, these rules aren’t ones that are made just to be broken. “I often see first-time fantasy writers breaking their own rules, and it really takes the reader out of the story,” says Bowman.

Let’s say, for example, you’ve made it clear that using magic is supposed to sap energy. Well, then, don’t make your protagonist go rip magic spells left and right in the final battle without tiring at all.

Ultimately, this internal consistency matters much more than realism. To ensure this consistency, Bowman suggests that you always jot everything down. “When do the suns come up?” she asks. “Can only children under the age of 10 fly? When casting a spell, does it transform the object or create an object from nothing? Know the rules of your world (what we call physics!) when you're writing fantasy and don’t break them — unless, of course, it’s on purpose.”

Looking to read more fantasy before you write? Check out these 12 epic fantasy series , hot off the press.

7. Outline your story

Stories in the fantasy genre are often complex and epic — all the more reason to plot it out before. You don’t want to accidentally trip over all 99 of your storylines. And you don’t want to be that writer who gets to the end of the book and realizes they’ve forgotten to tie a knot in one part of the plot. Hello, darkness, my old friend.

That's why Young says to get a general sense of your plot before you start writing . “You’ll know your world so much better if you know your story first,” she says. “Then, once your story is plotted out, you can use the plot structure as a skeleton to show where you want to build your world, scene by scene.”

For more food for plotting thought, you can read up on narrative arcs here.

8. Craft a plot worthy of the world

Writing Fantasy Dwarves

Plot and worldbuilding should see eye-to-eye. “You want to be original, so ask yourself, what sets my world apart?” says Alex Foster , a ghostwriter who’s penned eight bestsellers. Importantly, a rich universe can be a major player in your plot — playing as big of a role as any other character.

“In A Song of Ice and Fire , George R. R. Martin uses the environment as a plot point when describing both summer and winter seasons — as winter brings dark, dead things that can wipe out the entire Realm,” says Foster. “He also adds architecture as a plot point in the form of the Wall, a massive ice edifice separating the North and the South. How fascinating that such a massive piece of plot centers around a single wall. Sounds simple, but you can see its complexity. Stephen King also does an expert job in Under the Dome , when a small town is suddenly cut off from the rest of the world by a giant, transparent dome.”

9. Perfect your character development 

Good character creation and development in fantasy is no different from fiction, or any other genre. Take a minute to think of your favorite characters of all time. Walter White. Jon Snow. Hermione Granger. Rowan Atkinson in  Love Actually . What do they all share?

“The best characters are complex and original,” says Foster. “They possess very real motives and weaknesses, and they change over time due to events and supporting characters in the story. Take your character and interview them. What do they fear most? What are their ultimate goals, and where are they willing to go to achieve that goal? Do this with all your characters when you're writing fantasy: craft a questionnaire and get your answers from them. Your publisher will thank you.”


How to Develop Characters

In 10 days, learn to develop complex characters readers will love.

Looking for the definitive character questionnaire? We got you covered. Here are 8 Character Development Exercises That Will Help You Nail Your Character .

10. Use real-world themes in the fantasy genre 

“Your concerns about politics, culture, the environment, technology, violence, racism, misogyny — these issues can be explored in inventive, eye-opening ways while writing fantasy,” says Rebecca Faith Heyman , an editor who worked on Elise Kova’s The Alchemists of Loom . “In this way, we want to return to our own existences with new perspectives, new solutions to old problems, or new awareness of what's at stake.”

Another way to put it: is anything, in particular, frustrating you in real life? You can explore it through your story, because the world’s your own. And, who knows, you might be speaking for other people out there in the world who read your book and share your perspectives.

Writing Fantasy The Hadler Wars

“ Carry On by Rainbow Rowell does this brilliantly,” adds Heyman. “There are undercurrents of identity politics explored there, as well as a depth of characterization that merges meaningfully with the fantastical elements of the text. The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, as well as the brilliant Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom , explore racial prejudice, ableism, identity politics, and more.”

Pro tip: Ever wanted to find out which book genre  you  are? Take our 1-minute quiz below to see!

Which book genre are you?

Find out here! Takes one minute.

11. Be specific about the elements of your writing

“What makes worldbuilding tick? Specific, sensory detail,” says Michelle Hope , who’s previously worked with George R.R. Martin and Blake Crouch. “So my advice for fantasy authors is, simply: you can be as inventive and magical as you want in your work if the writing is detailed enough to seem authentic.”

Ice Fields, art by Jeff Brown

Take pop culture’s current fantasy darling, Game of Thrones . “Crisp air, hooves clattering on ironwood planks, a warm tongue, women’s perfume, summerwine, soft fur. The writing's full of these concrete details,” points out Hope. “So when the author expands the universe to include fantastical elements, we buy it. Dragons? Sure! Face-swapping assassins? Why not? Frozen zombies? Didn’t see that coming, but the author’s sensory style already established the world as believable, so we’re primed to accept anything thrown at us.”

That said, abstract clichés don’t count . No-one’s going to be impressed by your description of a man with piercing gray eyes that are the color of a storm.

Instead, use the senses to make the reader feel like they're there. “When a reader can viscerally inhabit your world, they won’t question it when you introduce the fantastical into your story,” says Hope. “They’ll take your word for it.”

12. But don’t overwhelm readers with details

Ever want a corkboard just to keep the characters in a fantasy book straight? The number of characters in many fantasy series are so infinite, it turns out to be a mad scramble to keep track of them all — especially when the reader’s still trying to differentiate between Boldon, the protagonist, and Bolgon, the shrewish elf from Book 2.

Writing Fantasy Characters

So don’t make it even tougher on the reader by dumping all your characters onto page two. It’s one of the most common mistakes that Nieveen sees.

“Fantasy writers try to introduce too many characters on one page, or there’s an info dump to reveal how the magic system works,” she says. “They make the reader sit and memorize their world or their characters before they actually introduce the story. But you end up dropping readers that way.”

Of course, fantasy readers do expect a certain amount of detail from the genre, so you'll still want to ensure you know your world and characters well! To help distinguish the useful information from the "fun but probably unnecessary", try filling out a character profile template to  really  dive deep. You can dump all your ideas there rather than in your first draft, so you can decide what's worth keeping, and what you can lose.


Reedsy’s Character Profile Template

A story is only as strong as its characters. Fill this out to develop yours.

13. Keep asking questions as the writer 

And guess what? Your #1 most powerful weapon when you’re worldbuilding isn’t a sword — nor is it a pen, or even Daenerys’ fabulous dragons .

The most powerful tool in your world building arsenal is, instead… the question. “Where do big cities pop up?” wrote Patrick Rothfuss, author of the Kingkiller Chronicles , once. “At a confluence of trade routes. That’s influenced by rivers. Where do rivers come from? There’s aquifers and stuff. I ask these questions. I go, ‘Why, why, why, why, why?’”

This will make sure that everything is rationally thought-out. “Fantasy works when you can read it like it is real, if that makes sense,” says Kendall Davis , an associate editor at Penguin Random House. “You want readers to read the story knowing there are stories and adventures and a world that exists far beyond the story they are currently invested in.”

What are your tips for writing fantasy? Leave them in the comments below. You can also check out our list of the 100 best fantasy series ever  for inspiration!

16 responses

T.L. Branson says:

01/09/2017 – 05:36

I'm doing #2 right now. I totally get it. Writing short stories has helped me tremendously in understanding some fuzzy characters who have been more in the background in my main novel. Writing their story out helps me mold them a little better and write a real person instead of just a cardboard cutout.

↪️ jennyb_writes replied:

05/09/2017 – 23:29

Awesome!! I have worked with authors who have taken this step and those who haven't - I can always tell the difference. Way to go!

Lady Adellandra Dratianos says:

03/09/2017 – 23:48

I started my series "Chronicles of the Dragon Nations" by introducing a lot of people at once in the very first drafts years ago. Now, I introduce wherever they show up, but once. If it's been twenty or so pages since the introduction, I summarize who they were, either by dialogue between two characters or by reiterating who they were. Another rule from above that I use is the "Don't break your own rules." i.e. In my books, those in the Mortal Realm cannot shift or fly, due to gravity and the laws of nature. I had to remind myself this when I had three characters from another land, shapeshifters from the Dragon Nations are able to shift. Once reading it over for edits, I remembered my Mortal Realm rule and changed it. Lady Adellandra www.amazon.com/author/ladyadellandra

05/09/2017 – 23:32

Don't break your own rules is a tricky one...way to go catching your mistake in rewrites! Sometimes those laws of nature are so subtle and it always pays to pay attention in rewrites and edits. Happy writing!

Omnipleuvre says:

16/01/2018 – 20:53

One thing I've seen a lot, even in published books, is the description featuring waaaaay too many names at once. I should be able to grasp the premise of your story without needing to know that Adriana, heir to the Kingdom of Tallyrand is about to cross the Wall of Gishegrunurman to search for the amulet of Kinscaer. Too many names all at once is almost as bad as an infodump I feel.

Jenna Hunter says:

27/03/2018 – 20:53

It was interesting to read that the environment can be a plot point in a fantasy book. I think that making a lot of detail in a book is really important. I love reading books that create an entire universe, especially full of dragons, dwarves and all kinds of mythical creatures. http://crimsonthedragon.com/

Rishabh Chaturvedi says:

31/05/2018 – 18:49

How do I make my world different from the ones that influenced me to write a fantasy novel??

Janice Swanson says:

28/11/2018 – 12:59

What a wonderful article! Once I dream about how to create its fantasy the world, write a large number of books about this world, and I hope that once on my books based the film. All of the above items are really important to know the novice writer. Point # 13 is especially important for me, because the idea to write a book came to me after I was inspired by the works of Tolkien and George Orwell. These writers have their own inimitable style, and each of their stories makes me think about a lot. I would really like to write a novel, and to get it in a new genre, it will be something between fantasy and anti-utopia novel. Thank you for sharing such interesting and useful articles.

25/02/2019 – 11:17

A very interesting article, I learned a lot of new things for myself, which I hadn’t thought about before, but unfortunately not all the tips are applicable at the moment to modern works. The market is overcrowded with a variety of short-growing love stories, psychology and other tinsel. Now there is not enough quality fiction, but what appears is read immediately and very quickly. I strongly advise you to read a series of books about the Witcher, insanely interesting books, I just could not tear myself away for several months. If you want to know more about fiction, then examine this link.

Someguy says:

31/05/2019 – 13:35

"...and no-one would instinctively group Harry Potter and Stephen King's The Dark Tower in the same category." FYI. A relic from Harry Potter's world actually appears in the Dark Tower. While not in the same category, it easily can convince a reader of Harry Potter to read The Dark Tower or vice versa. It's a bit of a unique relationship.

↪️ Nick replied:

17/06/2019 – 12:00

Also, bogarts are based on It/The Spider/whatever species it is. And while she(Pennywise is just one form and a female spider is its true form) only kind of appears in TDT, there's a character in the series that's the same species I do believe

17/06/2019 – 12:02

I absolutely hate short stories. I can't write that little!

Elijah says:

25/06/2019 – 21:24

I’ve been working on a 5 book story for about 15 years now. I took several writing classes and have become so self critical of my writing that it has been hard to progress. I also lost a lot of my original papers due to mice (I found it easier to write by hand). These tips definitely make me feel like I’m on the right path lately.

Joseph Smith says:

07/11/2019 – 07:30

I'm currently on the third chapter of a book that I hopefully will actually complete, and so far I have stuck to most of these rules (high fantasy, sword and sorcery/heroic fantasy with a touch of dark fantasy), with the only two I haven't done as of yet is re reading lotr and creating a character interview (I have made a DnD character sheet of him if that counts). The kind of story I'm going with (not going to go too far into it) is a paladin raised from the dead only to have magic that he doesn't understand return some form of life to him finds a new purpose in hunting down undead and returning them to the afterlife. Any advice I can get?

William Anthony Pitzer says:

07/11/2019 – 22:01

The issue I have with number 2 is that I generally hate short stories, so obviously I'll find it difficult to write them. If a story is too short, then it's impossible to flesh out characters and a world tremendously, which is the whole reason that I read fantasy to begin with.

Matthew R Bishop says:

14/02/2020 – 18:39

Thank you! Rewriting like eight books because of this article, ugh. But thank you ;)

Comments are currently closed.

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The Ultimate Guide To Writing A Fantasy Novel

You just finished reading a fantasy series that has left you reeling.

You’re satisfied with the way things turned out, but the thought of saying goodbye to those characters just hurts.

You want to keep the magic going.

So now you’re looking for the best guide on how to write a fantasy novel — because you want to be the kind of writer who can work that kind of magic.

Who knew fantasy fiction could be so transformative?

Fantasy Writing Tips

Fantasy plots, how to write a fantasy novel outline, how to start a fantasy story, 1. develop your characters., 2. develop your (story’s) world., 3. develop your backstory., 4. craft an interesting and believable plot for your characters., 5. decide how your story will begin., 6. write the first chapter., 7. decide on your story’s climactic event., 8. keep writing chapters until you reach the end., 9. print out your first draft and take a break., 10. self-edit., 11. revise your self-edited draft., 12. edit your draft., 13. revise your professionally-edited draft., 14. get your novel ready for publication., writing fantasy.

Writing a fantasy novel presents some unique challenges to the storyteller. For one, you’re expected to know about the magical elements you use in your story.

fantasy writing rules

For example, if your story involves werewolves or vampires, you’ll need to research all the folklore related to both in order to portray them in a way that will build trust with your reader.

Making things up as you go when there’s already known folklore or mythology in place will irritate knowledgeable readers and likely earn you some scathing reviews.

Second, fantasy fiction usually involves an imaginary world created by the author.

Research is important here, too, since some magical creatures are associated with particular environments.

And just because it’s a made-up world doesn’t mean you have to defy every expectation.

The sky doesn’t have to be a different color unless that detail adds an essential something to your story.

But you should know this world as well as the one you live in (when you’re not writing).

Also, some — if not all — your fantasy characters will be magical or mythical beings, humanoid or otherwise.

And the more you know the mythology surrounding them, the more convincing your character building will be to your readers.

As with your setting, you should know these characters as well as you know the people in your closest circle — recognizing all the while, of course, that they can still surprise you.

If you want to know how to write a good fantasy story, learn from those who’ve written before you.

Many of them are only too happy to help fellow writers with their story crafting.

For all they know, you could be the next Rick Riordan or J.K. Rowling.

So, helping you write better stories is in everyone’s best interests. To that end, consider the following tips for writing a fantasy novel:

  • Become a voracious reader of fantasy novels — especially the kind you want to write.
  • Research the folklore and mythology related to any magical elements you want in your story.
  • Research potential markets and marketing strategies for your book based on genres that are currently selling well.
  • Choose the perspective and point of view for your story’s narrator.
  • Get into your fantasy characters’ heads.
  • Sketch out a timeline for your story’s events and key moments.
  • Get acquainted with every detail of the made-up world where your story happens.

As one of the ten key parts of your story , your plot is what gives your story its overall shape and direction.

To more clearly see how it does this, we can follow Gustav Freytag’s lead and break down your plot into the following five elements:

With fantasy plots, these elements often tie into the stages of the hero’s journey — a universal story structure based on Joseph Campbell’s monomyth.

It’s because the hero archetype resonates within the psyche of every individual that the most memorable and endearing stories follow this structure.

Check out this Authority Pub post for more information on the ten key parts of writing your story.

And read on to learn how to write one of your own.

How to Write A Fantasy Novel

The writer’s journey in writing a book is similar to the hero’s journey just mentioned.

fantasy writing rules

Like the hero in your story, you’re going on a journey of your own — though at first there’s some reticence to go any deeper than your comfort level will allow.

At some point, though, like Bilbo as he listened to the dwarves’ song about the Lonely Mountains, you feel pulled out of your cozy bubble into a new and sometimes terrifying world.

And, like Bilbo, you find you have more courage in you than you thought you had.

Good thing, too. Writing an unforgettable story takes courage. No one breaks new ground when they don’t venture beyond what they know.

Outlining your fantasy novel will be similar to any outline you’ve created in the past — for other books or your English Lit class.

The key difference here is thinking ahead to determine whether or not your fantasy book will be a standalone or part of a trilogy or tetralogy.

If your book is standalone, you will need to compress the introduction of your characters and the fantasy world you create to fit into one book. So consider this when developing your outline.

For a series, you’ll have more time to unravel your characters and develop the magical world in which they reside.

You don’t have to outline all of your books initially, but if you choose a series, just be sure you leave enough action and character development for future books.

Try to think ahead about plot progression and the struggles your characters will face throughout the series.

Either way, your first book is the key to hooking readers into loving your characters and story and wanting more.

In your outline, be sure you include a cliffhanger at the end to ensure your readers can’t wait to buy the next book.

Getting started looks different for everyone. If you’re a plotter, you know that an outline helps you sort out your ideas so you can tackle the actual writing with a clearer head — one idea at a time.

See this Authority Pub post for more information on getting started with your novel.

If you’re a pantser, you might think outlines are “too stodgy” or that you won’t follow it anyway.

But even writing a bulleted list of the main things you want to happen in your story can help you write with a better sense of direction.

The following tips and questions can help you create an outline that comes to life even before you start writing your story:

  • Interview your fantasy characters. Get to know them at their deepest level so you can speak and act as they would.
  • Get clear on your character’s arcs. How will the events in this story change them?
  • Give old tropes a dash of something new . Think of how J.K. Rowling reinvented the witch’s broomstick.
  • Get clear on your story’s main events and defining moments.
  • Write a draft of the final chapter — detailing the outcome for each character.

Think of this step as simply jotting down the main elements of the plot or character that made you want to write this story in the first place.

You can also start with an elevator pitch. Tell me what will happen in your story in 30 seconds or less.

See if it makes sense to you when you articulate it out loud.

Then, nail down those critical details and leave the rest to your imagination.

How to Write A Fantasy Novel Step by Step

Once you’ve created your outline, follow these steps to write a fantasy novel your readers will tell all their friends about:

Interview them. Do some voice-journaling for them. Create character profiles.

Do whatever helps you get into their heads and make them real people to you.

The more they come to life for you, the more they’ll do the same for your reader.

The more real this world seems to you, the more easily your readers will step into and lose themselves in it.

Make it a place they won’t want to leave. And make every detail matter.

What made your characters and your world as they are now? What details from the past are essential to the story you’re telling.

Get clear on what happened in the past that created the reality of your story’s present.

Give them a problem and show how they recognize and deal with it. Show how it changes them. Show us what they want most and how far they’ll go to get it.

Show what’s at stake – what they could gain and what they have to lose.

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What inciting event will challenge your main character? What will your main character reveal in the first minute?

fantasy writing rules

What will pull your reader right into the heart of your story and make them want to stick around?

You have to start somewhere. Sometimes, the only way to get started on your story is to just start writing and see what comes out?

Maybe that’ll be your first chapter. Or maybe it’ll be your prologue (we don’t hate those, but they do have to earn their place).

If you don’t have a clear idea of your book’s climax, at least work on a vague idea until it becomes clearer or moves aside for something better.

You can either write these as a pantser or start with a bullet-point list of the main things that should happen.

I mean it. Take a break from your book baby. I know it’s hard, but you need this. And you’ve earned it.

Go through it with a red pen and make corrections, write down comments and ideas, and generally bleed all over it.

Sometimes, it hurts. Sometimes, it’s so much fun, you’ll forget to eat. Bring snacks.

Make the necessary changes to your story and rewrite what needs to be rewritten. Then take a shorter break and go over it again.

At this point, it’s best (for your story and your readers) to find a professional editor — preferably one with experience editing fantasy fiction.

See if you can find one recommended by fellow fantasy authors.

Make the changes you and your editor agree upon. Once your story is at its best yet, find some beta readers — ideally those that enjoy reading fantasy fiction.

If they’re also authors, you can return the favor by beta-reading their books.

Hire a professional formatter for your novel’s interior and a cover designer for its exterior.

Make your novel as irresistible to the eye as your story will be to your reader’s imagination.

Ready to write your fantasy story?

Now that you know how to write a fantasy novel, does a particular work in progress come to mind? And is this a new idea — or one you’ve set aside for a while?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how long the idea has been percolating in your head.

The real magic happens when you get down to the business of writing your story.

That’s when your brain gets the message, “We’re doing this.” When you keep showing up, the muse knows where to find you.

The key is to open the faucet before you expect the water to flow. Let the air out. And by that, I mean just let your ideas flow out as they are before you expect to make sense of them.

Before long, you’ll be sorting out that beautiful mess and creating a fantasy story your readers will never forget.

When you write a fantasy novel, you should present some unique challenges to the storyteller. For one, you're expected to know about the magical elements you use in your story.

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  • Story Writing Guides

How to Write a Fantasy Novel in 12 Steps

Escape the chains of the real world, and jump straight into fantasy story-telling. Fantasy novels push the limits of your imagination – Taking on new worlds, creatures and magic. In this guide, we’ll show you how to write a fantasy novel in 12 steps.

As a writer, the fantasy genre can be very exciting. It presents writers with the opportunity to create their own rules, explore new worlds, and discover magic of all sorts – The only limit is your own imagination! However, the job of a fantasy writer is not always an easy one. In fact, fantasy novels can be more difficult to write than non-fantasy or factual based books. The simple reason is that fantasy stories require more planning and research to make them ‘believable’ to readers. We put the word, believable in quotes because most readers know that magical elements like dragons don’t exist in the real world. But your task as a fantasy writer is to make them believe in magic and things beyond logic.

You might also find this guide on how to write a story for children useful.

What is the Fantasy Genre?

1. read the work of others, 2. know your readers, 3. stick to your idea, 4. create a descriptive world, 5. beware of too much description, 6. write down the rules, 7. do your research, 8. add real-world elements, 9. create relatable characters, 10. do the unexpected, 1. think of a unique idea, 2. outline your idea, 3. develop your characters, 4. develop your world, 5. write the starting paragraph, 6. write the first chapter, 7. develop the climax, 8. write the remaining chapters, 9. write the ending, 10. self-edit your novel, 11. title your fantasy novel, 12. publish your novel, how do you start a fantasy novel, what are the steps to writing a fantasy novel, what makes a great fantasy novel, what should you not do in a fantasy novel, how do you write the first chapter of a fantasy novel.

The fantasy genre contains an element of magic or make-believe. Think of witches, wizards, magical wardrobes, dragons and faraway kingdoms. Fantasy novels contain elements of fiction, as opposed to factual elements. The most popular fantasy series of all time is Harry Potter. Other examples include Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Mortal Instruments. The fantasy genre can be split into many sub-genres including:

  • Epic Fantasy: This genre is set in a fictional world. Here the characters and even the plot would include high elements of magic or fantasy. 
  • Urban Fantasy: The novel is set in an urban setting and normally in the present day.
  • YA Fantasy: These are fantasy novels targeting readers between the ages of 12 to 18.
  • Fantasy Romance: This is a romantic story between characters which combines elements of magic or fantasy.
  • Historial Fantasy: The novel here is set in past historical periods, such as the pre-19th century. 
  • Dark Fantasy: This is a type of fantasy that combines horror and frightening themes, along with magical elements.
  • Sci-Fi Fantasy: This is a combination of science-fiction or reasonable logic, along with fantasy or make-believe elements.
  • Low Fantasy: These stories are set in the real world, but with a small magical twist.

10 Tips For Writing A Fantasy Novel

Before you jump straight into planning your fantasy novel, here are 10 tips for writing a fantasy novel:

Before you delve into the world of fantasy writing, take time to read popular fantasy books and stories. Don’t just read them, understand them. Think about all the story elements that make them great and the elements that are not-so-great. Better yet, write down your own book review for each fantasy novel you read. Make notes of things you find interesting. You could even use sticky notes to bookmark pages that you would like to revisit later on. During your book review, pay attention to how the author introduces characters, describes the world and how the major conflict is dealt with. 

Our advice is to read as many fantasy novels as you can before writing your own. Not only does this help you with coming up with a great story idea, but it can also help you become a great writer too.

Who are you writing for? It is extremely important to know who your audience is. Knowing your target audience guides your writing style, idea generation, language choice and even choice of characters and setting. Think about the age of your target audience – Are they children,  young adults or grown-ups? A younger audience may relate to a simpler story idea and main characters who are also young. While a grown-up audience would expect plot twists, big build-ups to the conflict and an older main character to relate to.

Another aspect of knowing your readers is thinking about the sub-genre of fantasy you want to write about. Which sub-genre would be most popular with your target audience? At this point, you will need to think about the interests of your potential readers. If you readers love scary stuff, then dark fantasy is a good sub-genre to take on. While a romantic fantasy tale would go well with teens or grown-ups interested in love and romance. 

Imaginations can run wild, especially when thinking about fantasy worlds. Make sure you stick to your original story idea throughout the novel. It is easy to get side-tracked by secondary characters or minor conflicts you develop. But your focus should always be on the main character and their role in the story. While secondary characters can have their own problems, their main role should always relate back to your original plot idea. 

Know your fantasy world inside and out. Whether your entire world is make-believe or you just added elements of magic on Earth – A detailed description of the world is required. If your story is set on present-day Earth, then think about how magic has changed the world (see our guide on how to write a magic system ). And if the story is in a fictional world, then describe this world in detail from its climate to its currency, language and even way of life. You might not need to include all this information directly in the story, but it will definitely help you create a believable world during the planning phase.

An extra tip is to use the five senses technique to describe this world (see, hear, feel, taste and smell). This will help you go beyond the physical appearance of the world into a deeper, more meaningful world description. Check out this list of 112+ world-building questions to help you create a realistic fantasy world.

It’s perfectly fine to create detailed descriptions of the setting and characters in the planning phase. However, when it comes to the actual fantasy novel, try to avoid cramming too much description into one page or a section of the story. This could be off-putting to readers and even boring to read. Instead, try to provide subtle hints of the world the characters live in and leave the rest up to the imagination of your readers. 

Fantasy worlds normally run by their own rules. Whether this is a faraway kingdom with rules created by a vile king or a new set of rules for particular people on Earth. Common rules may relate to the use of magic, money or currency and even how people live their lives. Rules can also be the source of conflict in many fantasy stories. As a writer, it is important to write down the rules of your fantasy world and stick to these throughout the story.

Just because you’re making stuff up, doesn’t mean no research is required. If you want to create a believable fantasy tale, you’ll need to do your research on how things work in your fantasy world. Common mistakes fantasy writers make are mixing up titles and classes in characters. For example, a necromancer mage is very different from a mage who specialises in illusions. You might not think this is important, but fans of the fantasy genre will know the difference. And so creating a fantasy novel with incorrect details can be extremely detrimental to its success. 

Another example is explaining the logic behind magical powers and abilities. Of course, you can’t know for sure how magical powers work. But you should at least create a near-realistic back story to these. For example in an underwater kingdom, how do the humans that live here survive? Doing your research, you might think the humans are actually merpeople with fins and gills that help them breathe underwater. Alternatively, a magical source or outer-world technology helps them survive there.

No fantasy novel is 100% fantasy. There are always elements of realism or facts that people in the real world can relate to. The level of realism can vary greatly in fantasy stories. In epic fantasy stories, real-world elements are subtle. While in low fantasy stories real-world elements are at the centre of the plot and are more obvious. The common types of real-world elements in fantasy novels include character personality traits, technology use, and even real-world problems. Just imagine a wizard with social anxiety issues or a plumber who discovers a magical toolbox.

No one’s perfect and neither should your characters be. When developing characters the most important thing to consider is their flaws. What mistakes have they made? What do they fear? And what are their weak points? Knowing the answers to these questions is what makes your characters believable and relatable. At this point, it is a good idea to think about real-world problems that your readers might face. For example, depression, social anxiety, eating disorders, and poverty are all examples of problems in the real world.  These problems could be the main source of conflict in your fantasy novel, along with a magical twist. 

The fantasy genre is great for including unexpected plot twists. Think outside the box and try doing the opposite of what your readers might expect. Don’t be scared of introducing new characters mid-way through your story or even at the end. Think about the magical elements, how far can you push these? What is the full capability of your main character? By throwing in unexpected plot twists and elements, you can keep your novel interesting and even make room for more novels in your fantasy series. 

How to Write a Fantasy Novel Step-By-Step

Learn how to write a great fantasy novel in just 12 easy steps:

Behind every great fantasy novel is a spectacular idea. The idea doesn’t need to be anything 100% new or original. You could simply take a basic idea from your favourite book or movie, and add your own elements to it making it unique. But be careful not to copy or plagiarise another author’s work!

Here are some examples of fantasy story ideas you could use or adapt:

  • A boy discovers he is related to the dark lord of the underworld.
  • An antique collector comes across a magical mirror from another world.
  • A dark elf falls in love with a fairy against all the odds.

You can also view our post on 70+ fantasy writing prompts for more ideas.

As you can see most story ideas, include a character and a problem or goal that they want to achieve. Try using the simple jigsaw method for idea generation which involves, the who, want and why not.

story jigsaw example

Each piece of the puzzle is explained below:

  • Who:  Who is your character?
  • Want:  What does your character want?
  • Why not:  Why can’t your character get what they want?

Once you have your idea written down the next step is to outline this book idea . The purpose of this step is to expand your idea into a couple of paragraphs. These paragraphs should be divided into the beginning, middle and ending of your story. You can also include notes on your novel’s major conflict, along with any plot twists you plan on including.

There are many techniques you can use for outlining stories, such as:

  • Snowflake Method
  • Story Mountain Templates
  • Scene Lists
  • Storyboarding

Ideally, by the end of this step, you should have a chapter-by-chapter outline or plan for your novel or chapter book .

Characters are an important element in all stories. For this reason, you should focus on your characters separately. Developing your character involves two key steps. First, you should list out the main characters in your story, along with their role in the story. Next, you should create a detailed character profile for each one.

A detailed character profile includes information about name, age, occupation, values, goals, fears, wants and so on. The purpose of a character profile is to make sure your character is consistent with their beliefs throughout the story. Of course, the hero of your character will change and develop as the story progresses, but their core beliefs should remain the same. See our guide on the hero’s journey for more information.

fantasy character illustration

You might be interested in this fantasy name generator for some character ideas.

World-building is an important activity for fantasy writers, especially those writing about a fictional world. When developing a world, you should think about the following elements:

  • Climate (see fantasy weather generator )
  • Native Language
  • Rules / Laws
  • Important buildings
  • Tourist Attractions

These elements will help bring your fictional world to life, and make it more believable when you write about it in your novel. It is a good idea to keep a detailed world description sheet or document that you can refer to when writing your novel – This can help you stay consistent throughout the story.

fantasy world illustration

Take a look at this fantasy world name generator for some inspirational world name ideas.

Think about how you will start your fantasy novel. More specifically focus on the opening line or starting paragraph. Do you start with a question or an interesting fact about the fantasy world? Will you start with a conflict or action scene? If you plan on starting with a conflict, make sure this is a minor conflict, so the readers can look forward to a bigger conflict later on in the story. A good starting paragraph is a difference between hooking your readers and putting them off, so make sure it’s a good one.

The first chapter of a fantasy novel normally introduces the main character, provides a description of the setting and provides a hint towards the possible main conflict. With this in mind make sure your first chapter is clear and concise. Do not ramble on too much about the exact details of the setting, or the main character’s every single flaw, weakness and goal. Be careful about the information you give your readers. You want to give them a hint to keep them hooked and keep the best secrets until the near end of the novel.

The climax is the point when the main conflict occurs. This is likely past the middle point of your novel and perhaps towards the end. You might be wondering why did we jump from the first chapter all the way to the climax? Simply because the first few chapters can be cumbersome or tiring for writers. To keep things interesting and to give yourself a goal, we suggest developing the conflict scene or chapter towards the beginning of your novel writing journey. Don’t worry you don’t need to have a set-in-stone chapter written, just an outline of the climax or main conflict in your story will do.

It’s time to fill in some blanks. You got your first chapter written, and you got a detailed outline of your climax chapter. Now go back and work on the remaining chapters. If you’re struggling with your chapters, then try outlining or planning each one before you actually write it. An outline is a great way to keep you on track, and can even act as a motivation tool to complete each chapter.

You made it! Your fantasy novel is almost complete, you just need a great ending to satisfy your readers. Most fantasy novels come in trilogies or in a series. If you plan on writing more parts to your novel in the future, then the best ending is a cliffhanger or an open ending. A cliffhanger ending leaves a certain conflict still in the mist, as the main conflict is resolved. Resolution is important in all novels. If nothing is resolved, then the whole novel could be a waste of time for you and your readers.

A resolution could come in many forms, such as a solution or part-solution to the main conflict or the main character learning something important at the end.  Think about how your fantasy novel will end. Will it be a happy, sad or cliffhanger ending?

Your novel is complete! Celebrate and rejoice, you just completed the hardest thing for any author. Now go back and read through each chapter of your fantasy novel. Be a critic in your own mind. Question your own word choices, dialogue and descriptions. How could you make this paragroup sound more interesting? How could you explain this concept better? Could you add more plot twists?

Don’t be afraid of sharing your draft work with friends, family, teachers or colleagues for their feedback. You could even create a questionnaire to help get valuable feedback from others on your draft novel. An extra tip, we recommend when self-editing is to take a break from your novel. Come back to it in a month with a fresh pair of eyes, so you can be a fair critic of yourself.

The title of your fantasy novel may be the single most important thing you do. After all, before a reader even reads your book, the title, along with the book cover is the first thing that will entice them. Make sure your book title is short, descriptive and relates to your core story idea. Avoid using fancy words, just because they sound cool. Instead, keep it true to the meaning of your novel. Just take a look at this example: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – It summarises the whole book in just 7 words!

You can use our fantasy book title generator for some ideas on how to title your novel.

Now you have a beautifully complete fantasy novel. It’s time to publish it. At this point, you have many options. You can publish your book online using a tool like Imagine Forest – Which is great for kids and young writers. From there you can share it with friends and family and build your fanbase online. Alternatively, you can self-publish your novel professionally on Amazon or take the traditional route by working with professional book publishers.

That’s it! 12 steps later and your fantasy novel is complete!

Common Questions About Fantasy Novels Writing

There are a number of ways to start your fantasy novel, including the following:

  • A detailed description of the world.
  • An interesting fact about culture.
  • A question to the audience.
  • Minor conflict or action scene.
  • Secondary character dialogue.
  • A dream sequence.
  • A past memory.
  • The death of a character

Try to come up with a unique and powerful way to start your novel. Remember the goal is to hook your readers so they keep on reading until the very end.

There are 12 steps for writing a fantasy novel:

  • Think of an idea
  • Outline your idea
  • Develop your characters
  • Develop your world
  • Write the starting paragraph
  • Write the first chapter
  • Develop the climax
  • Write the remaining chapters
  • Write the ending
  • Self-edit your novel
  • Title your novel
  • Publish your novel

The key to writing a great fantasy novel is creating believable and relatable characters. You can include all the magical elements you want, but your characters must be realistic. Realistic characters have flaws, weaknesses and dreams. Their problems are just like your problems in the real world. To help you create relatable characters think about your own fears, dreams and wants, and incorporate them into your main characters.

Here is a list of 10 mistakes that most fantasy writers make:

  • Writing down too much detail about the world.
  • Creating perfect characters with little or no flaws.
  • Including too many action scenes, with no purpose.
  • Creating stereotypical, flat characters.
  • Introducing too many characters at once.
  • Not doing your research.
  • Neglecting the opening line.
  • Including terrible dialogue.
  • Using technical terms without meaning
  • Creating an ending with no resolution.

Before you write the first chapter in your fantasy novel, plan the chapter. Note down what you plan on including, the overall purpose of the chapter, and the key scenes within the chapter. This outline will help guide you when it comes to writing the first chapter of your novel. Typically in fantasy novels, the first chapter includes an introduction to the main character, a setting description, and a small build-up to the main conflict.

How to Write a Fantasy Novel

Marty the wizard is the master of Imagine Forest. When he's not reading a ton of books or writing some of his own tales, he loves to be surrounded by the magical creatures that live in Imagine Forest. While living in his tree house he has devoted his time to helping children around the world with their writing skills and creativity.

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fantasy writing rules

Turn Fantasy Into Reality: How to Write a Fantasy Novel

fantasy writing rules

Between you and me, fantasy is the best genre out there. Others may argue that fact, but they’re wrong . You just can’t argue with facts, right?

Another inarguable fact is writing a fantasy book isn’t easy, especially if you’re just beginning your writing career.

The scope of fantasy books ranges from large to outright gargantuan. No matter how you slice it, the fantasy genre forces us writers to harness our imagination and create things that have never existed before, all while making them seem real.

It sounds like a daunting task, but it’s totally worth it. And if you aren’t sure where to start or just need some help bringing your fantasy story to life, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’re going to cover:

  • The basics of the fantasy genre, including subgenres
  • How you can learn from fantasy greats
  • Building fantasy worlds
  • Crafting compelling characters
  • Telling the perfect story

Then we’ll bring it all together to write your best fantasy story. Sound like a plan? Let’s get going.

What Makes Fantasy Fantasy?

Before we can dive too deep into all the elves, wizards, dragons, and everything in between, we need to know the genre we’re writing. Let’s break this down into a few easy-to-understand parts.

Defining the fantasy genre

Up first, let’s figure out what defines the fantasy genre. How about this:

A fantasy story is one that incorporates magical, supernatural, or mythological elements in ways that can not be explained with our current knowledge or with knowledge we might feasibly attain.

There are two parts to that definition. The first claims that your story involves some sort of magical, supernatural, or mythological element. This is likely a no-brainer for most people who have read or written fantasy. Magic or the fantastical are hallmarks of the genre.

The second part is important, too: those elements are unexplainable based on our current understanding of things or our plausible future understanding of things.

Adhering to both parts of this definition helps you steer clear of science fiction and stay in the awesome realm of fantasy.

This goes to Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” If your “magic” can be explained by science, then it isn’t really magic, right? Furthermore, if your non-human species could be explained via genetic manipulation that is only a century away, it’s not really supernatural.

fantasy writing rules

Fantasy subgenres

Though fantasy is part of the larger category of speculative fiction, it is a massive genre itself. Even within its own boundaries, there are subgenres that are largely different from one another. But understanding your subgenre is just as—if not more —important than understanding your larger genre. 

High or epic fantasy are usually interchangeable terms to describe your traditional fantasy stories that are huge in scope. These fantasy stories can have complete worlds, religions, history, languages, races, and political systems, and usually involve large quests, a varied cast of characters, and are long . The most well-known books in this genre are Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings series.

Low/urban fantasy are other interchangeable terms, with urban fantasy becoming the more common term in recent years. Stories in this subgenre take place in the real world—or something very similar to our real world—but with fantasy elements incorporated. Often, but not always, our protagonist discovers this magical aspect of their world through their journey.

Paranormal romance is a blend of low fantasy and romance. In most cases, the main romance arc of the story involves a human character and a supernatural character, with one or both coming to understand the other’s world. As with all romance, these stories need a happy ending.

Fantasy romance combines high fantasy and romance. Unlike paranormal romance, these stories exist in a world entirely of your own creation, borrowing the vast worldbuilding of epic fantasy. Remember, romance is a core subplot of this subgenre, but it is still (usually epic) fantasy first and foremost.

Young adult and juvenile fantasy are two different subgenres marked by their target audience. Young adult fantasy will usually feature teenage protagonists set in another fantasy subgenre, while juvenile fantasy will have children protagonists. Make sure your tone, theme, and pacing are all appropriate for the target audience.

Fairy tale retellings are new takes on classic fairy tales. What if Sleeping Beauty could dreamwalk? What if the dwarves were protecting the outside world from Snow White? Put your own twist on an otherwise familiar fairy tale.

Historical fantasy is a combination of historical fiction and fantasy, giving us an alternative form of real historical events… if there was magic, orcs, etc. In this subgenre, you must pay particular attention to details. Anyone who reads this subgenre is looking for accuracy (in the non-fantasy elements, of course).

Grimdark fantasy takes epic fantasy and does away with all those uptight heroes and knights. Instead, this subgenre uses anti-heroes and characters with questionable morals to contrast the usual tropes of fantasy stories.

Dark fantasy combines elements of horror with fantasy, bringing in horrifying creatures and a chilling atmosphere to unsettle the reader while providing that fantasy fix. It’s dark, gritty, and—in this author’s humble opinion—the best fantasy subgenre. Admittedly, I’m a tad biased (and I’ve been challenged to an arm wrestling competition by my coworker Nisha who claims the same about romance).

Learn from the Greats

I don’t know how many times my fellow writers and I have said this, but the best writers are avid readers. So, if you want to write awesome fantasy stories, you should be reading awesome fantasy stories.

Read a mix of authors who helped define the genre and those who continue to do so. Need a quick batch of suggestions? Here’s a list of awesome fantasy writers, old and new. It’s by no means complete, but any of these names are a great place to start.

  • J.R.R. Tolkein
  • V.E. Schwab
  • Brandon Sanderson
  • Leigh Bardugo
  • Patrick Rothfuss
  • Sarah J. Maas
  • Neil Gaiman
  • George R.R. Martin
  • Nalini Singh
  • Joe Abercrombie
  • Tomi Adeyemi
  • R.A. Salvatore
  • B.B. Alston
  • N.K. Jemison
  • Rebecca Roanhorse

You can also just check out the bestsellers in your subgenre and devour all the books there. 

Whoever you choose to read (and make sure you read a decent variety), take note of their word choice, how they write action scenes, their worldbuilding, how they handle magic, their character arcs, and what scenes work best for you.

As artists and creators, our work is a combination of everything we consume. So, if you’re going to fill your brain with a bunch of books, choose some of the best!

Know your market

No matter what subgenre you decide to write, it’s important to understand your market.

Some real talk: whether your goal is just to get people to read your book or write a bestselling fantasy novel, you need to understand your readers and your market.

Do some research. Figure out what works best in your subgenre. Understand why those best practices work. Analyze the bestseller lists, read reviews of those books, look at the way they’ve crafted the cover and the book blurb.

Knowing all of this can help you form an effective marketing plan for your book, but it can also help create the book that you and your readers want. There’s a reason certain things work in certain subgenres . 

Use that information to your advantage and write a killer book with it.

Invent an Immersive World

So you know what you’re going to write and you’ve been inspired by some of the greats. Now it’s time to start bringing your fantasy story to life.

Up first, we need to invent an immersive world.

No matter what subgenre you’re writing, the world you build is a defining feature of your fantasy book. If you don’t make it the best you can, then you’re starting with a weak foundation. A lot of fantasy readers are here for the world you create. It’s kind of a big deal.

fantasy writing rules

Because it’s such a big deal, we have an entire article dedicated to building a fictional world. Click here , read it, bookmark it for later. For the sake of this article, here are the things you need to know about crafting fantasy worlds.

Start with your story. Listen, we could spend days, weeks, even years creating the ultimate fantasy setting. You can cram literal eons of information into your worldbuilding folder until you have continents, cultures, and settings as intricate as our own. But remember that you’re writing a story. Your world should be built to serve your story.

Get physical. What does your world look like? I’m talking about the physical terrain, cities and towns, the climate and weather, plants and animals, maps and political boundaries, space and the world beyond that which your characters know. Make sense of how your world looks, feels, smells, sounds. Heck, even how it tastes while we’re at it.

Cultures make worlds real. Unless you just want a pretty backdrop to your story, you need to bring it to life with culture. This means thinking of things like notable historical events, socioeconomic conditions, the political landscape, past and current religions, languages and their uses, and traditions. It also includes things we might take for granted, like currency, entertainment, architecture, fashion, and cuisine.

Bring your magic to life. Whether you’re crafting a magic system or including supernatural creatures, figure out what makes your fantasy a fantasy. For those diving into magic, consider reading up on Brandon Sanderson’s Laws of Magic . Then figure out how these magical elements tie into the other aspects of your world.

How do your characters live? Your plot is driven by your cast of characters, so take some time to figure out how they fit into this fantastical world you’ve made. Where do they fall on the social ladder? What happens when they go against norms? What cataclysmic events are coming and what role do your characters play?

It can’t be understated how important your worldbuilding is  for your fantasy story. It’s what defines the genre. It’s the basis for your entire series or book. So make sure you play god and make an incredible world. 

Create Compelling Characters

Next, you need characters that exist in your freshly crafted world. Characters will help push your story forward and make the reader care about what’s going on in that world you worked so hard to develop.

To create compelling characters, think about some of the following.

Understand what makes a good character. While reading all those books by all those incredible fantasy authors, take notes on what makes characters stick with you, for both good and bad reasons. Understand character archetypes —which feel like they were made for the fantasy genre—and how you can use them to create instantly relatable and recognizable characters.

Your protagonist(s) and antagonist(s). While it’s the entire ensemble of characters who will make your story memorable, your main characters are your salespeople. Who will be your hero and your villain ? What relationship will they have? How will they push each other to change and grow? Even if they don’t know each other, these two characters should be like distorted reflections of one another.

Plan your character arcs. Every main and secondary character should have an arc of some kind. It’s how your characters face obstacles and change from them—whether by overcoming or failing the challenges presented—that will define your characters. How does the story influence them and how do they influence the story?

Make living, breathing characters. Boring, two-dimensional characters are about as much fun to read as eating plain iceberg lettuce. You want your readers to care about these characters, even the bad ones! So use these resources to take your character game to the next level:

  • Character interview
  • Character profile
  • Character traits

Your characters will be like guides through your fantasy world. It’s through their actions and journeys that you will immerse your reader in this strange, magical place you’ve created. So give them the time and attention they deserve.

fantasy writing rules

You Need Narrative

We have the stage. We have the cast. Now we need to know what the heck is going on.

Your fantasy story isn’t a story without a plot. And, with the fantasy genre, we can go real big with our plot.

Like all books, there are some core elements you need, but we’re going to put a fantasy spin on it.

Choose your conflict. A story is nothing without conflict. This crucial story element pushes your protagonist into action, drives character arcs, and adds tension to your world. For your fantasy story, determine a primary external conflict that creates the inciting incident, then focus on internal conflicts and other external conflicts to keep the story moving. Learn more about writing conflict here .

Select a story structure. Some writers cringe at the mention of the word “structure,” but every story has one… sorry. And every writer can benefit from understanding different story structures and the beats that go with them, even pantsers! Some structures lend themselves to fantasy more than others; Tolkien, for example, used the Hero’s Journey when writing The Lord of the Rings . Click here to learn more about story structures and choose one that interests you.

Pick a point of view. When it comes to the perspective or point of view (POV) your story is told from, you have a few options. You can read about all of them here, but the most common in fantasy are third-person limited and first person. Both of these options have their own strengths, with the former allowing you to include details of your world that a first-person narrator wouldn’t know, and the latter providing more intimacy with your narrator. In either case, you can switch narrators in between scenes to help develop characters and your world (a common trait in fantasy novels).

Theme is tantamount. Without a theme, your story is just a series of events. Theme adds meaning to your book, connecting readers to a human truth that you share through your characters’ actions. And, even though you’re writing a fantasy novel, your themes should be grounded in real life. Good vs. evil, misogyny , racism, hope, loss—your message takes the incredible and makes it resonate with your readers. Click here to learn more about writing themes.

See, your story is more than just your plot. It’s the bigger narrative that runs much deeper than that. Use these elements to add depth to your fantasy story.

Weaving World, Character, and Narrative Together

If you spend the time working through all the  information presented in this article, you’re going to have a lot of pieces to your fantasy puzzle. But how do we put all these pieces together and write a book?

Well, the good news is that you already have been. From the second you started thinking about your story, you’ve been putting this puzzle together. When you thought about your subgenre and what it entails, your mind started whirring with ideas.

When you read books by your favorite fantasy authors, you started to generate more pieces that snapped together.

Once you started building your world, those pieces became clearer and more appeared.

And when you created those characters and worked more on your plot, those pieces fell into place, too.

Does that all sound familiar? It should. The minds and imagination of writers are wonderful things.

But that doesn’t mean that we’re done writing our fantasy story or that it will just magically come together. So here are some things to help finish your puzzle.

Write smaller pieces first. Because writing a fantasy novel, especially one in a world completely of your own making, can be a massive task, it can be easier to write some short stories first. These stories never have to be published or read by anyone else, but they can do wonders to help your worldbuilding and character development. And, not to continually bring him up, but Tolkien did this a lot before writing The Lord of the Rings .

Don’t forget about dialogue. The tone and word choice of fantasy characters can run the whole gamut. Unfortunately, it’s easy for writers to fall into robotic, clunky writing to make it sound “medieval” in your fantasy setting. This can be fixed by paying attention to the way the pros do it and by making each of your characters unique in their communication.

Use just the right amount of detail. In general, fantasy stories include more detail than most other genres. It’s these details that can bring a new world to life or add a sense of magic to the seemingly normal. Too little detail, and your world won’t be enchanting (or horrifying). Too much, and it will be difficult to read. Use beta readers and those handy reading eyes of yours to find the sweet spot.

Remember the laws of your world. Whether we’re talking about magic, physics, politics, or social norms, keep track of all the laws in your fantasy world. This might seem obvious, but it can get complicated keeping track of an entire world that only exists in your mind, and no one likes those wonky anachronisms in a fantasy book. Luckily, you can get all those ideas out and keep them in the Notes section of Dabble, which is always just one click away from your manuscript.

Avoid deus ex machina. Literally translating to “god from the machine,” deus ex machina is a literary term referring to something new that comes out of nowhere, usually at the climax of a story, to get the characters out of an impossible situation. It’s lazy writing that usually renders conflict and character arcs meaningless, and is all too easy to do when you’re throwing magic left and right in your story. Make sure everything makes sense and is consistent in your fantasy story.

Get writing. Yeah, I’m going to be that guy. But the only way you can actually bring all these elements together is by writing. Get those words down. Finish a chapter. Set a goal and crush it.

The best way to get writing is with Dabble. With built-in goal tracking, focus mode, the famous Plot Grid, and so much more, Dabble makes writing your fantasy story easy and fun.

For us fantasy writers, it provides a great place to keep all of our research and made up information. Keep track of your characters, your world, your magic rules, and your very specific form of plant life that is used for that really neat potion. 

When you’re creating an entire world—either from scratch or to layer on our own—you need to keep track of it all so it’s there when you need it.

If you’re already a Dabbler, you know I’m preaching to the choir. But for everyone else, click here to try everything Dabble has to offer for fourteen days, completely free, without even entering your credit card details.

Doug Landsborough can’t get enough of writing. Whether freelancing as an editor, blog writer, or ghostwriter, Doug is a big fan of the power of words. In his spare time, he writes about monsters, angels, and demons under the name D. William Landsborough. When not obsessing about sympathetic villains and wondrous magic, Doug enjoys board games, horror movies, and spending time with his wife, Sarah.


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Home / Book Writing / How to Write Fantasy Novels: Definition, Tips, and How to Publish

How to Write Fantasy Novels: Definition, Tips, and How to Publish

I’ve been working at Kindlepreneur for some time, and I love to write nonfiction articles for authors. But my first love is writing fantasy.

Which is why I was excited when we decided to write this article.

Now, this article is just one in a series of articles about how to write in various genres, but I knew that I had to claim this one before anyone else could.

  • Why you should write fantasy
  • How to find your audience
  • Where to even start
  • How to build a plot
  • How to develop fantasy characters
  • How to world build

Table of contents

  • Why Write Fantasy?
  • Step 1: Find Your Audience First
  • Step 2: Start With Setting
  • Step 3: Craft a Compelling Fantasy Plot
  • Step 4: Create Compelling Fantasy Characters
  • Step 5: Build a Believable Fantasy World
  • Step 6: Develop Effective Fantasy Writing Habits
  • Step 7: Revise and Edit Your Fantasy Novel
  • Other Fantasy Writing Tips

Let’s dive in.

This is actually a question I’ve asked myself a number of times. Because, for a lot of people, fantasy can feel intimidating. It’s hard enough writing about the real world, much less create an entirely new one that needs to feel consistent.

But that said, here are a few reasons that I love to write fantasy, and why you might too:

  • Amazing for the imagination: Fantasy frees you from the limitations of the real world. Here, dragons fly and wizards cast spells. Create entirely new worlds with their own rules.
  • Wide appeal: Fantasy has a massive, dedicated following. From Tolkien fans to young adult fantasy aficionados, the market is substantial.
  • Escapism: In stressful times, both writers and readers appreciate an escape. Fantasy offers a break from the mundane, the tragic, or the stressful.
  • Dig into rich archetypes: Fantasy is ripe for using universal symbols and archetypes, like the hero's journey , to tap into shared human experiences.
  • Franchise-building: Think Harry Potter or Game of Thrones. Fantasy series lend themselves well to adaptations—films, TV shows, video games, merchandise.
  • Inspiration: Your tales of heroism and magical realms can serve as a powerful form of inspiration and empowerment.
  • It’s just fun!: Last but not least, writing fantasy is fun. If you enjoy reading it, odds are you'll love writing it too.

So assuming you want to write fantasy (and I’m guessing you do if you’ve read this far), let’s dig into the steps to do so.

The first step with any genre, but especially in fantasy, is to figure out WHO you are writing for.

Don’t skip this part, it’s important.

Here are a few things you should do to get to know your audience as best you can:

  • Understand the niche genre: Fantasy is a broad genre with many sub-genres—epic, urban, dark, to name a few. Zero in on the niche that interests you most. It will give you a sense of direction.
  • Read those books: Don't just stick to the classics. Dive into your specific sub-genre. By reading widely, you'll get an idea of what already exists and what readers are looking for.
  • Engage in online communities: Search for Facebook groups related to your niche. Become an active member. Listen to what people are saying, their likes and dislikes, and common themes that arise. This will give you invaluable insights into your future readership.
  • Read well-known fantasy authors: While niche reading is crucial, don't ignore the titans of the genre. Understand what makes authors like J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin successful. Examine their storytelling techniques and narrative structures .
  • Understand well-known tropes: Familiarize yourself with recurring themes and motifs in fantasy—like the “Chosen One” or the “Reluctant Hero.” But remember, tropes aren't bad; it's how you make them fresh that counts.

If you haven’t read a lot of books or understand the tropes that readers expect, you can’t expect them to like what you write. 

Yes, it’s possible to bend the rules now and then, but you can’t bend them unless you know them thoroughly, enough to really understand where and when it’s appropriate to change things up.

Once you've identified your audience, the next step is choosing a setting. This forms the foundation for plot, characters and everything that follows. Here are a few tips:

  • Pick a Portal: Do characters from our world travel to a fantasy realm through a portal? This instantly connects readers since we experience the magical world through the POV of our surrogate character. Portals can include mysterious doorways, teleporting wardrobes, whirlpools, and more. The portal trope has been a fantasy staple since Alice fell through the looking glass.
  • Construct a Whole New World: Or you can build a completely fictional world like Middle Earth or Westeros—the ultimate act of fantasy creation. This immersive option requires extensive worldbuilding since you're constructing a new reality from scratch. But total creative freedom makes it highly rewarding.
  • Blend Real and Fantasy: Urban and historical fantasy blend real and magical elements. The tensions between the mundane and mystical make for resonant fiction. For example, magicians living secretly among us regular folk in urban fantasy. Or retelling actual historical events with folkloric twists like Naomi Novik's Temeraire dragon rider books.
  • Pick a Familiar Starting Spot: Begin in a familiar setting like a medieval village, mysterious wilderness or magical academy before unfurling more fantastical environments later on. This eases readers into your world. Luke lived on a moisture farm before heading to wild planets in Star Wars.
  • Make It Personal: Most importantly, choose a fantasy setting that resonates with YOU. Tap into your own passions and knowledge like Renaissance festivals, antique maps, roleplaying games, etc.

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Once you've established the setting, you need an equally compelling plot. Here are tips for fantasy plots that cast a spell over readers:

  • External Goal/Quest: Fantasy protagonists often embark on an epic quest like rescuing a kingdom, recovering a magical artifact, overthrowing a dark lord or finding their true destiny. Make sure the external stakes are high enough to justify a novel-length adventure. Include formidable obstacles and nail-biting climaxes.
  • Internal Conflict: Layer your fantasy quest with internal conflict. For example, a heroine must overcome self-doubt and trauma from her past to fulfill her destiny. These inner struggles make characters relatable. External and internal arcs should interweave seamlessly.
  • Magical or Supernatural Elements: Incorporate fantasy/magical aspects organically into the plot. How do they influence or complicate the story events? For example, magic gifts may help the hero…but also make them reckless and arrogant. The curse that must be lifted has unexpected side effects.
  • Subplots and Supporting Arcs: Surround your protagonist with a supporting cast whose subplots, motivations and backstories interconnect with the main arc. 
  • Twists and Reversals: Layer in exciting twists, complications, setbacks, discoveries, betrayals and revelations throughout your fantasy plot. The path to victory should never run smooth. Shake things up to maintain suspense. 
  • Blend Genres: While pure fantasy is engaging, blending in other genres like mystery, horror, romance etc can create uniquely flavored tales. For example, Naomi Novik's dragon rider books add military fiction elements that complement the fantasy foundation. 
  • Outline Thoroughly: Fantasy's complexity demands meticulous outlining. Map out chapters, scenes, plot points, character arcs and more.

Now let's discuss how to people your world with multidimensional characters readers will adore.

  • Hero's Journey Archetype: Many fans love stories that echo the universal “hero's journey” template. Their structure and emotional beats resonate deeply. Key phases include the call to adventure, meeting the mentor, crossing threshold, tests/ordeals, seizing the sword, resurrection, and return home with elixir. 
  • Flawed Heroes: The most relatable fantasy protagonists have flaws, quirks or moral ambiguity rather than being generically heroic. Give them hot tempers, arrogance, addictions, anxieties, prejudices or violent impulses that force them to grow. Readers crave imperfect heroes (but not too imperfect).
  • Scene-Stealing Sidekicks: A great fantasy sidekick serves many functions: comic relief, voice of reason, protector, confidante, and more. They in turn reveal hidden aspects of the protagonist. Loyal sidekicks like Samwise Gamgee are reader surrogates along for the adventure. Give them unique bonds with the protagonist that tug heartstrings.
  • Nuanced Villains: While clearly evil, the best fantasy antagonists have complexity instead of being cookie-cutter villains. They have empathy-inducing motivations, principles, soft spots, and doubts that add nuance. Visceral moral struggles make compelling villains.
  • Supporting Cast: Populate your world with a diverse supporting cast representing different fantasy races, personalities, motivations and functions in the story. Vary relationships between characters—allies, rivals, loved ones etc. Interweave supporting arcs that complement the hero's journey.
  • Fantastic Races: From graceful elves to stout dwarves to cunning goblins, readers love stories starring classic fantasy races. Or invent your own original variations! Either way, construct different biology, abilities, cultures, histories, temperaments and societal roles for each race. But avoid obvious stereotypes.
  • Magical Companions: Fantasy heroes often have devoted magical companions like helpful fairies, wise dragons, loyal griffins or quick-witted unicorns. These companions act as guides, transport, comic relief and fellow underdogs. 
  • Character Arcs: Make sure each major character undergoes an emotional arc and transformation by story's end, not just the protagonist. 

Perhaps the most challenging yet rewarding aspect of writing fantasy is constructing an intricate secondary world. Where do you even start inventing a whole reality? Here's my advice:

  • Magic System: A defining aspect of most fantasy worlds is a system of magic. Determine its rules, costs, limitations and how it's harnessed. Is magic common or rare? Does using it drain life force or sanity? Do mages invoke divine powers or manipulate natural energies? 
  • Races and Creatures: Populate your world with original or traditional fantasy races like elves, dwarves etc. Plus invent mythical beasts and monsters. Consider their appearances, powers, temperaments, societies, histories and how they fit into the world. Give each a distinct flair.
  • Moral Alignment: What overarching cosmic principles guide your world? Is there objective good vs evil like Middle Earth? Or moral relativism like in Game of Thrones where every faction believes they're justified.
  • History and Mythology: Invent ancient histories, wars, dynasties, prophecies and mythological accounts that provide backstory. Timelines span eons. 
  • Politics and Factions: Dream up an array of factions, houses, orders, guilds, empires and more locked in an intricate web of rivalries and uneasy alliances. Detail their philosophies, customs, clothing, values, economic interests and subcultures. 
  • Languages: Invent unique languages for each race and realm with influences from earth languages like Elvish borrowing from Celtic tongues. 
  • Maps and Geography: Maps allow readers to trace and anticipate the adventure. Note major landmarks like wizard towers, monster lairs, ruins and kingdoms. How do terrain, climate and natural resources impact cultures that arise? Harsh desert clans will differ from seafaring islanders.
  • Religion and Spirituality: Is your world polytheistic or monotheistic? Do different races worship distinct pantheons? Outline core tenets, rituals, clerical ranks and holy sites. Belief systems reflect worldviews and values. And religious power structures deeply shape societies.
  • Food, Sports, Pastimes and Arts: On a lighter note, have fun detailing cultural trivia like beloved epic poems, national cuisine, celebrities, fashion trends, industries etc. This adds delightful local flavor. Maybe dwarves enjoy underground mushroom stew and beetle racing! Go wild with creativity.
  • Start Small: While Tolkien could spend thousands of pages on worldbuilding, modern readers often prefer more restrained approaches. Start with one village or city as a homebase, then expand the world's scope along with the story. Less is often more.

For more on worldbuilding, see our comprehensive article on the subject .

Now for the actual writing! Though inspiration is crucial, dedication and self-discipline are what transform ideas into finished manuscripts. Here are habits that help:

  • Set a Daily Word Count Goal: Establish a daily word count target tailored to your schedule. 500-1000 words per day is reasonable for busy folks. Hitting regular incremental targets adds up over time better than sporadic long sessions. Track progress to stay motivated.
  • Write at the Same Time Daily: Pick a set time and stick to it as much as possible to build a habitual routine, especially mornings. Writing during your peak energy hours when you're fresh and distraction-free sets you up for success.
  • Minimize Internet/Social Media: It's obvious but worth stating: turn off the internet to avoid endless distraction sinkholes! Disconnect to stay on target.
  • Write Offline: To avoid the lure of internet rabbit holes, one method is to write your first draft offline in a basic word processor. 
  • Try Writing Sprints: Sprints are short timed writing bursts like 25 minutes where you write without stopping. Take short breaks between sprints to recharge. The time pressure turbocharges your word count.
  • Write By Hand: Unplug and go old school by writing parts of your draft longhand with pen and paper. Our brains engage differently.
  • Outline The Next Chapter: Outlining your next chapter ahead of time gives you a roadmap to follow for the writing session. Stick to the major story beats and scenes. But leave wiggle room for spontaneous inspiration once writing.
  • Timeline and Tracker: Use a timeline and character tracker to organize complex story threads. This helps avoid inconsistencies and holes. Update these documents as your story evolves. Keeping detailed records saves headaches later.
  • Utilize Accountability: Find an accountability partner like your critique group or a trusted writer friend to check in on progress. Knowing someone is expecting regular updates keeps you on track. Better still, write together at coffee shops for camaraderie.

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You did it! First draft complete. But lots of work remains to polish your diamond-in-the-rough into a dazzling gem ready to publish. Here are tips for the editing stage:

  • Developmental editing: Critique and strengthen the high-level components like plot, pacing, characters, worldbuilding and voice. Fix plot holes, flesh out weak points, cut unnecessary sections, and adjust pacing.
  • Line editing: Take passages line-by-line to refine repetitive wording, clichés, weak verbs, and awkward phrasing. Inject more vivid details and concise language.
  • Copy editing: Scrutinize the manuscript for grammar, spelling, punctuation, consistency, accuracy, and formatting issues. Verify facts, dates, names are correct.
  • Beta readers: Get feedback from trusted readers on elements that need improvement or clarification. Incorporate their diverse perspectives.
  • Proofreading: Perform final checks for any typos, formatting errors, spacing issues, etc. before publication. Double check all names and facts.

Here are some final miscellaneous tips that can help you level up as a fantasy writer:

  • Prologues: Prologues are slightly controversial, as some authors don’t like having them, but other authors insist they should be used. Generally speaking, I recommend using them if you want to set up the conflict and tone of the book, and if your chapter 1 doesn’t do this on its own (common when starting from the “Ordinary World”.)
  • High or Low Fantasy?: High fantasy worlds have pervasive magic. Low fantasy settings contain only subtle magical influences. Figure out which mode fits your story best. Low magic often sustains more tension and sense of wonder when the supernatural is rare.
  • Hard vs. Soft Magic Systems: Hard systems have strictly defined rules and limits. Soft is more arbitrary and mysterious. Hard fits stories focused on mastering abilities and strategy. Soft suits tales emphasizing mysterious wonder.
  • Symbolism Resonance: Layering in recurring motifs and symbols that reinforce core themes adds depth. Eternal struggle between light/dark, decaying kingdom symbolizing moral decline, etc. Enhance resonance.
  • Study Real History and Mythology: History and myths offer endless inspiration. Adapt elements like ancient pantheons, lost civilizations and military conquests. Research also helps build realistic dynamics between fictional races and cultures. Truth provides verisimilitude.
  • Steal From The Best: Every great artist stands on the shoulders of those before. Don't copy outright, but study and remix ideas from fantasies you admire. Masterful classics teach invaluable lessons in worldbuilding and storytelling. Let their triumphs inspire your own.

And those are my best tips for writing transportive, sublime fantasy fiction! It's an ambitious undertaking, but immensely fulfilling. I hope these strategies help you turn the fantastical stories kindling in your soul into fully-realized novels. 

Your imagination is the only limit.

Jason Hamilton

When I’m not sipping tea with princesses or lightsaber dueling with little Jedi, I’m a book marketing nut. Having consulted multiple publishing companies and NYT best-selling authors, I created Kindlepreneur to help authors sell more books. I’ve even been called “The Kindlepreneur” by Amazon publicly, and I’m here to help you with your author journey.

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How to Write a Credible Fantasy Story

Last Updated: October 14, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Grant Faulkner, MA . Grant Faulkner is the Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and the co-founder of 100 Word Story, a literary magazine. Grant has published two books on writing and has been published in The New York Times and Writer’s Digest. He co-hosts Write-minded, a weekly podcast on writing and publishing, and has a M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University.  There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 917,527 times.

Writing your own fantasy story is an incredibly rewarding process. To make the fantasy world seem realistic, describe the setting in detail, create some rules regarding magic and the supernatural, create interesting characters with realistic motives, and then write your story down. Have fun using your imagination to create a world that draws readers in!

Writing Help

fantasy writing rules

Establishing Your Setting

The elements of a fantasy story listed.

  • The setting of your story can be as broad or narrow as you like. For example, your story could be set in a town, city, planet, or universe.
  • If your story is set in an actual place, explain this to your readers. For example, the Harry Potter series starts in modern England and transitions to a hidden world.
  • Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings is a good example of a foreign universe being explained.
  • Incorporate all the senses into your description. What does it smell like, feel like, and look like?

Julia Martins

Julia Martins

"Remember that "fantasy" is as big or as small as you want it to be," adds creative writer, Julia Martins. "You could create a secret magical society within our regular world (like JK Rowling did in Harry Potter) or you could create a whole complicated world of countries, cultures, and magic (like George RR Martin did in Game of Thrones). Either way, what makes fantasy "credible" is that you give your story the detail and care it needs to shine!"

Step 2 Draw a map, if it's helpful.

  • Draw a series of trees to represent the looming, mysterious forest in your world. Draw a star to represent the capital of each city. Draw ripples of water to indicate rivers, streams, and oceans.
  • Even if you don’t include the map in the final copy of your story, it can help you to imagine the setting.

Struggling to come up with a map? Julia Martins, creative writer, tells us: "If you're struggling to draw a map, try taking a handful of uncooked macaroni pasta and tossing it onto a table. Trace around the pasta and you have a brand new coastline to use for your map!"

Step 3 Describe the culture and the political setting of your world.

  • If you are creating your story in an actual place, describe any aspects of the place or culture that deviate from real life.

Step 4 Decide what level of technology your society has.

  • Research the technologies to make them realistic. For example, If you want to incorporate a cure for aging, read some articles on the process of aging. Understand how and why aging occurs so you can depict how it could be paused or stopped altogether in a fashion that feels realistic.
  • If you want your story to take place in an ancient world, research how past cultures lived.

Technology impacts the entire world you're building. Julia Martins, creative writer, tells us: "Fantasy stories aren't restricted to worlds with no technology. However, once you've decided what level of technology your world has, spend some time thinking about how that impacts the rest of the world. For instance, if your world doesn't have cars or trains, transportation is going to be much harder!"

Making the Rules

Step 1 Create social conventions if your story is set in a fantasy land.

  • Many fantasy writers base social conventions on aspects from the real world. For example, most societies have rituals like birthdays, weddings, funerals, and holidays. Try to think of similar rituals for your own world. How do your characters celebrate growing older, for example? How do they mark death?
  • Researching other cultures can be a great way to come up with ideas. Many fantasy writers borrow their ideas from older cultures or different cultures. Research rituals from ancient cultures or isolated cultures to help you gain ideas.

Write more than you think you need. Julia Martins, creative writer, advises: "It's ok if you come up with conventions and details that don't make it into the final draft of your story. Simply writing with the knowledge that those details are there will make your world feel more developed."

Step 2 Decide how supernatural elements work in your story.

  • If a character’s powers are secret, make note of this. For example, if your character can talk to ghosts, is this known by other characters.

Step 3 Write specific rules for how weapons and supernatural objects work.

  • If your characters fight using a particular style of weaponry, do some research. For example, if your main character is an archer, learn about the basic skills and equipment used in archery.
  • The mechanics of the resurrection stone in Harry Potter is a good example of describing how a magical object works. In order for the resurrection stone to raise the dead. you have to turn it in your hand 3 times while thinking of the deceased relative.

Step 4 Follow your own rules consistently.

  • Write down any rules you establish as you write your story. This will prevent you from inadvertently breaking them later.

Defining Characters

Step 1 Create non-human creatures to add variation.

  • If you use traditional mythical creatures, such as vampires or mermaids, establish what these creatures are like in your story, as variations of mythical creatures vary. In Twilight , for examples, vampires can choose not to eat people and sparkle in the daylight. In Buffy, however, the majority of vampires cannot control their tendency towards evil and will die if exposed to sunlight.
  • This step isn’t essential to all fantasy stories. Use your best judgement to decide which characters will work best in your story.

Don't feel like you have to rely on the "norm," adds Julia Martins, creative writer, "Are your ogres wicked smart? Have your fairies learned to lie? Do your vampires go out freely in the sun?"

Step 2 Decide what motivates your characters.

  • For example, perhaps there has been a tsunami in your fantasy land and your main character is desperately trying to save their family.
  • Ask yourself what each character wants. For example, maybe a character named Ramona was abandoned by her mother. All she wants is a family of her own. She tends to be overly jealous and clingy with her friends, a flaw, but one that's understandable given her abandonment issues. [8] X Research source

Step 3 Create a hero character with pure motives to win over your readers.

  • Usually, the hero does not realize he or she is special right away. Luke Skywalker does not realize he can use the force until meeting Obi Wan Kenobi. Harry Potter does not know he's a wizard until Hagrid informs him. Try to choose an otherwise ordinary character as your hero. Readers will more easily relate to a character who seems like a mostly normal person.
  • Try to find ways to foreshadow that the hero is important. The easiest way to do this is to tell the story from the hero’s perspective.

Step 4 Consider including a mentor to give the story depth.

  • Traditionally, the mentor is someone slightly older than your hero. The mentor generally knows the rules and conventions of the society your hero is navigating and has often known the whole time the hero is special or unique.
  • Introducing a mentor is a great way to explain the conventions of your world in a manner that does not feel clunky or overly expositional. Think of how awkward Star Wars would be if Luke simply explained the force to the audience. Having Obi-Wan explain it allows the force to be explained smoothly.

Step 5 Include a memorable villain to make the story compelling.

  • Audiences will be more moved by your villain's plight if they feel they understand him or her. For example, give your villain a tragic backstory. This can help explain why he or she has turned to evil in the present.

Writing the Story

Step 1 Outline your story to help you craft it accurately.

  • You can use headings and subheadings to help break up your outline. Headings are traditionally marked by Roman numerals and subheadings are marked by lower case letters or numbers. For example, "I. Introduce Ramona, a. Ramona is in the fields working, b. She is interrupted by the spirit of her Aunt Jean."

Step 2 Introduce the central problem.

  • In many fantasy stories, the character leaving home is the turning point. Maybe your character needs to go on a journey. For example, your character could receive news that their mother, who lives in another country, is ill. She has to travel across a desert, smuggling the medicine that's banned in their mother's home across the border.

Step 3 Develop the hero's story with mini-conflicts.

  • Pay attention to how this occurs in your favourite fantasy stories. What trials and tribulations does Harry Potter face that help him accept his destiny as the boy who lived? How does Katniss come to accept she has to lead the revolution?
  • Script multiple mini-conflicts in the lead up to the climax to test your character's strength and helping her use her skills and powers. For example, your character may have to deal with rival smugglers when she attempts to steal medicine.

"While these conflicts are usually related to the larger conflict, the protagonist may not be aware of the moving pieces behind the scenes."

Step 4 Choose an appropriate ending to finish your story.

  • A fantasy story can have a happy or sad ending. You can end with the hero winning or losing. You can also end with a partial victory where some evil has been defeated, but there are still unresolved conflicts. This can be particularly useful if you want to write a sequel, as there will still be challenges left for your hero to face.

Community Q&A

Community Answer

  • Read a lot of fantasy stories while you're working. The best way to improve your writing is to read. Ask your librarian for suggestions on fantasy novels. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

fantasy writing rules

You Might Also Like

Create a Credible Villain in Fiction

  • ↑ Grant Faulkner, MA. Professional Writer. Expert Interview. 8 January 2019.
  • ↑ https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FantasyWorldMap
  • ↑ https://allwritealright.com/creating-a-fictional-culture/
  • ↑ https://www.creativebloq.com/how-to/design-believable-fantasy-beasts
  • ↑ http://sharonacrawfordauthor.com/2012/07/22/making-your-fiction-characters-credible/
  • ↑ https://jerichowriters.com/10-tips-writing-really-bad-villains/
  • ↑ https://jerichowriters.com/what-is-a-central-conflict/
  • ↑ https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-fiction/how-to-structure-a-killer-novel-ending

About This Article

Grant Faulkner, MA

To write a credible fantasy story, try to be as descriptive as possible when you're writing about the setting of your story so it feels like a real world to your readers. For example, you can talk about what the plants and animals in your fantasy world look like. You should also come up with consistent rules for how everything works in your fantasy world, like magic powers, so your story is more believable. For example, can anyone in your story have magic powers, or do they have to be born with them? For tips on how to come up with believable fantasy characters, scroll down! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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fantasy writing rules

Writing a fantasy novel: 34 must-visit websites

Writing a fantasy novel involves many considerations: Worldbuilding, avoiding clichés of the genre, using popular elements such as magic originally and more. These 34 must-visit fantasy writing resources will help you with every aspect from creating fantasy maps to naming your fantasy characters.

  • Post author By Jordan
  • 17 Comments on Writing a fantasy novel: 34 must-visit websites

Writing a fantasy novel - 34 must-visit websites

Writing a fantasy novel involves many considerations: Worldbuilding, avoiding clichés of the genre, using popular elements such as magic originally and more. These 34 must-visit fantasy writing resources will help you with every aspect from creating fantasy maps to naming your fantasy characters.

General advice on worldbuilding

Many fantasy writers working on their first (or even second or third) novels struggle with worldbuilding. If you’re wondering how to create a believable fantasy world, one that avoids clichés and provides readers with enough detail to keep them enthralled, these links and resources provide excellent advice:

The Worldbuilding Stack Exchange is a website similar to Quora (where users ask the community questions and the most helpful replies are upvoted). Yet the focus of the website is on worldbuilding for fiction writers. Writers share and get knowledge about culture, science and other real-world elements that go into fantasy and science fiction.

World Building Academy , a site that has the tagline ‘create worlds, change lives’, provides plenty of helpful worldbuilding advice.

In this post for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Patricia C. Wrede lists useful questions you should ask yourself while planning and fleshing out your fictional fantasy world. Wrede’s questions cover important elements such as history, climate and the inhabitants of your fantasy universe.

James Whitbrook at Io9 shares advice on overdone clichés of fantasy writing to avoid in your worldbuilding.

Chuck Wendig’s ’25 things you should know about worldbuilding’ contains great tips. Here’s one: ‘Don’t  describe every family crest, guild sigil, hairstyle, nipple clamp, or blade of grass in the world.’ It’s good advice to make sure your worldbuilding serves your story rather than brings in irrelevant information.

In this interview , fantasy and SF writer Laurence MacNaughton did for MileHiCon in Colorado, the writer shares some useful fantasy worldbuilding advice. His cardinal rule? ‘If you make something up, it needs to play directly into the story.’ This is a point both he and Wendig emphasize.

In this essay , one of the great masters of fantasy and science fiction shares insights into writing believable fantasy worlds. Ursula le Guin, famous author of the Earthsea Trilogy, says ‘Fantasy, which creates a world, must be strictly coherent to its own terms, or it loses all plausibility. The rules that govern how things work in the imagined world cannot be changed during the story.’

Margaret Atwood shares some insights into how she creates fictional worlds in this blog post by Joe Berkowitz. Her insights relate to her speculative fiction, but also apply to fantasy writing. She suggests, for example, that you can borrow animal or human behaviours in the real world and use them slightly altered to form the basis of another world, its people and fictional creatures.

In The Paris Review’s short memorial piece on the passing of Sir Terry Pratchett, the literary journal shares some of his best advice for worldbuilding effectively. One piece of advice: Don’t be overwrought in your inventions. As Pratchett says: ‘It only takes a tweak to make the whole world new.’

What’s in a name? Create imaginative names for your fantasy world

Your fantasy characters might have names typical of a town or nation in your fantasy world (for example the hobbits in The Lord of the Rings have names such as Frodo and Bilbo and Sam while the elves have more regal names such as Arwen). They might have common names we find in everyday life if your fantasy world exists in parallel to our own. Examples: Harry Potter, Lucy and Susan in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books. Whether you want to give your characters mythical or everyday names, these resources will help you:

‘What’s in a Name?’ is an A to Z of names in J.K. Rowling’s  Harry Potter  fantasy series and their origins. Rowling is a master of creating memorable names, and this will give you some insight into how you can find inspiration for your own fantasy characters’ names.

If you want to find fantasy names for characters or mythical creatures quickly, Fantasy Name Generators offers tools to find names for classic fantasy races such as dwarves and elves as well as generators for place names. Need a Germanic dwarf name or a mythical-sounding name for a dragon or other fantastical creature? Find an exact match or use the results as  phonetic guidelines for creating your own.

Make sure that your chosen names don’t have unwanted connotations. This guide over at Obsidian Bookshelf provides a number of useful pointers on naming characters in fantasy writing.

In this article from 2010 , Imogen Russell Williams provides sound advice on naming characters. Says Williams, ‘Names with too evident meanings, which alert you early to a character’s nature à la Dickens, are a mixed blessing — it’s hard to take someone seriously if he’s called Mr Badcrook.’

Andre Cruz offers practical tips on choosing characters’ names that could apply to any genre, not only fantasy protagonists or villains. One suggestion: write down any important themes in your book and then use a baby name website to see if you can find any first names that carry relevant (but subtle) connotations. The name ‘Judith’, for example, derives from Hebrew and means ‘she will be praised’ – a fitting name for triumphant heroine.

Writing a fantasy world: Physical details

The physical details of your fictional fantasy world are important for creating an immersive sense of place different from the reader’s own. Think of the greenness of the shire compared to the desolate, post-industrial wasteland where Sauron resides in The Lord of the Rings . Thinking about the physical details of your world means thinking not only about the layout of the land but how the land itself looks and works. This includes landscape, fauna and flora as well as geography – where is each setting in your story in relation to other towns or lands?

Let fantasy landscapes inspire you : Deviant Art, the online community of artists, has many beautiful fantasy landscape images that can help you imagine own settings. Simply looking through fantastical images and noting down any geological or visual elements you like can help you form a clearer idea of your fantasy novel’s locations.

Something as small as having a definite sense of climate can make your fantasy world real. For example, in a tropical climate temperatures are hotter and there is more humidity. If your fantasy world is a lush tropical region, this will affect how characters dress, where they build their lodgings and more.

Michael James Liljenberg discusses the geological and botanical side of creating a fantasy or SF world. As he says ‘the physical world you build for your story will affect the civilizations and characters in both subtle and dramatic ways’. He includes a useful bullet list of questions to ask yourself when creating a fantasy map.

Speaking of maps, the David Rumsey Cartography Associates’ map collection includes over 30 000 images of historical maps. These maps can provide inspiration for map illustrations that give readers an immediate feel for your fantasy world. With this online tool, you can even overlay historical maps and contemporary ones to see how geology, borders and land features have shifted.

Writing a fantasy novel: Government

Decide how social structure and governance in your fantasy world will work. Kingdoms featuring monarchies are one of the most popular forms of social order in fantasy writing (as in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series). You might want to take another approach if you’d like your novel to be particularly original. Rationality Wiki explains each type of government, and many descriptions link to pages that give more detailed history and explanations, type by type.

In his piece ‘Worldbuilding: Creating Fictional Cultures’ , fantasy author J.S. Morin shares some useful tips on creating society and culture for your fantasy fiction. Morin suggests ‘loosely basing your government on something that has been tried out on Earth (successfully or not)’. This will help you avoid over-complicating the politics of your world with a whole new system invented from scratch.

Fantasy and SF writer Jill Williamson lists and describes the many types of government you can use for your fantasy writing. She asks useful questions you can ask of your world : ‘Who controls the food and water? The weapons? If there is a disease, who controls the medicine?’

Creating your fantasy culture

Creating whole new cultures for your fantasy story can be tricky. Madeleine Bauman’s blog post looks at Greek mythology and how different Gods had different associations and purposes. Reading stories from ancient global mythologies can give you a good idea of how to invent your own belief system when you start writing a fantasy novel.

This concise document outlines the basic structure of cultural practices – for example, cultural practices are things that ‘represent the knowledge of what to do and where’ for a particular culture. Etiquette around eating or sharing food or following a particular rite of passage for coming of age are all cultural practices. If your fantasy world shows different peoples living in different geographic regions, think about how their cultural practices might differ and what implications this might have for tension or story development.

Alyssa Hollingsworth shares ten useful questions to ask about your fantasy world’s culture . How do you make your world seem as real as our own. Our world that has seen many changing tides of events? As Hollingsworth puts it, ask yourself: ‘How did this culture come into being? How has it changed between then and the start of the novel?’

Mind your language: Creating other words 

Many fantasy writers have added to the richness of their novels by inventing languages that are specific to particular tribes or nationalities. A group in your fantasy novel might have particular idioms or proverbs, or styles of greeting. These resources will help you think about language in your fantasy writing and how you can use it to add a sense of era or to underline important aspects of your fantasy culture (for example, a warrior-like people might have a very different way of greeting one another to a more peaceful civilization). Here are some useful resources for using language creatively:

Roberta Osborn provides detailed advice on using fictional languages in fantasy writing. Her advice includes keeping a list of all the words you invent so you can remember spellings and keep track on how many you’ve used and their meanings. She also recommends making your made-up words resemble as much as possible words with similar meanings in real-world language, so that the sound fits the sense to readers’ ears. Avoid ‘blorpspargs’ and ‘glipflorps’ (unless parodying technical language or word invention in your genre).

If you want to get technical and make up an entire language of your own, the Language Construction Kit is a useful free resource. Do keep in mind that you mustn’t let the fun of invention distract you from getting stuck into actually writing and finishing your novel .

Creating fantasy animals

Besides the people that populate your fantasy world, you might want to include fantastical creatures that add biodiversity (and a dose of magic or exoticism). Remember that many mythical creatures are clichés. Dragons feature in many fantasy worlds. Think about how you can make fantasy creatures your own. For example, in the Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling has a dragon guard the vault of a powerful family in the wizard bank Gringotts, combining an ancient mythical creature with a modern setting in an original manner.

This list of mythical creatures can inspire you. It provides explanations on the origins and history of many magical or otherworldly creatures.

Springhole offers useful tips on writing fantasy fiction that includes animals . One tip: ask yourself what environmental and ecological impact your creature might make.

Another website that lists and describes mythical creatures lets you sort creatures by appearance (size and similarity to real-world animals), as well as culture of origin (such as Greek or Mayan).

Ashley Lange at Elfwood provides a handy guide to creating realistic fantasy animals and creatures. One useful tip: Identify your non-human fantasy species’ purpose (do your animals serve as guides/guardians/environmental hazards/food sources or any combination of the above?)

Resources for (re)inventing magic for your fantasy novel

Mages, witches, wizards and more: Magic has been a core feature of many famous fantasy novels. In C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, a child puts a magical ring on her finger and finds herself in a wood between worlds. In the Lord of the Rings the wizard Gandalf carries a staff that he uses to channel his magical powers. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books update the wands and wizards format, splicing spells and incantations with a modern-day, non-magical world. These resources give advice on how to write fantasy fiction that uses some form of magic:

Magic in your fantasy fiction should follow a system that obeys its own internal logic.  This impressive table by Io9 describes the workings of magic systems in over 20 famous novels and series. This can provide helpful inspiration when you create your own magic system.

Philip Martin’s guide to using magic in your fantasy story includes helpful tips such as making sure that your magic system explicitly drives the action of your story. This will make sure your magic doesn’t distract from your novel’s key themes and events.

Writer Holly Lisle wrote this practical list of tips for writing magic into your fantasy novel. One good piece of advice: Don’t make it too easy. Another: Everything comes from something – your magic system will be harder to believe if it’s too convenient and doesn’t have explicable origins.

What resources have you found helpful in writing fantasy fiction? Share any relevant and helpful ones in the comments.

Images from here and here

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  • Tags Article round-up , fantasy writing , writing resources

fantasy writing rules

Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

17 replies on “Writing a fantasy novel: 34 must-visit websites”

Awesome post! Thanks for sharing 10 Questions to Ask When You Create a Fictional Culture.

Thank you! It’s a pleasure, Alyssa. Always good to find practical writing advice being shared.

Bookmarking for later! Love the lists of resources you periodically post. Incredibly helpful.

Thanks, Ben! Glad you find some use in them 🙂

This is exactly what I was looking for 🙂 I came up with a story about a King and a girl from a village and suddenly I find myself structuring the whole world around them. Thanks for putting all these resources together!

It’s a pleasure, Liz! Really glad you found this helpful. Do join our ‘fantasy writers’ group on Now Novel if you’d like to get writing feedback from some other fantasy enthusiasts. Best of luck with the book, too.

I still think this is one of the best tools to help you avoid falling into the same old tropes and clichés. http://www.rinkworks.com/fnovel/

‘Do you not realize how much gold actually weighs?’ Thanks for this, will share on Twitter.

Hi Bridget! Great list of resources.

Hi Martin – fantastic post. Will share it on social.

Thanks so much, Bridget!

Thank you very much!

My pleasure, Andrew. Glad you found some utility here.

Great post, thanks. I will also like to recommend the Worldbuilding Magazine, it has become an awesome resource.

This article is very useful. It’s really helpful for me! Thank you for sharing this information.

Thank you so much for your article) So much useful information I haven’t seen! This is truly epic. Let me make a small contribution too, please: 1) for a name to be meaningful and still have a natural sound, you can look up the meanings of real names (the biggest library with meanings of each here https://babynames.com/ ) Sometimes I take any real name and change a few letters (e.g. from Adélie to Akmélie). 2) but sometimes I use the generator https://instausername.com/character-name-generator – it has an interesting feature that it uses artificial intelligence and sometimes the names are very exciting. 3) I always try to make a drawing or at least the avatar to complete the character, because the visual part is very important and can help the reader better recognize the hero. If you are also bad at drawing it would probably be helpful https://charactercreator.org/

Thanks again for your article! Now my stories will be better

Hi Bridget, thank you for reading our blog and for your very helpful additions! Good luck with your next story.

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Tips for writers

Ten rules for writing fiction

Elmore Leonard: Using adverbs is a mortal sin

1 Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a charac­ter's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look­ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams , you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2 Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday , but it's OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks."

3 Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled", "gasped", "cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.

4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" ... he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs".

5 Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6 Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range .

8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", what do the "Ameri­can and the girl with him" look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table." That's the only reference to a physical description in the story.

9 Don't go into great detail describing places and things, unless you're ­Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing is published next month by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

  • Diana Athill

1 Read it aloud to yourself because that's the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out – they can be got right only by ear).

2 Cut (perhaps that should be CUT): only by having no ­inessential words can every essential word be made to count.

3 You don't always have to go so far as to murder your darlings – those turns of phrase or images of which you felt extra proud when they appeared on the page – but go back and look at them with a very beady eye . Almost always it turns out that they'd be better dead. (Not every little twinge of satisfaction is suspect – it's the ones which amount to a sort of smug glee you must watch out for.)

  • Margaret Atwood

1 Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.

3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.

4 If you're using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick.

5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.

6 Hold the reader's attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don't know who the reader is, so it's like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B.

7 You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there's no free lunch. Writing is work. It's also gambling. You don't get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you're on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don't whine.

8 You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You've been backstage. You've seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.

9 Don't sit down in the middle of the woods. If you're lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.

10 Prayer might work. Or reading ­something else. Or a constant visual­isation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.

  • Roddy Doyle

1 Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.

2 Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space, or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph ­–

3 Until you get to Page 50. Then calm down, and start worrying about the quality. Do feel anxiety – it's the job.

4 Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy.

5 Do restrict your browsing to a few websites a day. Don't go near the online bookies – unless it's research.

6 Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg "horse", "ran", "said".

7 Do, occasionally, give in to temptation. Wash the kitchen floor, hang out the washing. It's research.

8 Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments.

9 Do not search amazon.co.uk for the book you haven't written yet.

10 Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover biog – "He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego." But then get back to work.

Helen Dunmore

1 Finish the day's writing when you still want to continue.

2 Listen to what you have written. A dud rhythm in a passage of dialogue may show that you don't yet understand the characters well enough to write in their voices.

3 Read Keats's letters.

4 Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn't work, throw it away. It's a nice feeling, and you don't want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need.

5 Learn poems by heart.

6 Join professional organisations which advance the collective rights of authors.

7 A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk.

8 If you fear that taking care of your children and household will damage your writing, think of JG Ballard.

9 Don't worry about posterity – as Larkin (no sentimentalist) observed "What will survive of us is love".

1 Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over – or not. Conversation with my American publisher. Me: "I'm writing a book so boring, of such limited commercial appeal, that if you publish it, it will probably cost you your job." Publisher: "That's exactly what makes me want to stay in my job."

2 Don't write in public places. In the early 1990s I went to live in Paris. The usual writerly reasons: back then, if you were caught writing in a pub in England, you could get your head kicked in, whereas in Paris, dans les cafés . . . Since then I've developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity.

3 Don't be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.

4 If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings. The only reason I stay loyal to my piece-of-shit computer is that I have invested so much ingenuity into building one of the great auto­correct files in literary history. Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge from a few brief keystrokes: "Niet" becomes "Nietzsche", "phoy" becomes  ­"photography" and so on. ­Genius!

5 Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.

6 Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.

7 Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it's a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It's only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I ­always have to feel that I'm bunking off from something .

8 Beware of clichés. Not just the ­clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are ­clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.

9 Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don't follow it.

10 Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to per­severance. But writing is all about ­perseverance. You've got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of ­going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That's what writing is to me: a way of ­postponing the day when I won't do it any more, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.

Anne Enright

1 The first 12 years are the worst.

2 The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.

3 Only bad writers think that their work is really good.

4 Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.

5 Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn't matter how "real" your story is, or how "made up": what matters is its necessity.

6 Try to be accurate about stuff.

7 Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ­finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.

8 You can also do all that with whiskey.

9 Have fun.

10 Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not ­counting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.

Richard Ford

1 Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer's a good idea.

2 Don't have children.

3 Don't read your reviews.

4 Don't write reviews. (Your judgment's always tainted.)

5 Don't have arguments with your wife in the morning, or late at night.

6 Don't drink and write at the same time.

7 Don't write letters to the editor. (No one cares.)

8 Don't wish ill on your colleagues.

9 Try to think of others' good luck as encouragement to yourself.

10 Don't take any shit if you can ­possibly help it.

Jonathan Franzen

1 The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.

2 Fiction that isn't an author's personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn't worth writing for anything but money.

3 Never use the word "then" as a ­conjunction – we have "and" for this purpose. Substituting "then" is the lazy or tone-deaf writer's non-solution to the problem of too many "ands" on the page.

4 Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly.

5 When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.

6 The most purely autobiographical ­fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more auto­biographical story than "The Meta­morphosis".

7 You see more sitting still than chasing after.

8 It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

9 Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.

10 You have to love before you can be relentless.

Esther Freud

1 Cut out the metaphors and similes. In my first book I promised myself I wouldn't use any and I slipped up ­during a sunset in chapter 11. I still blush when I come across it.

2 A story needs rhythm. Read it aloud to yourself. If it doesn't spin a bit of magic, it's missing something.

3 Editing is everything. Cut until you can cut no more. What is left often springs into life.

4 Find your best time of the day for writing and write. Don't let anything else interfere. Afterwards it won't matter to you that the kitchen is a mess.

5 Don't wait for inspiration. Discipline is the key.

6 Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they'll know it too.

7 Never forget, even your own rules are there to be broken.

  • Neil Gaiman

2 Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.

3 Finish what you're writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.

4 Put it aside. Read it pretending you've never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.

5 Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

6 Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.

7 Laugh at your own jokes.

8 The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it's definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

1 Write only when you have something to say.

2 Never take advice from anyone with no investment in the outcome.

3 Style is the art of getting yourself out of the way, not putting yourself in it.

4 If nobody will put your play on, put it on yourself.

5 Jokes are like hands and feet for a painter. They may not be what you want to end up doing but you have to master them in the meanwhile.

6 Theatre primarily belongs to the young.

7 No one has ever achieved consistency as a screenwriter.

8 Never go to a TV personality festival masquerading as a literary festival.

9 Never complain of being misunderstood. You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to.

10 The two most depressing words in the English language are "literary fiction".

1 Increase your word power. Words are the raw material of our craft. The greater your vocabulary the more ­effective your writing. We who write in English are fortunate to have the richest and most versatile language in the world. Respect it.

2 Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.

3 Don't just plan to write – write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.

4 Write what you need to write, not what is currently popular or what you think will sell.

5 Open your mind to new experiences, particularly to the study of other ­people. Nothing that happens to a writer – however happy, however tragic – is ever wasted.

1 Have humility. Older/more ­experienced/more convincing writers may offer rules and varieties of advice. ­Consider what they say. However, don't automatically give them charge of your brain, or anything else – they might be bitter, twisted, burned-out, manipulative, or just not very like you.

2 Have more humility. Remember you don't know the limits of your own abilities. Successful or not, if you keep pushing beyond yourself, you will enrich your own life – and maybe even please a few strangers.

3 Defend others. You can, of course, steal stories and attributes from family and friends, fill in filecards after lovemaking and so forth. It might be better to celebrate those you love – and love itself – by writing in such a way that everyone keeps their privacy and dignity intact.

4 Defend your work. Organisations, institutions and individuals will often think they know best about your work – especially if they are paying you. When you genuinely believe their decisions would damage your work – walk away. Run away. The money doesn't matter that much.

5 Defend yourself. Find out what keeps you happy, motivated and creative.

6 Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.

7 Read. As much as you can. As deeply and widely and nourishingly and ­irritatingly as you can. And the good things will make you remember them, so you won't need to take notes.

8 Be without fear. This is impossible, but let the small fears drive your rewriting and set aside the large ones ­until they behave – then use them, maybe even write them. Too much fear and all you'll get is silence.

9 Remember you love writing. It wouldn't be worth it if you didn't. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back.

10 Remember writing doesn't love you. It doesn't care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on.

Read the second part of the article here

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January 2024 Monthly Writing Challenge results

  • Writing Challenges

Here are the results of the January challenge. A good field and a very close battle for 1st place, but we have a winner now.

1st Place: The Crags of Anunaltia by Matt Hansen

2nd Place: The Raven by Arisillion

3rd Place: A Good Day to Lose Things by Ron Donderevo

February 2024 Monthly Writing Challenge

Please click "Read more" below for the topic and complete rules. Failure to follow the rules will lead to disqualification, whether you read the rules or not. Please also follow the story-posting guidelines, which can be found in the FAQ.

February is perhaps most famous for Valentine's Day, and usually the topic is love themed, but this year it's slightly different. We have a five-element story that could add up to a romantic love story - or it could add up to something altogether more disturbing. The elements are:

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December 2023 Monthly Writing Challenge results

We have the results of the December challenge, and the quality shows in how close it was - particularly between the first two, which kept changing places as the results were coming in. Congratulations to everyone.

1st place: An Angel for Teddy by Ron Donderevo

2nd place: Peppermint by snowmooneclipse

3rd place: Heavy day at the office by NormaOB

January 2024 Monthly Writing Challenge

November 2023 monthly flash challenge results.

Here are the results for the November flash challenge. A much bigger field than recently, and a high standard with a close result. So contratulations everyone, especially the winner.

1st place: Sarah by snowmooneclipse

2nd place: Stuck in a Moment by Ron Donderevo

3rd place: Old Wounds Don't Make New Scars by Milvushina

December 2023 Monthly Writing Challenge

October 2023 monthly writing challenge results.

Here are the results of the October (scary story) challenge. There were only three entries, but the standard was consistently high, and there were relatively small margins between the scores for all three. We have a winner, though, so congratulations on winning against strong opposition.

1st place: The Blackstar by Arisillion

2nd place: The Farm by snowmooneclipse

November 2023 Monthly Flash Challenge

Welcome to the November challenge. It's become a tradition, since so many people are busy with NaNoWriMo, for the November challenge to be for flash stories, to make it easier to fit in. The are various definitions of flash fiction out there, but ours is a story between 100 and 1000 words.

September 2023 Monthly Writing Challenge results

Some high-scoring stories in this challenge, so congratulations to everyone, especially the winner.

1st place: To Kirlatha by Ron Donderevo

2nd place: Jen's Journey by Kukana

3rd place: Travellers by Arisillion

Members choice: Ascension by dms95

October Monthly Writing Challenge

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