Writing Fantasy 101

Image Credit: impawards
Image Credit: impawards

So, let me start out by saying that I’m no expert when it comes to writing fantasy. I haven’t been published, and there are some good writers out there, like Patrick Rothfuss, who writes the Kingkiller Chronicles, and Tony Lee, who writes comic books, who sometimes tweet out advice and answer questions about the process of writing. However, I’m going to try to help give people motivation to work on that project they haven’t worked on in a while, and to share ideas and tips that have been helpful to me when I write.

Fantasy is an interesting genre to work in, since there are so many different subgenres within it. You could be writing a story about steampunk robots who just want to learn to love, or about a scrappy band of goblins who are trying to stop the world from ending. Your story could be set in ancient China, or it could be an urban fantasy set in the New York City underground. It could be about a world-ending disaster that has to be stopped, dragons that are terrorizing the land and creating the need for a hero, or a love story between two people/beings that should never work. Narrowing down what you want to do seems like it would be about the hardest part of starting a fantasy story.

But you can make this aspect a bit easier — start with what you already know you like to read. From there, you can figure out what you’d want to write about. For example, I’m currently working on an epic adventure involving dragons, witches, and a kingdom that needs saving from its inevitable fall to those dragons and witches. So clearly, I have a thing for epic fantasy. Looking at what I’ve read, I can see that quite quickly — for example, I’ve enjoyed reading high-concept fantasy series like Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time, The Stormlight Archive, the aforementioned Kingkiller Chronicles, and my least favorite of this bunch, A Song of Ice and Fire. Just from knowing what I like to read, and by thinking about the books and series that I’ve enjoyed, I can start to shape my world. Also, playing Dungeons & Dragons helps keep that itch for creating epic fantasy going.

Image Source: idigitaltimes
Image Source: idigitaltimes

The next thing that I think most people, including myself, run into, is getting bogged down in the fact that your first draft isn’t amazing. It’s hard to keep writing when you suddenly remember where you put something in 2,000 words ago that now you are regretting, and there is temptation to go back over those first two or three chapters until they are perfect. Don’t fall into that trap. Keep writing; keep pushing through. You know how you get better at writing? You got it — writing. Get the words down on the paper, and if you are having trouble getting through your epic story that is going to span a trilogy and spawn great offshoot series, write something shorter. Get completed works down on paper or up on Google Docs.

There are a couple of reasons for not self-editing as you go along. The first is that it takes you out of your story and your flow. It takes a little bit of time to get into the mindset of the characters in your world, and when you keep on getting distracted by a missing comma or a line of dialogue that doesn’t sound quite perfect, you take your mind out of the world you are trying to build. The other reason is that it simply helps you finish your story. The second, third, fourth, and seventh drafts are for cleaning up mistakes if you still think you have a solid story (or even if you don’t think you do).

Image Source: NaNoWriMo
Image Source: NaNoWriMo

Now, getting and keeping proper motivation, even for a short story, can be tricky at times. So how do you do that, even when you aren’t self-editing and you aren’t trying to write the next Song of Ice and Fire? One way that I would recommend, and which I did in 2013 and 2014, is to do National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. The object of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000-word story in the month of November. It’s tricky to do, but you’ll be doing it along with thousands of other people across the country. Or if November is always a busy month for you, find someone else who wants to write, and have them as an accountability partner to keep both of you making progress.

Basically, the important thing is to always move forward. Seems simple enough, but too often, we go in with the grand plan of writing 1,500 or 5,000 or some other large number of words per day. And ideally, you set aside a time every day to write, but more importantly, you’re always moving forward, even if it’s just by a little. Every week, you should see that your word count has gone up — and don’t worry so much about the number of words it has increased by; just make sure that it has simply increased.

Now that you know what genres of fantasy (or really any type of book) you like to read, what story can you tell that is set in that genre? Are you going to tell the story of a pulpy detective who is as dishonest as he seems, the romance of two aliens from a far-off land, a starlet who has gotten to where she is by using magic, or what? It’s time to start putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and writing.


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