How to write a Fantasy Novel.

Ranked #334 in Books, Poetry & Writing, #14,008 overall

Do you want to know the inner workings of the mind of a Fantasy writer?

Well, all will be revealed. I'll be disclosing all the hard work, shortcuts and secrets on how I write my fantasy books.
You will find general advice on writing, as well as particular emphasis on creating a world of fantasy.

Writing a fantasy novel:

Step 1

Quill The first thing you need to write a fantasy novel (besides writing implements) is an idea.
Too obvious you say, well it is obvious, but still correct and harder than it sounds. For you must find an idea that is: 1- workable; 2- not stupid; 3- interesting.

1- Workable:
This means your idea must fit into some logical structure; in other words your plot will have to have rules.
If you are going to write about magic, then you will have to put limitations and structure on your magic.
If you plan to break the laws of physics, you must be willing to explain why and how.
This also applies to supernatural plotlines; you have to define the whys and hows of such creatures as vampires, werewolves, etc.

2-Not Stupid:
Fairly self-explanatory. If you have an idea such as a magical bird that grants wishes, but all your characters wish for are crackers to feed the bird, it isn’t a good idea. If they wish for world peace, only to have it threaten to end the human race, then that is a good idea.

3-Interesting:
The idea must have merit to readers and also to you as a writer. If you lose interest in writing your book, it will gather dust on a shelf, and if you want to sell books, people must want to read your novel.
Your book’s subject must be something that inspires your writing passion. If you believe in the idea, then it can be unfolded into an interesting novel.

That is the end of Step 1.
In Step 2, I will show you how to take those ideas and start putting them on paper.

Writing a fantasy novel: Outlines

Step 2

Alright, you have been inspired, thought of the most brilliant idea. Now what.
Well it is time to go to work, and create an outline for your story. An outline, you say, what is an outline? (Or you could be saying, of course you have to make an outline, silly) Either way I shall tell everyone about an outline.
An outline is basically a blueprint for the plot of your book. Before you start writing, it is an excellent idea to put down on paper the plot points, main characters, geography, etc. (I’ll be detailing how to create characters and worldbuilding in later steps.)
You may even find it useful to do a chapter by chapter outline, describing the basic happenings in each chapter. I find that useful if I’m creating a world from scratch.

Now for an example:

I’ll use the idea from step one; the magical bird that grants wishes.

The Outline:

Main Characters:
Don Weagle; Sara Smythe; Tim Finn
These three people are roommates, sharing a small apartment.
Geographic Location:
London, England

A brief plot outline:
Don, Sara and Tim are all friends, with minimum wage jobs, who share an apartment to save money.
Sara inherits a strange parrot from an aunt, and decides to keep the bird. Soon the luck of the three friends begins to improve, and they find even their casual wishes are coming true. Don notices the luck changed with the arrival of the bird, and wonders if he is the cause. They put this theory to the test, and discover their pet is magical. They try to find out the whys of this amazing creature, and unintentionally attract the attention of sinister people. They now have to protect their pet, themselves and the world from the dark magic.

That is a (very) basic outline. From this you can develop a chapter by chapter outline, character outlines, geographic outlines, and even an outline for your research.

That’s step 2. Step 3 will be character development and how to do research.

Writing a fantasy novel: Characters

Step 3

Silhouette of a Lady Part 1- How to write a main character.

First adjust your mind set; you are creating a fictional character, but you must go about it as if you are writing the life of a real person.
This will allow you to develop a well-rounded character.

The initial task is to decide on who your protagonist(main character) will be; is it female or male, how old, what will the character’s occupation, etc.
-Deciding on the gender: This can depend on a lot of factors. Do you feel more comfortable writing male characters or female characters?
It is of course most easiest to write what you know, so making the main character the same gender as yourself can work, but sometimes this may be wrong for your book.
There are plots that need a male protagonist, or benefit more from a male protagonist, and some plots that need a female protagonists. So you will have to consider this in creating your character.
An example: The plot: A school of wizards gets a new pupil, but they only accept male students.
Now if you are writing a standard plot line, you of course need a male character; it could be a coming-of-age-as-a-wizard story. However, a plot twist could be utilized by using a female protagonist.
She would have to disguise herself as a boy, there would be the constant threat of discovery, and even the big reveal of her being female. Both versions could be good books, but their plots hinge on the gender of the main character.

All right, you have decided on your characters gender. Now what? Now you have to detail your character’s personality and life.
Some details will be dependent on your plot.
For instance:
1-How old is he, and does age matter to the story. If the plot is about the last days of an old wizard, then your character cannot be 28 years old.
2-What does your character do for a living? Again this may be determined by your plot. Whether he is a wizard, a vampire hunter, etc is solely up to the plotline.
But if your story is a modern fantasy, an alternative history, or just one where a character is drawn into events, the occupation may not be relevant to your plot, and therefore flexible.

Now you have a basic character, time for the details.

You should sketch out a character outline or background. How much detail included in this outline will depend on you, and how you prefer to write.
You may feel more comfortable developing your character’s personality as you write the first draft of your story (oh yes, there will be be more than one draft of your book), and you will write just a basic background for your character. Or you may find it helpful to flesh out the character with all sorts of detail, some or most of which will never be included in your book.
I try to aim for somewhere in between.

What details to include in your outline:

I like to include some sort of family tree: parents, siblings, cousins, whatever. Is he an orphan, an only child, have three brothers, etc?

Physical traits: hair colour, eye colour, height, weight, etc.
Characters, at some point in the book, will be described in a physical manner; just avoid any straight, detailed physical descriptions that read like a list. It is better to try for a more casual mention of physical traits, especially if it is mixed into the plot.
I like to be very detailed in outlining physical characteristics; I don’t use every detail, but it helps me get a mental handle on writing the character.

Personality traits. Is the character shy, outgoing, laugh too much, egotistical, arrogant, sensitive, intelligent, have low self-esteem, etc. Find the traits that define your character; from these you will build every action and reaction of your character.

Major life events. Don’t detail every little thing in a character’s life, but do include major events that will effect the characters personality; such as deaths, choices, traumas, etc.

Take these things and create a history for your protagonist.

Part 2- How to write an antagonist (the villain of your book):

All the rules for creating a protagonist apply to the antagonist as well, but your villain has some peculiar quirks that must be addressed.
First, he cannot be too evil. Yes he may be a megalomaniac sorcerer, bent on dominating the known world through dark magic, but he can still love kitty cats. Seriously though, you do have to give your villain some redeeming human characteristics, so your readers can identify with him on some level. The best villains are the ones we love to hate, that have been twisted by circumstance, tragedy or their own ambition. By making your villain a three-dimensional character instead of a caricature, you ensure that his actions in the book are taken seriously by your readers.
Second, don’t be afraid of the villain’s evil side. Your villain exists solely to make life miserable for your protagonist, and to move the plot forward. So feel free to kill, maim, pillage and destroy in his/her name. Just remember to keep it realistic; make sure there are logical reasons behind every action of your villain.

Part 3- A word on how to make your characters believable:

Characters, especially fantasy characters inhabit worlds which do not exist, so it is up to you as the writer to convince your reader that the world and the people who live there are Real.
There is only one way to do this: use logic. Every world, every character you create Must Have a set of rules that that they adhere to and strictly follow. Now these rules can be dictated by real life or by a series you have created for your world.

Examples:

1- You have set your story in a modern day setting, and your characters are werewolf hunters who operate in secret. Your hunters have a code they exist by and live dual lives under a great deal of stress.

According to your rules, to make your characters believable they must:
a. -Never reveal their secrets, or face punishment and consequences
b. -Have problems in their personal lives (even if they are just small ones)
c. -Show some conflict in juggling their duel lives.
d. -Interact with modern society and a supernatural world. (So your characters will need two sets of behaviour).

2- You have created a world of dragons and wizards, who are at war.

According to your rules, to make your characters believable they must:
a. -Have limits on their magic and powers. Characters must have weaknesses.
b. -Remember war has to have consequences, and people die. Soldiers, innocent bystanders everyone is a potential casualty.
c. -Live by the laws of the world you have created. Just like in regular life they have to restrain themselves from wreaking havoc (unless the character is a villain).
d. -Know, and at least in some part, support the reasons for this war. Your characters must have a valid reason for their actions (you can of course give them doubts).

Now a note about villains:
Your villains need a separate set of rules for their behaviour, but will operate within the basic world structure you have created. They may, of course, break criminal laws and moral imperatives as needed. Just remember those sorts of actions have consequences, for both villains and the good guys.

Helpful Links:
Fantasy Hero Cliche-o-Meter
The Not-So-Grand List of Overused Fantasy Clichés
The Fantasy Cliché Meter: the Bad Guys

Writing a Fantasy Novel: Research

Step 3

How does one research a fantasy novel, you ask? How do you research things that don’t exist? Ah, but fantasy does exist, for every good fantasy novel has at least some basis in mythology and/or history. So that is where you start.
History:
Now your book is either set in our world, or a world you are creating. If it is set in our world, then you do research based on the historical time period you have chosen. If it is set in the 18th century than behavior, manners, geography, technology, etc must be reflect this century.
If you are creating your own world, you have far more leeway in in what you can write about. The first thing you decide is what historical time period most resembles your book’s plot line; is it like the Roman Empire, the ancient Celts, medieval England, Renaissance Italy? Whatever time period it resembles will be the basis of your research, and you may even mix and match histories if your world has more than one culture. (Although I would suggest you stay within close time periods when creating different cultures.)
An example: Your book has a Celtic flavour, so you give your main characters similar customs of the ancient Celts. From here you can give another part of your world Roman customs, or Norse.
Just remember when creating your own world, you use history as a basis, but you can alter or tweak that basis anyway you wish. I’ll be expanding more on that subject when I write on worldbuilding.
Mythology:
Mythology is used when researching supernatural subjects (especially helpful to research creatures). Most supernatural subjects have a basis in myths and folklore and can be research as to origin. You can find the how and whys of werewolves, fairies, witches, vampires, etc.

Now a last word about research. There are three essentials when doing research: the internet, the library, and the bookstore.

Writing a fantasy novel: Grammar and Editing

Step 4

A note about Grammar and Editing:

If you are going to write a book make sure you know your grammar and spelling. Even if your book has a brilliant plot, heartbreaking characters and fabulous dialogue, it will never sell if it is full of grammar and/or spelling mistakes. So know the basic rules, and use the spellcheck.

A list of some common beginner mistakes:
- Over use of commas
- Not properly separating dialogue passages from paragraphs
- Over use of adjectives/adverbs
- Spelling goofs such as using “there” instead of “their”
- Misuse of apostrophes
- Using the wrong emphasis: putting words in Bold Text or CAPITALS, instead of Italics

Mistakes are easy enough to make in your writing, (I certainly have made a few), which leads me into the topic of: Editing.

First Rule: a writer needs a good editor.

That said, you also have to self edit before your manuscript is seen by a professional editor. Be ruthless. Cut, slash and rework until the flow and tone are sparkling.
Reading your work out loud is an excellent way to see if there are clunky, awkward passages.

Here’s a list of links to some helpful editing tips:

Self-editing

Forbidden Words: Advice for Writers

A Writer's Ramble:

Writing is Visual

Writers need to know how to write. They need to know basic grammar, sentence structure, spelling (or have a good dictionary/spell-check) and how to lay out dialogue. Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert in grammar; I make plenty of mistakes and typos in my work. However, I do have a basic understanding of grammar and spelling. Moreover, I’ve learned how to use those skills to write a story.
Therefore, I’m giving aspiring writers this piece of advice:

Writing is a visual medium.

When someone reads your work, they see it. If they see a sloppy, loosely edited, badly composed story, it will relay a message: This person does not know how to write. It won’t matter if your story has fascinating characters or a stunning plotline if someone quits reading after the second paragraph; poor grammar and sentence structure can make a reader feel it’s not worth the effort.

Here’s an example of bad grammar and spelling:

It was night and I was standing in the rain the cold wet seeping into my skin and hair. I had closed my eyes and I could hear the thruming of the raindrops as they hit the ground but it was a heartbeat I was trying to hear. Ah there it was the faint thumping sound and I licked my lips. I had found my quarry and she had already been pursued for three city blocks but now the search was nearing an end. “She is close.” I let the words carry over my sholder to the rest of my team and I signaled and we moved left and down the dark street. I had brought my five best men all well trained and with practiced ease we assembled formation and advanced on the hunted and I was on point tracking all my senses open.

A better version:

It was night and I stood in the rain, the cold wet seeping into my skin and hair. I closed my eyes, and I could hear the thrumming of the raindrops as they hit the ground. But it was a heartbeat I was trying to hear.
Ah, there it was, the faint thumping sound.
I licked my lips; I found my quarry. Her pursuit encompassed three city blocks, but now the search neared its end.
“She is close.”
I let the words carry over my shoulder to the rest of my team.
I signaled, and we moved left and down the dark street. I brought my five best men, all well trained. With practiced ease, we assembled formation, and advanced on the hunted. I was on point, tracking, all my senses open.

There are spelling errors in the first version, too much passive structure, no paragraph separation and not enough punctuation. In addition, the dialogue is not handled correctly in the first narrative. Which version would you want to read?

An example of badly displayed dialogue:

“Ah, a convert of Jacob.” Lorenzo’s voice sounded forlorn. “I am proud to belong to Jacob.” Cecily’s reply held a note of jubilation, but it brought only anxious murmurs from the Council; I could smell their fear. Lorenzo continued. “You know there is a standing edict regarding all followers of Jacob? You are aware of it?” Cecily nodded. “Then there is no need for this trial. This Council will never support the ravings of that power mad fool.” “He is no fool! He is right! We must fight! We must be the dominant species!” “Silence!” Lorenzo’s voice shook the walls.

A better version:

“Ah, a convert of Jacob.” Lorenzo’s voice sounded forlorn.
“I am proud to belong to Jacob.”
Cecily’s reply held a note of jubilation, but it brought only anxious murmurs from the Council; I could smell their fear.
Lorenzo continued. “You know there is a standing edict regarding all followers of Jacob? You are aware of it?”
Cecily nodded.
“Then there is no need for this trial. This Council will never support the ravings of that power mad fool.”
“He is no fool! He is right! We must fight! We must be the dominant species!”
“Silence!” Lorenzo’s voice shook the walls.

In the first paragraph, none of the dialogue is separated and it is difficult to distinguish the speakers. In the second version, you can see the flow of the dialogue.

An example of a run-on sentence:

I am of the Elite and serve the Vampire Order, we have been the guardians over vampire kind for nearly two centuries and the Elite keep the secrets, implement the edicts and we protect our kind, punish wayward individuals, enforce our law and that law is simple, you hunt the invisible, the homeless, the drug addicts, or you disguise the kill as a mugging gone wrong, a serial killer never caught.

A better version:

I am of the Elite, and serve the Vampire Order. We have been the guardians over vampire kind for nearly two centuries. The Elite keep the secrets and implement the edicts. We protect our kind, punish wayward individuals, and enforce our law. That law is simple; you hunt the invisible, the homeless and the drug addicts. You disguise the kill; a mugging gone wrong, a serial killer never caught.

A reader needs to pause, to feel the rhythm in a sentence. If the entire paragraph is one sentence, there is no break, no flow.

You can rift and free write or jumble down your thoughts to your heart’s content if you are the only one who is going to read it. The minute you decide to share your work, a thought to presentation must be given. Your writing is a gift to your readers, don’t wrap it in wrinkled and soiled paper.

Show Don't Tell

There’s a rule in the writer world, “show don’t tell”, that many new writers break, quite possibly because they don’t understand it. Now all it means is that you shouldn’t overdo with the explanations. Readers want actions, not boredom.

Some “Dick and Jane” Examples of “Show, Don’t Tell”

Tell:

His name was Dick. He sat in his car. The sun was setting. His fingers were tapping on the steering wheel. The car radio was playing loud music. Suddenly he saw something outside. It was a shadow and it moved in front of the car.

Show:

Dick lounged in his car, staring at the golden tinged sunset. His fingers drummed on the steering wheel as rock music blared from the car radio and his head bobbed in time to the beat. Sudden movement outside caught his attention and he gawked through the windshield. An undulating shadow swirled past the front of the car, its form outlined in the fading light.

Tell:

Jane was running and she was scared. She ran through the woods with a beast chasing her. She was looking over her shoulder as she ran. Her heart was pounding and she was breathing hard. She could hear the beast growling behind her and she tried to move faster.

Show:

Jane raced through the woods, her terror pushing her to escape the beast that chased her. Panicked glances over her shoulder showed her nothing, yet she heard its growls growing closer. Her lungs struggled to work, heaving in pain, her breath came as labouring gasps for air, her heart thumped wildly, and she ran for her life.

See the difference? The “tell” examples read like lists, the “show” passages put the reader there in the scene with the character.

Writing Examples: Descriptions

A bit of advice on writing descriptive passages.

Good writing needs to know restraint; DO NOT over detail your work, or pepper it with adjectives/adverbs, and DO NOT use a straight descriptive technique.

When creating a scene or description, you are trying for atmosphere, to make a reader feel they are there; the reader does not need an inventory list. Also don’t be too sparse with the details; make sure you add what is needed. Be careful about use of adjectives, especially in dialogue. Make sure you match the adjective/adverb with the description.

DETAIL EXAMPLE:

A DON’T:
Jess entered in her bedroom to get dressed. She had chosen her favourite sapphire blue, lace-trimmed camisole top, and her dark black slacks. She had laid them out on her brass bed, across her green floral print sheets, close to the lime green pillows, while she showered. She stared at the sheer emerald green curtains on her windows as a breeze blew, and she pulled her top over her light brown hair, and put on her pants.

A DO:
Jess entered in her bedroom to get dressed after her shower; her favourite blue, lace-trimmed top and black slacks lay across her brass bed. A breeze fluttered through window as she pulled on her clothes.

A DON’T:
Butch was standing in the library, watching Jess play the black, shiny grand piano that her grandmother had given her four years ago for her birthday. He delighted in the sound of her music mixing with the tick of the old oak and glass grandfather clock.
Beside him was a mahogany wood end table, standing in front of the window, where he now placed his lemonade. He walked over to the piano, going past all the ugly, ceramic knick-knacks, the grandfather clock, the stone fireplace, and he ran his hand lovingly over the mantel as was his habit.

A DO:
Butch stood in the library, watching Jess play her ebony grand piano. He delighted in the sound of her music mixing with the tick of the old grandfather clock.
He placed his lemonade on the mahogany end table by the window, and walked towards the piano. He smiled at the familiar surroundings, and lovingly ran his hand over the stone fireplace mantel as he went past.

ADJECTIVE/ADVERB EXAMPLE:

A DON’T:
Butch stared longingly, lovingly, hopefully at Jess, wondering sulkily if she would actually speak to him.
“Hello, Butch,” Jess said vaguely, with a smile.

A DO:
Butch stared longingly at Jess, wondering if she would actually speak to him.
“Hello, Butch,” Jess said with a smile.

Writing Examples: Characters

How to write a physical description of a character.

A physical description of any character, should flow naturally out of the scene you are writing; it SHOULD NOT bring that scene to a boring, thudding halt.

EXAMPLE:
Jack was on his way to the post office, strolling down his street at a leisurely pace. A pretty girl outside the pharmacy stared, because he was incredibly handsome. He had blond hair, gorgeous green eyes, tanned, chiseled features, a straight nose, was dressed in a tight t-shirt and blue jeans.
Her eyes followed him down the street.


This example tells us what Jack looks like, but not much else. It lacks flow and energy.

ANOTHER EXAMPLE:
Jack was on his way to the post office, strolling down his street at a leisurely pace. A pretty girl outside the pharmacy stared; Jack cut a swaggering, handsome figure.
The wind ruffled his blond hair, adding to the rakish air he emitted. His emerald eyes cast a devilish sparkle, and they gave the straight, chiseled features of his face a radiance. He proudly displayed his taut, tanned physique, dressed in a snug t-shirt and close-fitting blue jeans.
He threw the girl a bright, wide smile, well aware that her eyes followed him down the street.


In this example, not only do we find out what Jack looks like, but also get some insight into his personality. It is a good setup for what ever follows.

How To Craft A Plot

Hint: It Has To Make Sense

Road Your basic plot structure is this:

The Opening Setup, which includes or leads to – Event or Problem A – which leads to Event or Problem B – which leads to Event or Problem C – which leads to Event or Problem D, etc. etc. – which eventually leads to The Climax – which brings you to the Denouement or Conclusion.

Now the above formula is very simplified of course, but it is the spine of most plots – in other words a plot must run a logical course. Now for some of the more complicated bits.

Subplots- Subplots are those storylines that veer off from the main course and explore other avenues, often involving secondary characters. They give your plot layers and complexity, can help to build suspense, explore inner emotions or psychological character angles, but all the subplots have to meet up at the climax and merge back on to the main course.

Character Chemistry- Chemistry between characters, especially love interests MUST MAKE SENSE. For instance: You have given your strong, decisive Vampire Hunter has a weak-wiled, annoying, submissive girlfriend. WHY? Why would a tough, fearless guy want to date a less-than-confident woman? Now you can change the girlfriend, make her more assertive or explain the why. Perhaps the girlfriend reminds the Vampire Hunter of his mother (there are some juicy psychological issues to be explored with that twist), or maybe the relationship is one-sided and he doesn’t love her, but is with her out of obligation or guilt (more issues to explore there) or perhaps she’s having trouble dealing with his job and is acting submissive out of fear (this is an excellent self-growth character arc for the girlfriend).

Red Herrings and Dangling Pieces- BE CAREFUL WITH USING RED HERRINGS. Sometimes during a plot, little pieces of misinformation or misdirects are written in to help suspense or keep the reader on edge for a big reveal at the end. The problem with using this plot device is sometimes they just go nowhere and then dangle off a cliff for the rest of the book. If you use a red herring make certain there’s a good reason, and you can explain your way out of it.

Climax-

A climax must:

Make sense: All (and I mean all) the plot lines, character arcs, etc. have to be gathered up and resolved in the climax. They don’t have to be happy resolutions, or full resolutions, but there must be some sense of an ending, good or bad.

No Cheating: Don’t take shortcuts with your ending, don’t pull rabbits out of your literary hat, have sudden, previously unmentioned miracles or powers solve everything, or otherwise pull a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved (known as a “deus ex machina” – the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object). Don’t short change your readers.

Denouement or Conclusion- This is where you mop up the aftermath of the climax, bury the dead, generally tie up any loose bits or stray feelings. This is where the hero and heroine ride off into the sunset together, or the hero mourns the loss of his love who sacrificed herself to save the world. The denouement is a brief wind-down to deal with whatever happened in your climax. Don’t over do it; keep it simple and relatively short. It can also be used to tease readers for planned sequels.

The First Draft:

You have finished your first draft, written the characters, formed the plot and penned your ideas.
It’s ready, right, to send off to the publisher?

Wrong.

The first draft ALWAYS needs revision, NO exceptions.
Go into editing mode, with the attitude that your work is crap. (If you are a good writer it will not be that bad, but you must let go of any affection you have for your prose.)
Be ruthless, tighten weak passages, eliminate fluff, kill off useless characters and polish your plot points.

Then do it again, and again, and again if necessary. And don’t forget to check spelling and grammar.

Only then, after all that editing, may it just be ready to send to an editor or publisher.

Never start a story with "It was a Dark and Stormy Night"

How to use weather in a descriptive passage

In my internet travels, I’ve come across discussions that advise a writer to avoid recounting the weather in your descriptive passages, as it can seem cliché, boring or slow the pace of the writing. All true, but I’m not against using it; I feel used properly and sparingly it is a wonderful tool for creating mood and atmosphere.
The key, I believe, is not making the weather the focus of the passage; it must lurk in the background.

Here are some examples of weather in descriptive passages that I’ve written:

From the story Song Rise (in the book Inside Realms)

“The mountain track was snow packed, still locked in a northern winter chill, although it was the beginning of spring.

He left his footsteps behind him like tiny echoes as he marched through the frozen vista scrambling to be reborn. The wind around him blew bitter, a hungry lament keening down from the caves.

“To freeze my bones,” he growled through the gale. “No doubt I’ll lay dead somewhere before this day is through.”

He kept on walking, passing the directional marker within the hour, as the sky darkened steadily and storm clouds became the heavens.

The clouds hung low; fat, ebony shapes devouring all substance, their threat enclosing the landscape in a sunless expanse. Hoped for snow came as ice, sharp and fast, coating the trees that he plodded past, frosting them in fingers of crystal.
The ghostly panorama lay out before him, a dreary shadowed white, shades of grey and silver muting what little colour had survived the frigid weather.”
© 2008 A. F. Stewart


With this piece I set the atmosphere, and an obstacle for the character. It also illustrates the importance of his task, and reveals some of his personality.

From Victorian Shadows (in the book Killers and Demons)

The fog rolled in off the Thames to fill the London streets with soft grey obscurity. Sally wished she could melt into the mist and vanish forever.
© 2011 A. F. Stewart


This example is used to heighten the character’s emotional state and set the tone of the story.

From Haunted (in the book, Once Upon a Dark and Eerie…)

The moonlight illuminated the cemetery with an eerie glow, making shadows seemingly dance around Cheryl. Dark clouds swept past the pale orb; a storm was on the horizon.
© 2010 A. F. Stewart


This passage sets the mood perfectly, and reflects what is about to happen in the story.

Worldbuilding: Part 1

Geography

How do you create a Fantasy World?

One of two ways: either you start from scratch and create an imaginary world (an example: The Wizard of Earthsea )or build fantasy into our real world (an example: The Dresden Files).

Starting from scratch:

The first thing you do when building your world from scratch is decide what you want your world to look like. Is it going to have continents, are you going to just concentrate on one region only, is it going to be a world of water and islands, perhaps it is under the sea, or a desert world. Whatever you decide, you must know what the basic geography is like. I suggest you draw some maps; they don’t have to be perfect, just a guideline to help you out. In creating the world of my novel-in-progress, Song of the Wind and Sea, I drew two maps: one topographical, with the geographic regions labelled (I colour-coded the geography) and one listing all my kingdoms, and their cities and towns. (If you need help with creating geography do some research into topography, and look at different types of maps.)
Once you know the basic geography, fill in some details; creating an outline can be helpful. Now you need not be too detailed at this point, just know where your mountains are, your forests, whether your main city is built on a hill, are there dangerous animals lurking in your regions, are there rivers that your characters will have to deal with, etc. More details will most likely emerge as you write, so if you start with maps and a reference outline, it is easier to keep things straight.

Worldbuilding- Part 2

Creating Locations and Society

Now you have your map, and you know what your world looks like. It is time to build in some society.
Here’s where your research and your imagination come together.

The easiest place to start is with the main location of your book. It could be a town, a forest, an ivory tower, but it will need a political structure, people, habits, traditions, etc.

I’ll use a town as an example of how to construct your location.
First you’ll need a general layout of your town, and a of course a name.
We’ll call our town Zathnir, and we’ll assume that the layout is based on a medieval township (and we’ll assume the layout of a medieval township has been researched). It is a walled town, with two gates, one in the east and one opposite in the west. The layout is quite haphazard, as sections have been added to town growth willy-nilly. Also, know where the roads are, any town wells, etc.
Second, you must decide the main buildings and places within the town. You can, of course, add places if you find you need them later.

OK, for purposes of the example our main character in this world is a soldier. So, in Zathnir we will need a tavern, called Greb’s, for our character to hang out in. Also we will need barracks where he will live. And you will have to decide where else he goes in the town: For instance, does he have guard duty at one of the Gates? Does he buy protective charms at a shop? Does he have a horse at the stables? He may need new weapons, and will have to use a blacksmith. And list will go on. And the more characters you have, the more places you may need.

Now that you have an idea of your buildings, you can fit them into your town layout.
You will have to be careful where you put shops, stables, etc, and this is where you again apply your research of a medieval township.
So we employ the research and the first thing we decide on is a marketplace and shop area in or near the center of town. Here we put the shop where our character buys his protective charms, the stall where he gets his fresh fruit, buys his clothes, or whatever. Now we can place the tavern close to the marketplace, or near the barracks, which we will put near the East Gate. The stables and blacksmith shop will be near each other, and will also be close to the East Gate.
Any other shops or buildings will be placed according to research.

Okay, we have built a basic town. Now what?
Now you have to decide what kind of people live there, and what kind of lives they have.

Building World Culture

How do you create a Fantasy Culture?

The first thing you need to decide when creating a world’s culture is what type of people live there.

Are they a war-like people, pacifists, sea-farers, nomads, horsemen, etc.
Do they have a complex spiritual/religious network, or does it consist more of tribal religions. Perhaps it has no religious structure.
What is the government structure? Is it male dominated, or female dominated? Or is it equally balanced? Is there a central government, or perhaps there are separately governed city-states. Is it a monarchy, dictatorship, republic, empire, or theocracy?
If your world has a magic based society, what sort? Are the wizards hermits, nomadic, or town-based? Are they rulers or an influential power? Do they have an organization that is fundamental to your society or are they a secret group feared by the people.

You will have to sort out your cliques, governments, guilds, institutes, etc. and then decide where your character’s allegiances belong.

How to build fantasy into the real world.

Using real world settings for your fantasy novel is easier in the sense you do not have to build a world from scratch; you already have a pre-existing set of rules and a culture. It does come with restrictions; you have less of a fantasy world to work with, everything supernatural has to be structured inside reality. In other words, wizards won’t be strolling down Main Street in long robes, spinning pretty green orbs in the wake.


When creating a real world fantasy, you can choose to use a historical setting or a current timeline. A historical timeline will need extensive research and careful attention to historical detail. A modern timeline will still need research, but of course you will be more familiar with the customs and mannerisms of present day.


If you decide to build a fantasy world within reality, your first rule is believability. In order to make your world believable characters must act and react if they were living in our reality.

When everyday characters come face to face with mythical creatures, or fantastical creations they must act appropriately. (For instance: The new girlfriend of your intrepid hero is confronted by a vampire. It is not likely she will not say, “Wow, you are so cool!” No, it is far more likely she will scream, run, or possibly hit him over the head with a large object.)


Now you can have established characters that are aware of your fantasy world, (usually the main players, but peripheral characters can be in the know as well), but more often than not they will be leading double lives and keeping secrets. (Example: Your hero is part of a cabal of vampire hunters, but since that doesn’t pay well he has a day job. His co-workers no nothing of his vampire hunting, and he often has to lie to explain bruises, absences or odd behaviour.)


Even your fantasy characters must live somewhat within our reality. Now your vampires may fly and defy the laws of gravity, but if they live in secret and prowl the night for unsuspecting humans, they won’t be broadcasting their existence on YouTube. In fact such characters would go out of their way to avoid technology such as cell phone cameras or security videos.


So figure out who your characters are, where and what time they live in, and how they are going to interact with their world.


Alternate World Histories

A variation of weaving fantasy into the real world is the alternate history. This is a world where history has differed from the course of events we know. You can have a straight historical deviation such as the Allied Forces lost WWII (yes, I know it’s cliche) or you can go further and make it an alternate fantasy history. An example of this would be a world where vampires waged war with humans and now rule our modern society.


The key to alternate history is to mix plausible historic changes with familiar things. (For example: The vampire rules history would feature a drastically different world government structure, but vampires could still be using cellphones, wi-fi internet, google.)


The one must to writing an alternate history is very thorough research. You must know your history before you change it.

Fantasy World Building

Links to help you build your book's fantasy world

Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions Part 1
Questions to help the fantasy writer create a believable imaginary setting.
One Of Us Creative Writing Website - How to Create Fantasy Worlds
Creating fantasy worlds. Feature highlighting links and content on the web about creating fantasy worlds, characters and places. One Of Us creative writing website, tips and hints, articles, resources, publications, UK writing groups and links. If you write, you're One Of Us.
Creating Fantasy and Science Fiction Worlds
Introduction to Creating Fantasy and Science Fiction Worlds, a seven part workshop series. Links to the other parts are listed on the page.
Creating the Fantasy World
This page is based on a workshop on building the fantasy landscape.
Creating an Earthlike Planet
Helpful tips on creating earth similar worlds.
World building -- basic worksheet
A worksheet for worldbuilding; it would make an excellent guide for an outline.
The Fantasy Novelist's Exam
A list of Fantasy rip-off tip-offs in the form of an exam.

A Writers Link List

Helpful writing stuff.

Links that are useful.
(And also ones that pertain to me.)
Afallon Website
Website of fantasy and horror author A. F. Stewart
AuthorsDen
Online Community of Authors and Readers. An excellent place for writer promotion.
Lulu.com
Looking for self publishing resources? Lulu.com lets you publish and sell and print on demand books, e-books, online music, images, custom calendars and photo books.
Preditors & Editors
A guide to publishers and writing services for serious writers!
Minnette Meador's Website
Home of Minnette Meador, author of Starsight.
Writer Beware
Warnings About Literary Fraud and Other Schemes, Scams, and Pitfalls That Target Writers.
Author & Book Promotions
A resource directory for authors -- comprised of articles, marketing tips, and resources on book promotion.
100 Character Development Questions for Writers by Laura Cushing
These 100 Character Development questions, written by my friend Rich Taylor, have come in handy so many times for me as a writer!
Writing-World.com: Science Fiction & Fantasy
A list of helpful articles and links.
The Writing Room | Fiction
A series of workshop articles on how to write fiction.
Your writing doesn't have to be perfect, but it should at least be close. Writing tips to help you succeed.
This article deals with editing writing, focusing on crime fiction, but the tips are helpful for any genre.
Publishing Basics: Don'ÂÂt Let This Happen to You! - From The Vault of Publishing Horror Stories
Helpful advice on avoiding editing and manuscript errors, with emphasis for self-publishers.
Grammar Guide for Self-Editing « Bertram's Blog
Bertram's Blog

Grammar Guide for Self-Editing
August 25, 2008
Guest blogpost by Paul Allen Leoncini. He is the author of the epic novel Conjuror, available at Barnes&Noble, Bordersbooks, Ingram books and www.PublishAmerica.com as well as bricks and mortars book stores.
Author's Studio: Melting Pot of Methods: Developing Heroes & Heroines
A how-to on creating characters.
Murder by 4: Thirteen Tips for Dialogue
How to write good dialogue.
The Fictional Character Development Template
A character development template designed for fiction writers.
The Writer's Library: Writer's Reference Directory and Guide--Updated Version
A topic index for free writing tips, both for traditional and web-based writers.
Dialogue Pitfalls
An excellent article about writing dialogue.
Writing Dialogue
A how-to on writing good dialogue.
Unnatural Language in Fantasy Fiction
A must read for would-be fantasy writers
Speculative Fiction and What Not To Do
A look at what to avoid in writing speculative genre fiction.
Adventures in Writing: A Reader's Guide to Copyright
Facts about copyright. A must read!
Holt Uncensored » The Ten Mistakes
The Ten Mistakes Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do).
How to Write Fantasy
A complete guide on how to write fantasy fiction.
Show or Tell? | Editor Unleashed
Explaining why a good writer uses the "show don't tell" rule.
WTF is Copy-edit?
Some great tips on streamlining your work in editing.
My Attempt to Write A Fantasy Book
One writer's thoughts on his project of writing a fantasy book.

RSS: Feed: My Blog

Loading

A soft coo, woven from the
golden cascade, the echo of a child's first breath.

My Books

A list of my published books

Gothic Calvalcade
The Masquerade Carnivale is coming to call...
A woman escaping her wretched past stumbles into the strange world of a supernatural carnival. Does her fate lie there, or with the captive life she left behind?
The Family wants her future.
The past is pulling her back.
Both race toward her revenge.
The Masquerade Carnivale is beckoning... will she answer?
Passing Fancies
Passing Fancies is a book of collected short fiction, written mostly in the fantasy genre with a smattering of crime and sci-fi dropping by as well.
You will find tales short to long, amusing to chilling, wandering about the pages waiting just for you
Reflections of Poetry
Go through the looking glass into the world of verse and discover this eclectic collection of poetry. The poems range from musings on Celtic heritage to embracing emotional turmoil. Throw in a little moonlight, the soothing sounds of the sea, and mix well with some sci-fi and fantasy for a lyrical medley of reading enjoyment
Once Upon a Dark and Eerie...
Snippets, sonnets and stories to make you shiver.
A morbid and morose collection of tales designed to scare, dismay and leave you wondering. Open the pages into worlds of horror, dark fantasy, and satire, where things creep in shadowy corners, where they like to hear you scream.
Killers and Demons
Warning! Not for the faint of heart!
Craving a little blood or perhaps some horrific death? Slake your gruesome thirst for vicarious thrills with five chilling stories that go inside the twisted world of serial killers and beyond to the dark, disturbing world of demons.

Vampire Poll

Which type of vampire book do you prefer?

  Show the poll results

Amazon Spotlight

For New Fantasy Novels

Shedding light on new fantasy authors or new fantasy books.

Vote for your Favourite Fantasy Classic (Plexo)

A list a classic Fantasy novels, vote your favourite higher on the list.

Some books listed are actually series, but are included that way for convenience of name recognition.

If you have any suggestions for this list, please share. DO NOT post any books that have been published since 1990. They are not old enough to be considered classics (in my opinion).

All additions to the list are approved before being added, so don't bother posting Spam, it will not be published and will be deleted.
Loading
Embed

Reader Feedback

Please voice your opinion.

Tell me what you think.
Comment on what I have to say.
Tell me about the books you read, or your own writing.

----------------------------------------------------------------------
  • Follow
    Share to:
    Alert message
  • artyfax Feb 10, 2014 @ 12:28 pm
    Wow, such detailed help on so many fronts - thanks for this lens
  • The_Storyteller Nov 18, 2013 @ 10:02 pm
    Thanks for the lens, I enjoyed it! I am working a lot at my own novel, and good advice is always appreciated! I neglected the outline stage of my novel during the first several attempts, and have come to regret it! Now I am hashing through a really specific timeline before I write the next draft. =)
  • mcsburlea Jul 03, 2013 @ 2:38 pm
    wow, great lens, well written
  • kschimmel Jun 17, 2013 @ 2:26 pm
    This is too much info for one reading, so I will be back again and again as I try my hand at writing a novel. Thanks for this lens!
  • matt Apr 10, 2013 @ 12:02 pm
    authordaily.blogspot.com

See all comments

A Writer's Poll

Questions for book lovers.

What is your favourite type of book?

  Show the poll results

Generate some debate

A forum to debate the merits of books

Do you think Harry Potter is over rated?

Loading

Absolutely, I'm sick of Potter.

Brian says:

Tenereus, It is the worst thing to happen to literature. I don't even consider it literature...

Brian says:

Oh and for kids, the fantasy books warriors is WAY better than harry potter. AND it has WAY more books than harry potter... Yeah about 10 more books than harry potter and counting!

Brian says:

Yep, Harry Potter is the most ridiculous fantasy books ever. If you want to read good fantasy, Lord of the rings or the hobbit or ANY of Tolkien's Work.

Umbereye says:

I mean, the writing style alone is so...flimsy. Squishy, almost. Without a firm base. It;s hard to describe, but its essentially what I'd get by trawling twilight fanfic on WATTPAD. So yeah.

Umbereye says:

Oh, I loved Harry Potter...when I was seven. Now it digusts me. There are so many better books- have any of you actually re-read the Potter books?

No, it's the best.

anonymous 77 says:

Honestly, the HP books are a great stepping stone into more advanced fantasy literature. I believe children ( ages 6-12) should read the series at least once in their lives, just to get a feel for the magic structures an author can and should create, though they are fairly basic and definitely not the best books out there. If you want clean, rated PG fantasy, this is a good start. I should know, this series was the only one I read during the 1st grade, and now I am reading works by other, much more talented authors. For all of you trolls downplaying this series, just be quiet, and realize that some people had to have liked it in order for the seven books to be turned into 8 movies. But still, for the people saying there's nothing better, take the time to read some of R.A. Salvatore's works (I suggest The Crystal Shard first, then once you're hooked read all the other books in the series). Any of the Forgotten Realms books are better than HP. Or, if you are mature and old enough, read Game of Thrones. Now THAT is an extremely well-done piece of literature that actually deserves the attention it has been getting. In conclusion, HP should be recognized for the mark it has left, but move on, please, so people can expand their minds to much better ideas and worlds outside of Hogwarts.

kschimmel says:

I would not say "best" considering all the competition for that title (including Tolkein) but I thought the characters were well developed and the plot stayed cohesive throughout the series.

Zuhair says:

Nope. Nope. Nope Nope Nope Nope Nope Nope...... And NOPE. IT's FREAKIN' AWESoMe!

says:

I've not read any of the Harry Potter books. But I loved the movies. Guess I'd really fall somewhere in between on this debate, but No fits better than yes.

Tenereus says:

I think it's over rated, but that doesn't make it a bad series. I in fact loved it - all of it, I just think the fan base needs to calm down a little. All those who don't like it, that's fair enough, just don't go ripping on it as if it is the worst thing to happen to literature. All those who love it, don't go around saying it's the best series ever. And don't get angry at opposing opinions and try to convince them otherwise. You aren't EVER going to convince a person with an opposing opinion to change to your viewpoint. Aaaand I'm off topic. Bottom line : Harry Potter was great, and I still enjoy reading it, but it isn't perfect. The characters were well thought out, although I felt that even Voldemort needed some redeeming qualitites - he seemed a little TOO evil. Same for Bellatrix. Harry, however, was a realistic hero. Brave, but reckless at times and the stress of the events of his life DO show.

 
view all 148 comments