If you are interested in learning everything about fantasy novels and want to learn how to write a fantasy novel, you are at the right place – keep reading.
The amazing thing about the fantasy genre is how it propels us into unknown lands.
From the beginning of time, people have always sunk deep into their imaginations to deliver awe-inspiring stories. A fantasy novel is an example of this, and they have a strong root in every society.
Writing an original fantasy novel that incites readers’ awe isn’t easy. This is because you will create a new and different world, which means creating characters and personifying things and ideas. More importantly, making people believe everything in your fantasy novel.
To come up with a successful novel in the fantasy genre, you require a solid plan. Fantasies are set in fictional worlds. Crafting a world where the characters will function and engage the readers in an immersive experience is difficult.
However, it subverts the readers’ expectations to make them perceive the world as different.
If you want to write a fantasy novel or are interested in learning how to write it for the first time, it is important to unbind the chains holding your imagination in check – go wild, catch fire.
Follow these steps to master the basics of writing an epic fantasy story:
- Study others
- Understand worldbuilding
- Include all worldbuilding essentials
- Dive into your characters
- Craft your plot
- Add meaning
- Outline the novel
This post will highlight the steps involved in creating an engaging and captivating fantasy novel.
Some Advice for Writing a Fantasy Novel
In the words of Charles Bukowski:
If it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.’
‘unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.
Now, Bukowski was a poet. But, what he said about writing applies to fantasy writing.
In fact, fantasy novels – good ones that get published – are probably far tougher creations than realist works.
Fantasy in the Mainstream
So now, dear adventurer, humble wielder of the pen, listen to our advice on how to write a fantasy novel.
Fantasy Novel Template
Before diving into our fantasy writing steps, setting yourself up with a template is also a good idea. Squibler provides templates for different genres, including fantasy. A fantasy-specific template will help you work through these steps.
Templates and software will help you keep things organized and build your world without missing anything.
How to Write a Fantasy Novel in 8 Steps
1. You Need the Right Tools
Before we start, here are some of the best novel-writing resources to help you write your first fantasy novel.
Squibler‘s AI tools are perfect for writing fantasy subgenres and creating a fantasy setting. The way it works is you create Elements. Elements are your fantasy characters, settings, items; and everything that you’ll use for your novel.
Then, using Elements, you can use Squibler AI to write a fantasy novel tailored to your idea.
You can also improve existing novel drafts by asking Squibler to emotionally intensify the scene, a dialogue between characters, or deepen the descriptions of magical creatures and worlds.
Its outline system lets novelists store chapters, scenes, and notes and drag and drop them when necessary.
The tool also allows writers to organize notes and track progress using visual note cards and a split screen interface.
ProWritingAid turns clunky sentences into novel-ready descriptions.
The software also highlights problems like repetition or excessive use of the same word. Writers who use ProWritingAid – fiction, non-fiction, and online blog content creators – report improving their writing style. The program’s useful prompts act as a tutor to improve their wordsmithery.
You can sign up now for a free trial. If it works for you, take up a plan with flexible monthly payments.
You may seek a more extensive edit from a human being at a later date, but many of those who do so still report immense benefits from using an automated system like ProWritingAid.
Software like Squibler and ProWritingAid will help you when you are trying to learn how to write a fantasy novel.
Thank Greyskull for the new wave of automation. While fantasy writing will never get any easier, these tools allow us to take on greater workloads while our novels become longer, richer, and more elaborate.
It’s not just the aid of AI that will get you through the arduous quest of writing a fantasy novel. Only the loneliest wolves amongst us can avoid the natural need for a gang – a fellowship, as it were – of other fantasy readers and writers.
This gaggle of chums can assist us in staying accountable and motivated to the writing process so that we finish our story. Other people can also be sounding boards for our ideas, rich sources of feedback, or collections of confidantes to laugh and cry with when the stress of novel writing becomes too much.
With 7K+ members, Fantasy Writers is the Facebook place to be. The friendly, well-moderated group allows users to post sections of their writing. You can ask for feedback from fellow journeymen and journeywomen in the land of make-believe.
Fantasy Writers (Reddit)
With 107K+ writers subscribed, Reddit’s Fantasy Writers sub is a valuable resource to those looking for camaraderie and feedback.
Fantasy-writers.org provides a welcoming and supportive forum for troubled and enthused fabulists alike, so check it out.
2. Study Others Before Beginning a Fantasy Novel
If you want to know everything about how to write a fantasy novel, stick with one simple rule: Read and study others as much as you can. Reading is a significant aspect to consider to become a good writer.
Before you start writing your fantasy novel, there should be an understanding of the elements particular to literature in the fantasy genre. The best way to learn the ins and outs of these primary elements is to see them in action.
Read some fantasy before you begin. There are two things you can look out for while reading:
Consider how authors create a complex, imaginary, and immersive world in their books.
Then, stand aside and place different plots side by side to identify what workes for each story and see if it can work for you.
For example, think of how tranquil the village from The Lord of the Rings is different from the desolate volcanic wasteland in Mordor.
Examine how authors develop the characters.
Observe their appearance, imperfections, obsessions, and goals. What kind of trials and challenges do they go through? How do they evolve from those trying times?
3. Understanding Worldbuilding in Your Fantasy Novel
‘London, 1980’, you write, and your readers have some clue what you’re referring to. ‘Gulgaroth, in the Year of the Ape’, and you have much more explaining and thinking to do.
Consider all the world-building a fantasy writer has to do before even starting the story:
- Drawing maps
- Creating the different species
- Creating new cosmologies
- Mapping out the rise and fall of multiple imaginary kingdoms
Ever played Dungeons & Dragons? Seen how chunky those rule books are? If not, check out the picture below:
Those are just the basic ones. The literature outlining the races, climate, demography, history, and cultures of the world of Faerun, in which the game is set, is immense. This gives you a good idea of the complexity of world design.
When it comes to how to write a fantasy novel, you have to create an immersive, believable universe for your readers to get lost in. You want a make-believe world as rich and vivid as the one we live in.
Readers want the fantasy to take them out of their humdrum lives, so you must make the make-believe believable.
Different Types of Worlds
This world-building work is most necessary to clearly understand how to write a fantasy novel that will keep readers hooked in an imaginary world (or worlds).
Some fantasy series are set in multiple imaginary worlds, like Diane Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci series. A series of parallel worlds is the setting for the action in this story, requiring an even larger imaginative conception.
There’s a vast choice of fantasy stories, such as dark fantasy, fantasy fiction, epic fantasy, and fantasy mixed with speculative fiction, historical fiction, and science fiction.
There are also fantasy stories set in dual worlds – moving between our ‘real’ world and another one, full of magic and mystery that our protagonists discover.
Think of Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, or The Bridge to Terabithia. These latter stories are often called ‘portal-quest fantasies’ because their questing characters travel through a portal to another beyond our mundane one.
Then there are fantasy stories about the intrusion of supernatural worlds into our own – think of the stories of H. P. Lovecraft.
Stories are set in our world with added fantastical and supernatural elements. The urban fantasy subgenre fits in this category, with works such as the Anita Blake books and The Dresden Files being especially popular.
In urban fantasy, supernatural elements are sometimes hidden, known only to particular initiates, or they are an acknowledged part of the world. Urban fantasy is the real world with a magical twist.
While urban fantasy requires less extensive world-building than single-world high fantasy and portal-quest fantasy, the supernatural elements still need to be richly considered, believably drawn, and internally consistent.
This means you can’t set a rule, for example, that a vampire explodes upon touching garlic, and then have your Count Dracula villain eat a load of garlicky guacamole for dinner.
So, although you don’t have to design a full-fledged, brand-new universe, you still need consistency and believability. This will help you avoid annoying and boring your readers.
4. Worldbuilding Essentials
Your understanding of how to write a fantasy novel will get clearer when you learn more about how to create your own world for your story.
There are several elements to this world design.
Let’s look at each in some detail, taking examples from some of the most classic and best fantasy fiction. We’ll also think about some of the tools you can use to help build your fantasy world.
Geography and Climate
Your world needs believable geography. What are its seas, rivers, and mountainous regions like? How do they differ in climate from their lowland plains?
To figure all this out, map drawing can be a great exercise. The finished maps might even get included in the book. Think about the gorgeous illustrations of imaginary worlds such as Moominland and Middle Earth.
For research, maybe look at medieval maps. Or, for inspiration, check out the cartographer Karen Wynn Fonstad’s books: She’s created vast atlases of some of our favorite fantasy worlds, including The Atlas of Middle-Earth, The Atlas of Pern, and Atlas of the Dragonlance World.
Fantasy is about creating a believable, brand-new world. Perhaps you include features shared by other famous works but with additional, original twists. Developing a rich, believable history is one sure-fire way to ensure your world is not simply a cliché assembled from a box like IKEA flat-pack furniture.
Take Frank Herbert’s novel Dune as an example. Flip through that masterwork of epic science fantasy and you’ll find chapters that are preceded by epigraphs from fictional books – sayings of prophets, sagely advice to rulers. These books within books establish the desert planet of Dune as a credible alternative reality for the reader’s imagination.
Why not pepper your work with some of your fictional non-fiction?
Try not to obstruct the plot’s movement and the character’s development. But, inserting such details can lend a dash of realism to your fantasy universe that will hold a reader’s attention throughout.
Creating such languages is far from essential and will likely be a less essential part of the world-designing process than other aspects. However, it may prove useful as an extra dash of realism for your imaginative palette.
You could base the novel language on one of the world’s existing languages and its grammatical principles to avoid too much nonsensical grunting. As with all aspects of worldbuilding, believability is key.
Without understanding character development, you can’t learn how to write a fantasy novel.
Whether your novel is a space opera, high fantasy, a historical work set in medieval France, or chick lit in present-day New York, readers always look for the same thing. They want richly drawn, contradictory human beings undergoing struggles like themselves.
Even the villains should be more than one-dimensional, simple figures of evil. Darth Vader had complexity and the tincture of a light side. Whether your readers ultimately sympathize with your characters or not; they still need to come across as real.
Thus, it doesn’t matter whether your character is an elf, an alien, or even a robot (think Star Trek: TNG’s Data): They need that ‘human’ touch. The X-Men features mutant characters who often feel more genuinely human than the Homo sapiens who revile them.
Readers will not keep turning pages without compelling character development, keeping them interested.
Think about the people you know and figures in history or popular culture. Develop a rich psychological profile of your character based on your empathetic understanding of people.
Draw on your experience with others to produce believable fantasy people.
Give Them Flaws
The key to the character is a contradiction: No person is complete without yin and yang, without light and dark.
Readers are much more interested in flawed heroes, even anti-heroes, than stereotypical action men without any vulnerabilities.
Characters must change as they quest. They must ultimately learn something and transform as the plot follows its three-act structure.
Your story might be a coming-of-age tale, a rags-to-riches (or rags-to-riches-to-rags) narrative, or the telling of a wayward, rebellious son’s return to the safety of home.
There are infinite options for character development, but the key is to ensure that your protagonist – and hopefully your reader – is not left unchanged by the experiences described in the novel.
Show Don’t Tell
Consider how the character’s attire and physical features reflect their personality. Instead of telling, show.
Show your readers the features of your protagonists’ personalities by detailing how they look and behave.
Does the wizard smoke a pipe? Does the gnome carry a penknife? Perhaps the warrior bears a disfiguring scar on their brow, bespeaking a terrible, traumatizing battle?
Feed your readers clues through such images. Don’t let your characters reveal everything about themselves in speech: That’s unrealistic. Real people are often chary of letting others know too much about their pasts.
Tantalize your readers’ curiosities about details of these individuals’ pasts by describing them as trying to hide the truths of who they are. Perhaps your warrior stiffens up whenever asked about a particular battle – maybe he committed some atrocity about which he remains conflicted with guilt.
Perhaps your gnome says, ‘Let us not speak of my father’, indicating a shameful or sorrow-filled family history.
Create Their Past
Think about your characters’ pasts and their lineage: their experiences have made them who they are today.
Write their life stories.
Keep these in separate files from your novel and consult them when needed. While it can be strategic to keep readers in the dark about aspects of your characters, you must have an in-depth knowledge of who your adventurers are.
Here is one area where it can, in certain ways, be helpful to use a cliché. There is something elemental and archetypal about the plot.
While worlds vary – from the medieval-inspired world of Middle Earth to the hierarchical, dystopian future of The Hunger Games – the principles of the narrative are age-old and continue to entice readers from generation to generation.
To put it in simple terms, a plot is divided into three acts:
- A beginning
- An end
The beginning sees our world and characters introduced to the reader. The middle sees the confrontation with a dilemma or crisis, often placing our characters in mortal danger. The end sees some resolution of this problem, usually involving a transformation in the protagonists’ character and understanding of their world.
Scroll through the plot synopsis of some of your favorite films and novels and try to identify this basic three-act structure.
Do Some In-Depth Plot Study
If you want more in-depth learning, consider checking out Robert McKee’s great guide Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting.
While the target market is those hoping to be screenwriters, you couldn’t ask for a better book on how to craft compelling narratives.
Or, if you want to delve into the archetypes of a story as they appear across world literature, look at the work of Joseph Campbell, a scholar in the areas of comparative mythology and comparative religion.
His 1949 work The Hero with a Thousand Faces details the archetypal ‘hero’s quest’ story, a so-called ‘monomyth’ at the heart of mythological tales and legends. It is one told often, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to Beowulf.
George Lucas credits Joseph Campbell’s theory of mythology as an influence on his Star Wars. The principles of the story that Campbell discovered remain as relevant as ever.
7. Add Meaning to Your Fantasy Novel
Remember the message in all this talk of character, plot, and world. Your book should have a core, motivating question or philosophical idea it wants to communicate or raise for consideration.
What has driven you to write your story? What inner psychological dilemma, or existential quandary, compelled you to set your fingers to the keypad in the first place?
One might say that the following core themes or meanings are at the heart of the following works.
The theme of death is key to the Harry Potter series. In particular, the message that the fear of and flight from death rob us of the brilliance of life is at its heart.
A Wizard of Earthsea
Power and questions of the responsibility with which it comes are central to Ursula Le Guin’s first installment in her Earthsea quartet.
The Lord of the Rings
The struggle between good and evil is the classic theme pushing forward the narrative in Tolkien’s great work.
So, what theme sits at the core of your work? Think it over.
For books to be memorable and truly classic, they must touch on some fundamental aspect of the human condition. Yes, they may be entertaining and wonderfully escapist. However, they also tell or ask us something deep about our world and our lives to make their mark in history.
This doesn’t end here. The unknown rule on how to write a fantasy novel and to become a great fantasy novel writer, you have to rewrite.
Apart from the nod to Tolkien’s The Hobbit, we want to remind you that great novels aren’t written but rewritten. You’ve put pen to paper, finger to the keypad, and submitted the great feel of a completed fantasy novel.
Now, it is the time to return to the beginning and embark on a new adventure: the edit.
The edit will involve ironing out any inconsistencies or inaccuracies in your world. Don’t let readers do it for you.
Woe betide you end up like author Larry Niven, who at a 1971 Worldcon had to put up with a gaggle of MIT students chanting, ‘The Ringworld is unstable!’ The boisterous lot had uncovered an engineering flaw at the heart of Niven’s design for the Ringworld, a ring-shaped space colony.
As a rigid structure, the world was not, in fact, in orbit around the star it encircled and would likely drift, colliding with its sun and falling apart.
The edit is a valuable time to ensure your world is both believable and internally consistent to avoid such embarrassments later on. It’s also a time to remove any purple prose, excessive description, or clunky exposition.
While world-building is vital as background to the novel, the story still needs to be an efficiently told story, with a beginning, middle, and end, and action from cover to cover. Plot development with every word is vital.
Readers don’t want to feel they are thumbing through an encyclopedia or an RPG rulebook. Can you remove any unnecessary details to ensure that the setting is that – a setting – for the action of the protagonists and doesn’t come to dominate the space of your book?
8. Outline Your Fantasy Novel
Once you decide on the theme, plot, characters, setting, and time frame, it is time to outline everything in the sequence.
Drafting an outline before writing can help you analyze the twists and turns of the events. Also, you can create headings and divide events into chapters to make them more comprehensive for your readers.
A story pyramid is an ideal way to structure your novel. Divide the events into three phases: the beginning, the body of the story, and the climax.
Moreover, compile the events by showing the course of actions, turning points, conflicts, and resolution.
Outline Your Way
While it’s vital to outline the plot beforehand, there are a few ways to do this.
Some authors have a full-fledged, scene-by-scene outline. They then only need to add description and dialogue into the outline file to complete the novel.
Others opt for a sparser, more general idea of the story’s opening, dilemma, and climax to be kept in a separate file and referred to when necessary.
It’s all down to your style: Do you prefer the security of a rigid plan or a bit more freedom to explore? As long as you don’t set out without a map, you’re A-OK.