Hello there! It’s been a while since my last Writing Tips article, and I apologize for my absence. But, since we’ve covered the basics of writing a book in the past two articles on outlines and first drafts, we can now get into the gist of things. Today, we will be talking about the specifics of writing – you guessed it from the title – a fantasy novel.
While my previous pieces have featured a list of tips to help you outline and/or draft any kind of fiction novel, this article will take us in a different direction. Not only will we focus on writing fantasy books, but instead of a simple list of steps to follow, I’ve decide to share with you the 5 essential components of every fantasy book, as well as the right way (in my opinion) to bring them together for a compelling story.
5 essential fantasy elements; 5 steps to follow when working on any of those elements. Let’s get started!
what are the 5 components every fantasy novel should have?
Fantasy is a rich and complex genre, that includes quite a few variants – high/low fantasy, historical/urban fantasy, YA/Adult fantasy, dystopian, etc…, but there are 5 reoccurring elements that can be found in almost every fantasy book, regardless of the sub-genre. So, what are they?
1. a clear fantasy world/setting
World-building is the basis of every fantasy novel; it is your – as well as your readers’ – starting point into the story you’ve created. Granted, there is a lot of freedom that comes with writing fantasy: you get to build a world from scratch, play with the rules as much as you want, add in magic, dragons, fae, witches, anything you like. However, the secret to keeping all of that together, and getting your reader hooked without confusing them, is coherence. Where does your story take place? Is it in the real world or in some enchanted land? When does it take place? In the past, present, or future? Or is the story happening outside of our common conception of time? Whatever you choose, start with a clear location and timeline and stick with them, otherwise, you will lose your reader before they make it through the first chapter. No one wants to read a book where they have to reread the same paragraph five times to understand when and where the story is occurring. (Okay, maybe some people do, but do you really want to bet on that?)
2. a Power STRUCTURE/ HIERARCHY
Something that I find fascinating about writing fantasy is that power structures are somehow always inspired by our world’s social hierarchies. Maybe there’s a kingdom/queendom, maybe there are factions (like in the Divergent books), maybe there are clans or houses (like in Game of Thrones), or maybe your blood color determines your rank (like in the Red Queen series). At the end of the day, some kind of order is necessary to the functioning of your world; your job is to make sure that order makes sense.
3. a coherent magic system
Although I consider magic systems to be a requisite for fantasy novels, this does not mean every one should agree with me. Most dystopian books set in futuristic worlds do not have what we traditionally call ‘magic’ in them: The Hunger Games, The Legend series, The Selection series, and many others are examples of this. If you want your world to have a magic system, however, and at the risk of repeating myself, be consistent. Don’t overdo it; start simple: what kind of magic is it? Does everyone possess it? Are your born with it or do you acquire it? Is it used for good or evil, or both? Three authors that I think have terrifyingly good magic-system-building skills are V.E. Schwab, Roshani Chokshi, and Leigh Bardugo. Read their books, look at the way their magic systems are crafted. Don’t copy; learn.
4. A compelling plot/conflict/storyline
I’m sure this one is self-explanatory, but there is more to it, I promise.
Fantasy is one of the hardest genres to successfully write. On top on the aforementioned requirements, you need a good story that unfolds on the page to get your reader hooked. How do you do that? Well, you might not like my answer, but it truly does come down to personal preference. Do you want your storyline to be linear or non-linear? Would you like it to develop and wrap up in one book or several? What’s your turning point? How many plot/ subplot points do you have? What’s your main conflict? An easy way to do this would be to answer the question: what is my story about? You must all hate me and my generic advice right now, but give it a chance. It can be as simple as that.
I took a class during my sophomore year of college called Transmedia Storytelling. I’ll spare you the details, but an exercise we often did was to pitch a mainstream book, movie, or tv show to each other. The idea was to sell the story without giving too much away. Do that with your book. Pitch the story to yourself, in front of a mirror, or to a friend. You will have to do that with potential editors/agents/publishers someday, so it’s all good preparation.
5. multilayered characters
“Mrs. Brown is eternal, Mrs. Brown is human nature, Mrs. Brown changes only on the surface, it is the novelists who get in and out.” – Virginia Woolf.
Truer words were never spoken. Woolf was right ninety-seven years ago, and she still is right today. Her Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown is the characterization manifesto. There may have been a time where people read books for the social and political context – literary fiction is a well-respected genre, after all – but that time has passed. Today, most of us read stories about people, about humans that make mistakes and fall in love, lose their family and betray their friends. Of course the magic and the world is what attracts us and makes us dream in the first place, but we stay for the characters. We read on because we want to know what happens to them, we want to see them get their HEA. We love them, we have them, we cry for them, and laugh with them. And when the story is over, they live on in our minds and hearts. Why do you think fan-fiction is so popular? It is because characters make the story and not the other way around. So, my advice: don’t try to write about heroes, try to write about real people, good and bad, because those are the ones we want to meet.
How do you bring all those elements together?
As I said at the beginning of the article, I will share the 5 fantasy elements and the 5 steps to piecing them together.
It is a five-step process that I like to call the RBQOO (no one calls it that, I’m just lazy sometimes).
R – Research.
B – Brainstorm.
Q – Question.
O – Organize.
O – Outline.
For every one of those 5 elements of your fantasy book, research, brainstorm, and question. Research names and structure, brainstorm plot ideas, question your character development. Once that’s done, you can start organizing your findings, and finally, begin outlining your novel.
Learn more on outlining your book here!
That’s it for today, people! I’ve been blabbering for quite a while, but I hope I was able to help some of you in your writing endeavors! Before I go, I would like to leave you all with what I think is the best writing tip I’ve ever gotten: read. Read, read, and then read some more. Read in the genres you want to write and the genre you don’t. See what works and what doesn’t. That will do your writing a world of good without any conscious effort on your part.
featured image via pixabay