How to write a fantasy novel

Fantasy fiction is a difficult area – and many fantasy first-time writers can neglect the basics. For more, see Geraldine Pinch’s words of wisdom below.

How to write fantasy: author Geraldine Pinch shares tips

Writing fantasy is not an easy option or a quick way to make money, but if you have the imagination to see wonders and the skill to describe them, if you have things to say that can only be said with dragons, then fantasy may be your genre.

The best preparation for writing fantasy is to read myths and legends from lots of different cultures.

Many fantasy classics are longer than the average novel, but you don’t have to write a multi-volume epic to break into the fantasy market. Anything from 90,000 to 200,000 words is an acceptable length. Ideally, your novel should be satisfying as a standalone work, but perhaps have the potential to be the first of a series.

Is your idea any good?

Learn the fundamentals of writing

Literary agents see hundreds of manuscripts set in vaguely medieval worlds, in which magic works. There will need to be something distinctive and compelling about your manuscript to make it truly stand out. Don’t base your book on a role-playing game. Don’t feel that you must use the standard cast list of warriors, wizards, dragons, elves, etc. Only write about elves if you are passionately inspired by elves, if you have something new to say about them.

Creating new worlds is one of the most enjoyable challenges in fiction. Readers (and that includes literary agents!) should feel that you know everything about your invented world and its history. Getting to that stage may take years of thought, planning and research. Then, be ruthlessly selective. Most of your beloved background material should stay in your notes. Genre novels are expected to be fast-moving, so don’t start with pages of scene-setting and explanation. Plunge into the story as quickly as possible and only tell your readers what they need to know when they need to know it.

Your basic plot doesn’t have to be completely original. You might choose to tell an old story with a new twist or from an unusual viewpoint. There will always be a market for classic quest stories and battles between good and evil, but if you don’t genuinely care about how and why the ‘good guys’ win, neither will your readers. If you give your heroes unlimited magical powers, it will be hard to get enough tension and conflict into your plot.

Try to restrict the number of ‘voices’ you use to tell your story. If your main viewpoint character is an outsider of some kind, this will make it easier for your readers to identify with her or him. Your characters don’t have to speak in pseudo-archaic language, but they shouldn’t all sound like American teenagers, either.

Finally, remember that what works in a fantasy film or comic won’t necessarily work in a novel. Blow-by-blow accounts of sword fights can be boring to read and huge battle scenes just confusing. In a novel, action scenes need to be personalized. Show what an individual warrior is thinking and feeling as he fights, and take your readers right inside the world of your imagination.

Then get your manuscript to a literary agent … and best of luck!