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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Writing a Fantasy Novel

Writing Fantasy Novel

This page is based on a workshop I gave on building the fantasy landscape. I'd like to discuss briefly several things;

What is it that makes the fantasy world?
o Some do's and don'ts.
o The fantasy landscape and natural world
o Races, societies, and creatures
o Religions and Magics
o Some writing techniques and considerations for the fantasy author

Today's fantasy market is expanding at great rate, and rather than have me repeat what I think the reasons for this are, read my paper on creating the modern romance epic.

Basically, this page is not so much a 'how to', but is merely intended to make you think about the kind of world you want to create.

What are some of the ingredients of a fantasy novel and world?

Science fiction can be set in this world, but fantasy is usually set in a different world, or in a pre-modern world. Why?

• Neither magic nor adventuring quests can be believably set in a modern, logical and scientific world (while science fiction can). We cannot believe in fantasy or magic in our scientific world — we're not allowed to, therefore to be believable (for the reader to be able to suspend disbelief) we must set a fantasy novel in a new world (or in our past, pre-scientific world). Again, I discusss this in more detail in creating the modern romance epic.

The Fantasy World: must be pre-scientific and pre-technological. a world where magic can be believable ... but how different does the fantasy author dare to be?

• Basically, not very different at all. The fantasy world must be our world only slightly altered, and the differences must be so small as to be hardly discernible : Why?

o readers must be able to easily suspend disbelief, and that is easier in a virtual clone of our world
o readers yearn for the magical and the enchanted in our world; it is easier to satisfy that yearning if the fantasy world is as close as possible to our world. Readers want to be able to relate to the fantasy world, they want to be able to place themselves within it, thus is must be as much like ours as possible (that way that can almost believe that our world might be like the fantasy world). Readers don't want the gap to be very wide at all, they want to be able to step across the instant they take up the book. The most successful fantasy books are those where the fantasy world is our world in all but name. For example:
 Tad Williams, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn
 Raymond Feist Riftwar Saga

Both of these authors also used medieval history and legends as the base for their plots (always a good ploy!).
Before I get down to the elements of the Fantasy World I'd just like to discuss what's in and what's out — what has been overdone and what can still be used and developed.

You must be careful in fantasy writing not to:

be racist (the bad guys are very, very bad, and the good guys are wonderful and charming). It's often been pointed out that fantasy books can foster racism, simply because of the stark contrast between the good races and the bad races, where the bad races are always unredeemable.

be paternalistic and sexist, esp with treatment of female characters. Modern publishers are desperate for books with strong female characters, as are the public. Don't just have your female characters be gorgeous princesses on the side who weep and wail and wait for the golden hero to save them. Try to avoid sexist constructs in the fantasy novel — they're too easy to fall into simply because of the 'medieval' non-tech world you throw them into. It is a fine line to tread and you must be careful.

be Tolkien-ish. Tolkien is out (for new authors): dragons are out, as are elves, fairies, gnomes, goblins etc. Avoid everything that has been overused before (and often used very badly). Too many authors try to be like Tolkien, but the market, as publishers, basically don't want another Tolkien-imitation. I think we must all be heartily sick of those blurbs on the back of books that warble: The next Tolkien!

gratuitous violence is out, unless it fits in with a character

Something else to be careful of is unthinking use of the fantasy formula: Dark evil lord from snow-bound north against golden hero from sunny south, evil wizards, etc. Use it, but be original with it.
So what's in?

grit is in, realism is in, the blurring of lines between good and evil is in, strong female characters are in, flawed heroes are in, sympathetic bad guys are in.

Source: Sara Douglass' Website
Retrieved from:,458.30.html
Note: For personal archive, bookmark and research only


stevent said...

I agree with your last point: "grit is in, realism is in, the blurring of lines between good and evil is in, strong female characters are in, flawed heroes are in, sympathetic bad guys are in."

I think George R.R. Martin and Steven Erikson and David Anthony Durham are good examples of authors who are employing these techniques in their fantasy novels.

vadis said...

Well, thanks, Stevent. I'll surely check them up (and try not to follow them because it'll be a cliche).

My FireHeart novel is an awful load of cliches and Tolkien-isms, but it's necessary for an upstart writer like me to just "release my imagination" and get the Mother story done first. After that, I'll surely work on "variations", or making a totally new world if necessary.

Anonymous said...

You want grit? Then NARUTO is the BEST example of grit.

stevent said...

As a first time novelist myself, I think it's important just to write. Sit down and write something. You can always change things later. That's what is great about being a writer. I ended up trashing my entire first draft and starting from scratch.

Andry Chang said...

Yup, don't worry about commercial issues first. Just get the story finished first (just like I did, I'm writing the third book of the trilogy already).

You know, Steven, I'm thinking the same way as you do and doing exactly the same method. At least I was lucky enough to get mine published locally (Indonesia). Even if I didn't, there's always be this novelblog.

I might not get to sell FireHeart internationally, but at least I got my satisfaction, the self-fulfillment of getting the job done. And then I'll get to the SECOND project which will be totally unique and (probably) more marketable.

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