So You Think You Want to be a Fantasy Writer
The question of how to get started with writing fantasy is one that I see often in the fantasy writer groups I belong to online. The fantasy genre has grown steadily in the last several years, thanks in no small part to the huge film and television successes of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones, among others. The downside, of course, is the field is now a little crowded, which makes some new writers understandably nervous about how to break into the genre and make their mark.
As someone who has many years of experience reading and writing fantasy, I can tell you, it’s not as complicated as you might think. But there’s some preparation you may have to do first.
Start at the library.
If you have never read fantasy, now is the time to start. Before you can ever put pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard—to be a fantasy writer, you need to be a fantasy reader. You cannot watch fantasy on a screen and know how to write fantasy.
Why? Because fantasy writing has a unique language and method of presentation that is unique to the genre. Watching fantasy can help you understand many of the tropes, imagery, and clichés common to the genre, but you need to read the language on the page in order to get an understanding of how to write fantasy well.
So, if you think you want to write fantasy, but you’ve never read fantasy, get yourself a library card (the easiest and cheapest route to sampling many books) and check out at least 10 highly-rated books within the fantasy genre. If you’re an ebook fan, don’t worry, many libraries have access to the ebook version of books, not just the print versions.
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Alrighty! Reading is done.
Technically, your reading should never be done—it should be ongoing. But once you feel like you have a solid grasp of what makes for good fantasy writing, next you need to decide:
- Do you want to write adult fantasy or fantasy for younger audiences? (How you write each is different, dependent not only on the subject matter but the level of language you use.)
- Do you want to write epic fantasy (also known as high fantasy) or another type of fantasy like urban fantasy, which tends to have a more modern setting than your typical epic fantasy?
If you don’t know the answers to these questions, or if you don’t understand these questions, go back to the previous step and take out some books specifically in these subsets of fantasy. If one subset appeals to you more than another, now is the time to focus your reading in that subset so that you can get an even deeper knowledge of how to write within that subset.
Ok, now my homework is done. I’ve decided on my focus.
Great. Now, you need a character or several, and you need to know what their problem is (a good story starts not just with a great character, but also a problem, either of their own making or caused by outside forces). Next, build the character’s/characters’ world around them in your mind.
Get to know who your main character/characters are, their motivations, their problems, their place in time, their world as a whole, and describe these things in detail for your reader. Get them close, I mean REALLY close, to the people and world in your story. Build the plot out from there.
Don’t worry about putting too much into your writing the first time around. That’s what your first draft is for. You can weed out the unimportant things later during your revision phase. And don’t worry about making your story very different from or very similar to another author’s work—that way leads to danger for new and experienced writers alike—just worry about building a strong set of characters, a rich world, and a complex plot. Everything else will fall in line, and that is how you will make your mark on the world of fantasy writing.
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