Again, must pre-phrase this by saying I am not a published writer, it’s just some general advice/ knowledge I’ve picked up between uni, being an avid reader of the genre and attempted to write my own.

Anyway, let’s begin, what are the basic steps to consider when writing fantasy?

World Building

In fantasy writing. you have the option of setting it in an entirely made up world (sometimes referred to as high fantasy), setting it within a real world setting (think Harry Potter or Artemis Fowl), or setting it in an alternate reality, as in, in a real world setting similar to ours apart from some key differences (think Hunger Games, or any Black Mirror episode).

No matter what setting you choose, here are some things to consider:

  • Culture, this is important whether you are setting this in the real world or in a high fantasy setting. Your character’s culture will affect the way they act in relationships, their ethics, manners, language- it plays a massive role in making a character and world which has depth.
  • Religion, just like culture, religion is very important and faith can be a huge motivator for your character or plot.
  • History, even if you never intend to mention it, the history of your world is just as important as your character’s own personal history.
  • Ethnicity, again whether in a realistic setting or not, this is an important thing to consider, it may change how characters interact and create conflict. For example, in the Ember in the Ashes, with the Scholars and the Martials.
  • Where in the world it is set, either in the real world, or within the map of your fictional world. A strong sense of setting lies in a strong sense of place.
  • When is it set, a strong sense of the narrative’s place in time is important. If you’re using a pseudo medieval setting, then you need to think things like language and what technology they have access too. If they have access to more modern technology but otherwise appear to be in the Dark Ages you need to come up with a reason why- people are willing to give fantasy fiction certain liberties but it needs to make sense.
  • Discrimination and prejudice, does your world have it? In what way?

The Magic System

This refers to any powers, magic etc, even if it’s rooted in mythology or religion- it cannot be this mystical, illogical thing with no rules.

  • What are its limits? Limitless power is boring. There is no story if the power is infinite because there’s no conflict, there’s no barrier stopping your characters from succeeding and, therefore, no story to tell.

    A good example in this is in the t.v series Supernatural, where the writer’s had to keep inventing ways to incapacitate Cas’s powers as an angel because if the Winchester’s had an all powerful pal, there’s nothing left for them to hunt or triumph against, as Cas can just defeat them).
  • How is the power accessed? Do they have to do something? Say a spell? Turn into something? Write something?

    Examples of this are things like the runes in the Shadowhunter books, sketching charter characters in the air in the Abhorsen series, or the rules for how Grisha can learn to use their powers in the Shadow and Bone/ grisha verse books.

    People need rules and logic in order for it to be believable.
  • What makes someone powerful/ good at it? If it just because they are the ‘chosen one’ or if it’s a gift from some mysterious God, then that still needs to be explained. If it’s just a case of practice, that needs to be explained. If it’s related to their race or what type of being they are, then that needs to be explained.

    Can someone become powerful/ exceptional at the magic? If so, how? And if they can’t, why not?
  • How does this magic play into your world’s history? How does it affect your character’s personal history? And does it interplay with their culture, ethnicity, nationality or religion?

One of the most important things to remember that, although people read fantasy for escapism, it needs to be grounded in reality. You need to blend real- world, tangible and relatable elements. Even the most abstract stories draw on real world elements, even if it’s just to establish their otherness.

Check out some other story building basics blogs I’ve been writing lately. I was surprised by how many visitors they get, as when I started writing them I was very skeptical about who would read them because on what authority can impart writing advice? But that’s very imposter syndrome-y of me, I’m glad y’all are enjoying them.