The Ultimate Guide To Writing A Fantasy Novel
You just finished reading a fantasy series that has left you reeling.
You’re satisfied with the way things turned out, but the thought of saying goodbye to those characters just hurts.
You want to keep the magic going.
So now you’re looking for the best guide on how to write a fantasy novel — because you want to be the kind of writer who can work that kind of magic.
Who knew fantasy fiction could be so transformative?
(SIDEBAR: If you’d like to learn our strategies for writing a bestselling book, then I suggest downloading our FREE CHECKLIST, which is the exact 46-point guide we’ve used to sell one million copies of our books.
- Writing Fantasy
- How to Write A Fantasy Novel
- How to Write A Fantasy Novel Step by Step
- 1. Develop your characters.
- 2. Develop your (story’s) world.
- 3. Develop your backstory.
- 4. Craft an interesting and believable plot for your characters.
- 5. Decide how your story will begin.
- 6. Write the first chapter.
- 7. Decide on your story’s climactic event.
- 8. Keep writing chapters until you reach the end.
- 9. Print out your first draft and take a break.
- 10. Self-edit.
- 11. Revise your self-edited draft.
- 12. Edit your draft.
- 13. Revise your professionally-edited draft.
- 14. Get your novel ready for publication.
Writing a fantasy novel presents some unique challenges to the storyteller. For one, you’re expected to know about the magical elements you use in your story.
For example, if your story involves werewolves or vampires, you’ll need to research all the folklore related to both in order to portray them in a way that will build trust with your reader.
Making things up as you go when there’s already known folklore or mythology in place will irritate knowledgeable readers and likely earn you some scathing reviews.
Second, fantasy fiction usually involves an imaginary world created by the author.
Research is important here, too, since some magical creatures are associated with particular environments.
And just because it’s a made-up world doesn’t mean you have to defy every expectation.
The sky doesn’t have to be a different color unless that detail adds an essential something to your story.
But you should know this world as well as the one you live in (when you’re not writing).
Also, some — if not all — your fantasy characters will be magical or mythical beings, humanoid or otherwise.
And the more you know the mythology surrounding them, the more convincing your character building will be to your readers.
As with your setting, you should know these characters as well as you know the people in your closest circle — recognizing all the while, of course, that they can still surprise you.
Fantasy Writing Tips
If you want to know how to write a good fantasy story, learn from those who’ve written before you.
Many of them are only too happy to help fellow writers with their story crafting.
For all they know, you could be the next Rick Riordan or J.K. Rowling.
So, helping you write better stories is in everyone’s best interests. To that end, consider the following tips for writing a fantasy novel:
- Become a voracious reader of fantasy novels — especially the kind you want to write.
- Research the folklore and mythology related to any magical elements you want in your story.
- Research potential markets and marketing strategies for your book based on genres that are currently selling well.
- Choose the perspective and point of view for your story’s narrator.
- Get into your fantasy characters’ heads.
- Sketch out a timeline for your story’s events and key moments.
- Get acquainted with every detail of the made-up world where your story happens.
As one of the ten key parts of your story, your plot is what gives your story its overall shape and direction.
To more clearly see how it does this, we can follow Gustav Freytag’s lead and break down your plot into the following five elements:
With fantasy plots, these elements often tie into the stages of the hero’s journey — a universal story structure based on Joseph Campbell’s monomyth.
It’s because the hero archetype resonates within the psyche of every individual that the most memorable and endearing stories follow this structure.
Check out this Authority Pub post for more information on the ten key parts of writing your story.
And read on to learn how to write one of your own.
How to Write A Fantasy Novel
The writer’s journey in writing a book is similar to the hero’s journey just mentioned.
Like the hero in your story, you’re going on a journey of your own — though at first there’s some reticence to go any deeper than your comfort level will allow.
At some point, though, like Bilbo as he listened to the dwarves’ song about the Lonely Mountains, you feel pulled out of your cozy bubble into a new and sometimes terrifying world.
And, like Bilbo, you find you have more courage in you than you thought you had.
Good thing, too. Writing an unforgettable story takes courage. No one breaks new ground when they don’t venture beyond what they know.
How to Write A Fantasy Novel Outline
Outlining your fantasy novel will be similar to any outline you’ve created in the past — for other books or your English Lit class. (Check out this other Authority Pub article for more information on outlining your novel.)
The key difference here is thinking ahead to determine whether or not your fantasy book will be a standalone or part of a trilogy or tetralogy.
If your book is standalone, you will need to compress the introduction of your characters and the fantasy world you create to fit into one book. So consider this when developing your outline.
For a series, you’ll have more time to unravel your characters and develop the magical world in which they reside.
You don’t have to outline all of your books initially, but if you choose a series, just be sure you leave enough action and character development for future books.
Try to think ahead about plot progression and the struggles your characters will face throughout the series.
Either way, your first book is the key to hooking readers into loving your characters and story and wanting more.
In your outline, be sure you include a cliffhanger at the end to ensure your readers can’t wait to buy the next book.
How to Start a Fantasy Story
Getting started looks different for everyone. If you’re a plotter, you know that an outline helps you sort out your ideas so you can tackle the actual writing with a clearer head — one idea at a time.
See this Authority Pub post for more information on getting started with your novel.
If you’re a pantser, you might think outlines are “too stodgy” or that you won’t follow it anyway.
But even writing a bulleted list of the main things you want to happen in your story can help you write with a better sense of direction.
The following tips and questions can help you create an outline that comes to life even before you start writing your story:
- Interview your fantasy characters. Get to know them at their deepest level so you can speak and act as they would.
- Get clear on your character’s arcs. How will the events in this story change them?
- Give old tropes a dash of something new. Think of how J.K. Rowling reinvented the witch’s broomstick.
- Get clear on your story’s main events and defining moments.
- Write a draft of the final chapter — detailing the outcome for each character.
Think of this step as simply jotting down the main elements of the plot or character that made you want to write this story in the first place.
You can also start with an elevator pitch. Tell me what will happen in your story in 30 seconds or less.
See if it makes sense to you when you articulate it out loud.
Then, nail down those critical details and leave the rest to your imagination.
How to Write A Fantasy Novel Step by Step
Once you’ve created your outline, follow these steps to write a fantasy novel your readers will tell all their friends about:
1. Develop your characters.
Interview them. Do some voice-journaling for them. Create character profiles.
Do whatever helps you get into their heads and make them real people to you.
The more they come to life for you, the more they’ll do the same for your reader.
2. Develop your (story’s) world.
The more real this world seems to you, the more easily your readers will step into and lose themselves in it.
Make it a place they won’t want to leave. And make every detail matter.
3. Develop your backstory.
What made your characters and your world as they are now? What details from the past are essential to the story you’re telling.
Get clear on what happened in the past that created the reality of your story’s present.
4. Craft an interesting and believable plot for your characters.
Give them a problem and show how they recognize and deal with it. Show how it changes them. Show us what they want most and how far they’ll go to get it.
Show what’s at stake – what they could gain and what they have to lose.
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5. Decide how your story will begin.
What inciting event will challenge your main character? What will your main character reveal in the first minute?
What will pull your reader right into the heart of your story and make them want to stick around?
6. Write the first chapter.
You have to start somewhere. Sometimes, the only way to get started on your story is to just start writing and see what comes out?
Maybe that’ll be your first chapter. Or maybe it’ll be your prologue (we don’t hate those, but they do have to earn their place).
7. Decide on your story’s climactic event.
If you don’t have a clear idea of your book’s climax, at least work on a vague idea until it becomes clearer or moves aside for something better.
8. Keep writing chapters until you reach the end.
You can either write these as a pantser or start with a bullet-point list of the main things that should happen.
9. Print out your first draft and take a break.
I mean it. Take a break from your book baby. I know it’s hard, but you need this. And you’ve earned it.
Go through it with a red pen and make corrections, write down comments and ideas, and generally bleed all over it.
Sometimes, it hurts. Sometimes, it’s so much fun, you’ll forget to eat. Bring snacks.
11. Revise your self-edited draft.
Make the necessary changes to your story and rewrite what needs to be rewritten. Then take a shorter break and go over it again.
12. Edit your draft.
At this point, it’s best (for your story and your readers) to find a professional editor — preferably one with experience editing fantasy fiction.
See if you can find one recommended by fellow fantasy authors.
13. Revise your professionally-edited draft.
Make the changes you and your editor agree upon. Once your story is at its best yet, find some beta readers — ideally those that enjoy reading fantasy fiction.
If they’re also authors, you can return the favor by beta-reading their books.
14. Get your novel ready for publication.
Hire a professional formatter for your novel’s interior and a cover designer for its exterior.
Make your novel as irresistible to the eye as your story will be to your reader’s imagination.
Ready to write your fantasy story?
Now that you know how to write a fantasy novel, does a particular work in progress come to mind? And is this a new idea — or one you’ve set aside for a while?
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how long the idea has been percolating in your head.
The real magic happens when you get down to the business of writing your story.
That’s when your brain gets the message, “We’re doing this.” When you keep showing up, the muse knows where to find you.
The key is to open the faucet before you expect the water to flow. Let the air out. And by that, I mean just let your ideas flow out as they are before you expect to make sense of them.
Before long, you’ll be sorting out that beautiful mess and creating a fantasy story your readers will never forget.