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How to write great fantasy

Understanding the world of fantasy and its subgenres as well as how to succeed in the genre.

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World building

Regardless of the subgenre you choose, effective world building can make or break a story. There is a fine balance between giving readers enough and too much information about the world you have created.

Brooks says, “It’s the old ‘need to know’ rule. Until readers need to know something, don’t tell them.” This means not overloading the beginning of the story with every detail you know about the world or including big “info dumps” throughout. These slow the pacing of the story and risk losing the reader’s attention.

Brooks adds that if you can cut out the extraneous material, do it and be brutal about it: “Cut out all the boring parts that people skip over, which starts with weather reports, long descriptions of forests, stone walls, etc.”

Aaron believes the most important part of creating a believable world is consistency. “If you set a rule for how magic works, then it has to work that way every single time. You can be clever with the rules and have people use them in interesting ways, but the rules still have to be there, and they have to be consistent.”

She says by staying consistent, you avoid long explanations while also allowing readers to figure things out for themselves because the pattern will be the same every time. She makes sure there are natural laws that happen for logical reasons and are universally applied. “We’ve all read that book where the main character constantly pulls miracles out of the blue to get out of what would otherwise be impossible situations. Don’t be that book,” Aaron says. “Set rules that make sense within the context of your world and follow them, and you’ll be praised to the skies for your masterful world building.”

Writing effective characters

Great characters are essential to any story. By understanding a few essential elements, you will write intriguing and memorable heroes and heroines for your fantasy novel.

Matt Bird, the author of The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers, says when creating characters, especially in fantasy, it’s important to be specific and not generic. “In one fantasy novel I gave notes on, the heroine had an amulet passed down to her, and I begged the author, ‘Can it not be an amulet? The ancestor passing this down used to be a fisherman, so can it be a magic fishhook? That’s something we haven’t seen a million times before.’”

Bird says audiences don’t really care about stories. They care about characters. In many fantasy books, there is too much backstory and not enough frontstory: “Spend more time on character-building and less on worldbuilding,” he recommends. “Once we identify with the hero (believe in their reality, care for their predicament, and invest in their ability to solve this problem), we’ll go anywhere with them, but if you try to get us to care about the world before we care about a hero, readers usually tune out.”


Brooks also advises authors not to overdo character descriptions.I really believe that storytelling and explanation of characters work best if you remember to give your readers some latitude in which to imagine the characters. As they read about the character, an image will form in their minds, and it will supersede anything you write down anyway. Every reader sees the character differently.”

As a reader and an author, Aaron finds the thing that makes a character truly compelling to her is depth. “There’s got to be more to them than what’s on the surface,” she says. “For me, character growth isn’t so much about changing the character as using the story like sandpaper to reveal what was there all along.” This is done by giving characters hidden depths like a truth they don’t even know. For instance, she says, “If your smarmy lone-wolf hero would die before acknowledging he needs love, too, then the point of the book should be to get him to admit that, even if only to himself.”