Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, contests and more!
Start Your Free Trial

How to write great fantasy

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

Illustrated fantastical cards swirl on a golden background
Add to Favorites

Writing exciting action and fight scenes

An exciting fight scene can elevate the tension in your fantasy story. But if not done well, it can bog down the pacing and slow the story down.

Carla Hoch, author of Fight Write: How to Write Believable Fight Scenes, and blogger at, thinks every fight, both on and off the page, consists of three things: confrontation, laceration, and evolution. Confrontation is the physical or psychological warfare, the laceration is the pain associated with the conflict, and evolution is how the character changes as a result.

“How a writer presents those three is where the magic happens,” she says. “What I have found is that regardless of the type of confrontation, we readers want something we can relate to. Injury, of any nature, is a great opportunity to connect with a reader.” We can all empathize with someone experiencing pain. Hoch says by giving the reader plenty of sensory details to hold on to and experience what the character is experiencing, that connection will happen. She believes sensory details are far more important than writing out all the movements (aka blocking) because readers remember the feelings of a scene more than the actual scene.

When using magic in fight scenes, she says, you must first establish what is normal, otherwise the magic isn’t magic: “If everyone can fly, well, it ain’t all that big of a deal, now is it?” She goes on to say you need to establish rules for whatever is supernatural. It isn’t necessary to spell out every detail to the reader, but you must know the rules so you can abide by them. “In order to defeat something, you have to know how it works. And you have to be able to defeat whatever it is, or the story is over. So, get all those rules established and do not stray. Fantasy fans especially will eat you alive if you step outside the rules of magic for your world.”

Not everyone knows the intricacies of swords, firearms, or nunchucks, but if your character wields a nonmagical weapon, Hoch says to know enough about it to convince people who have experience with it. “If your character is unskilled, it makes sense that they wouldn’t know the proper lingo related to the weapon. But a Navy Seal isn’t going to call the scope on his rifle an ‘eye thingy.’ You as a writer should know the basics of the weapon, such as its components, weight, how it’s held, and the damage it does. If it’s possible for you to hold the weapon and learn to use it, that’s great. But I don’t think it’s imperative. If you use technical lingo, be sure to show its meaning.”

Sustaining a series

If you are writing a series, whether it is three books or 10, you should have some idea of the overarching storyline and how each of the books fits.

Van Natta finds half the battle of writing a sustainable series is knowing you’re planning to write a series in the first place. “Every experienced author I know has written what they imagined to be a standalone story, only to be surprised when readers clamored for more. Or the author’s muse ambushed them with a three-book story arc (ask me how I know),” she says.

Her advice? “If you’re a plotter, start with the big problem that everyone in the series will face in one fashion or another, then map out how each book contributes to characters working on that problem. If you’re a pantser (that is, you write by the seat of your pants instead of from an outline), make notes on the rules in your world after you write and develop a setting that’s complex enough to allow multiple stories to be told.”


Using magic

Part of the fun of writing fantasy is creating new magic for your characters. Unlike science fiction, which requires magical-type elements be based in science, fantasy allows your creativity to roam free, unencumbered by “reality.” That said, Brooks believes magic needs to resonate with the reader and be logical. “For a character to have magic and say ‘now that I have this magic, I don’t have to think about it’ is not very interesting. Characters are only interesting when we examine their weaknesses.”

Brooks cautions against using the magic too often or it becomes ordinary, and it should require something of the characters each time they do use it. “I am a big believer that it should diminish them in some way. There’s always a price to use magic. It was true in Tolkien. Magic took a lot from the people who used it. Look at poor Frodo, who got diminished right down to nothing at the end. Everyone who was using it had a price to pay.”


As a fantasy author, you have the power to create new lands, form unique magical systems, and take your characters on incredible adventures. When writing in this expansive genre, your only real limitation is the extent of your imagination.



Kerrie Flanagan is an author, writing consultant, and freelance writer from Colorado with over 20 years’ experience in the industry. She is the author of WD Guide to Magazine Article Writing. She moonlights in the world of sci-fi/fantasy realm with a co-author under the pen name C.G. Harris ( and romance under the pen name C.K. Wiles (