how to make fantasy storiesA Lesson by RJ620Win
Things You'll Need
1. Decide what kind of fantasy story you want to write. Some fantasy is based on a completely fabricated world,
while other stories take place in a version of the modern world in which magic or supernatural elements exist.
Fantasy tales that take place in historical settings take the most work, as they require a lot of research.
2. Plan out your world. Write down as many details as you can think of to describe it. Some of the most important
questions to answer are what technologies exist; what the political structure of society is; what cultures exist
and what values and beliefs they have; whether there are any ongoing wars or struggles; and whether magic exists
and, if so, how it works.
3. Write a character sketch for your protagonist. Describe your character's appearance, personality, goals and
current situation as you might describe a friend. Make the sketch about one or two pages long and as vivid as
4. Write short sketches for your other characters. Give each anywhere from a couple sentences to a few paragraphs.
Describe what is important about each of them.
5. Write a plot synopsis. Record all of the important events in your story in an outline form. Don't worry about
making it too detailed.
Writing the Story
6. Write a first draft. If it is a short fantasy story, try to write it all in one sitting. Don't worry about
getting everything perfect. The most important thing is to get through the first draft.
7. Let the story sit for a while. It is natural to want to dive right back in and begin to rewrite it, but it
is important to get some distance before you start to revise. This step can take anywhere from a few days to a
few months. With long pieces, it sometimes takes even longer.
8. Go back and read the story through. Does everything in it make sense? Try to see the story from the perspective
of a reader who knows nothing about it other than what you have written.
9. Rewrite the story for consistency, flow and organization. Don't stress over every word, but make sure that
the story as a whole makes sense and is enjoyable to read, and the story is well developed.
10. Rewrite one final time. In this rewrite, you want to be aware of your voice as a writer. Make sure that the
whole thing is written in the same style and that the style goes along well with what you are saying. Also check
your grammar and punctuation.
1. Work out some basic ideas regarding your fantasy story. Good fantasy tells a tale of heroism, science,
history or myth, but with an element of magic or mystery that will engage the reader and take them to an
2. Think back to tales from your childhood that you never quite believed, but wished you could.
Now think of the human elements of that story that you connected with, despite the unbelievable aspects.
Human emotions like these should be the basis for your tale, even if humans do not play a part in it.
3.Think of characters, motivations and reasoning to support your story. While fantasy is a wide-open
genre, all stories must connect with their audience, and good characters will help you do this.
4. Expose yourself to classic as well as contemporary fantasy. This will help you understand other writers'
successful approaches to the genre. Be careful not to repeat themes or storylines from other books when you
move on to the writing process.
Always Take Notes
5. Write absolutely everything down. Character sketches, story elements, rising and falling action, and
character motivations will come to you away from your computer as well as in front of it. The best ideas
can be those that you lost, so record everything, even material you don't think you'll use. If a character
or detail won't fit into your current story, they may have a place in your next one.
6. Purchase a note pad or a voice recorder to capture good ideas before you forget them. Once you record them,
type them all out later so you can cut and paste them into a discernible outline.
7. Make a habit of recording or writing down names or titles that inspire you. The names of characters and
places in fantasy writing range from brilliant to laughable, so make sure you're not coming up with them on
Create a World All Your Own
8. Develop your characters as if you knew them personally. Write out detailed character sketches, including age,
appearance, demeanor, an elaborate backstory and their feelings toward other people and places.
9. Create rules for your world. If you plan on including magic, it must have its limitations. If a stroke of a
wand could solve your entire plot, it can make your story look silly and pointless. If you plan to write outside
of the known natural world, you must bring a natural order and internal logic to what you create.
10.Consider making a map of your world. While this seems a bit cliched, making a map of your story's universe
will make it seem real to both you and the reader. While most readers will be able to visualize the miles between
Mexico and Ireland, few will be able to discern the distance between the dreaded Mountains of Sorrow and the
enchanted Lake of Shimmering Sleep without a reference.
Keep It Character Driven
11. Create your characters to be interesting in their motivations and to interact with each other in dramatic
ways. A good environment is nothing without characters to fill it.
12. Motivate your characters with human emotions. Whether you're using human beings at all in your story, it's
more than likely that your readers will be human, and you'll need to use human motivations to explain why your
characters do what they do.
13. Try to keep your characters free of archetypes and stereotypes. Having women evolve from maids into fighters
is a cliche of fantasies past. Your chances of creating something original rest on your ability to make your
Tips & Warnings
An extensive backstory for your universe that characters can reference will help further immerse your readers
in your fantasy world. Referring to ancient wars, kings and other events are excellent starting points.
Avoid reading too much fantasy as part of your research. The best fantasy writers either create completely
new boundaries or approach old ones in a new way. Immersing yourself too much in other writers' worlds could
hinder your creation of your own.
WEB ADDRESS: FANTASY WRITERS.ORG
It's Dangerous Out There
The most significant element in an adventure story is danger. In great adventure stories, the protagonist
is at risk throughout the story. Often an adventure story occurs while the protagonist is on a journey. When the
hero conquers one danger on the journey, another one appears. In ancient adventures, the gods were often involved,
making the danger to the hero a life-and-death scenario. In medieval times, adventure stories included romance in
the dangerous mix as the hero was frequently at risk to gain the love of a lady.
This Doesn't Happen Every Day
A key element of adventure is that the perilous situation is new. The protagonist must find himself or
herself in unknown territory. Science fiction uses this element best because the worlds involved are new to both
the protagonist and the reader. The element of the unknown is one angle that raises the suspense in the story.
For instance, if the protagonist has never been at sea and has to maneuver a ship in a storm, you have an
adventure. If the story is about a seasoned captain of a ship enduring yet another storm, the suspense is
Just Do It
Literary novels often spend significant time on developing character through description. The opposite
is true of adventure stories. Characters are defined in adventures by their actions and reactions in dangerous
situations. How a hero reacts to a crisis through action is how that character is defined, not through any kind
of internal investigation or rumination. Adventure heroes seldom spend time thinking because the level of danger
in their story does not allow time for thinking.
Suspense and Surprise
In adventure stories, rising and falling suspense supply the pace of the story. As one conflict rises,
another must be diminishing. To heighten the tension, the diminishing conflict can move slowly while the rising
conflict continues to increase. Some element of surprise enters into the story when the audience comes to expect
one action and another action instead takes place. The protagonist's unknown response to the surprise helps
increase the suspense and continues to define the hero or heroine.
Watt-Evans' Laws of Fantasy
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
I make my living writing, and most of what I write is fantasy. I'm fortunate in that fantasy happens to be popular at the moment, which is why I can make a living at it. I like fantasy.
Fantasy can be a confusing genre, though; some people aren't clear on what it is, where it overlaps (or doesn't) with science fiction, and so forth. Here are my own definitions:
Fiction is anything that hasn't necessarily happened.
Contemporary fiction is any story that could take place more or less at the time the writer wrote it, give or take a few insignificant years, without any drastic variation from everyday reality. This includes most ''mainstream'' fiction, as well as most mysteries, romances, and so forth.
Historical fiction is any story that could have taken place at some time in the recorded past, wherein the author has done his or her best to reconstruct some particular time, whether it's ancient Rome or the American West of 1870 or Paris during the 1968 riots.
Science fiction is any story that might someday be possible, not fitting the two definitions immediately preceding this one; it can be contemporary in setting, or historical, or prehistoric, or futuristic, or even set in parallel worlds. Certain outright impossibilities are sometimes allowed, such as time travel, faster-than-light travel, and so forth, though they strictly shouldn't be, in my opinion; I suppose that they're permitted because they were used in science fiction before they were clearly established to be impossible, and tradition has kept them on.
Any fiction not meeting the three preceding definitions is fantasy.
What does that leave, though? I've eliminated everything that might be possible. That means that fantasy is stories about the impossible; not just things that are impossible now, but things that will always be impossible. An alien spaceship landing in your front yard tonight is drastically unlikely, so that's not contemporary fiction, but it's not demonstrably impossible, so it's science fiction, not fantasy; when there's doubt, it's SF.
A wizard appearing in your kitchen and turning you into a frog is impossible, so that's fantasy.
(Of course, an alien disguised as a wizard using incredibly advanced technology to turn you into a frog is science fantasy, a sort of hybrid genre made possible largely by Clarke's Third Law, which says any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.)
In fantasy, anything is possible. That's what makes it fantasy.
There's a problem with that. It makes it too easy. If absolutely anything is possible, then the hero can simply wave his hand in the air at the appropriate moment and turn all his enemies into rocks.
That would be fantasy, all right, but it wouldn't be good fantasy. A good fantasy story, while including at least one or two outright impossibilities, sets down rules for itself and abides by them. It has logic to it, though not necessarily exactly the logic we use in our own everyday lives.
If a story doesn't have internal logic and consistency, it isn't any fun to read. Where everything is possible, everything is boring, because the reader knows that the hero can always just turn the bad guys into fungus. There's no chance to build up any sort of interest or suspense when anything can happen.
Therefore, fantasy has its own rules, and in order to write the stuff I had to figure out what some of those rules are.
I'm still working on the details of this, you understand, but after a few years in the field I think I've hit on most of the basic points, and here they are:
Watt-Evans' First Law of Fantasy: Stories are about people.
A good story is a good story, and the genre doesn't change that; a pointless, rambling bunch of events is not a story. A story is not just events, it's events that affect someone. Stories are about people. Being people ourselves, we're just fascinated with people. Oh, in science fiction and fantasy the people don't have to be human, necessarily, but they still have to be people. They don't even need to actually appear in the story, but the story needs to be about people somehow.
In Ray Bradbury's classic SF short story ''There Will Come Soft Rains'', for example, no human beings ever appear; the dialogue, if you can call it that, is entirely spoken by machines going through their programmed day after a nuclear war has wiped out their owners.
However, the story is about those dead owners, because the machines, through their programming, reflect the people who built and ran them. The reader sees the mechanical remnants of their daily routines, learns what they ate for breakfast, how they kept the house clean, even their favorite poems.
In bad fantasy, however, people aren't always to be found. Stereotypes are likely to turn up instead, often in the guise of ''archetypes''. Fighting-mad barbarians, nubile and willing slave-girls, plucky princesses, evil wizards, clever thieves, and all the rest abound, in various textures of cardboard, but no real people.
The discerning reader won't accept this; he or she demands characters she or he can believe in.
Of course, there are enough less-than-discerning readers around to keep a good many cardboard characters in print.
Watt-Evans' Second Law of Fantasy: People are never wholly good or wholly evil, and therefore characters should never be wholly good or wholly evil.
Characters, like real people, should be concerned with other things besides Good and Evil. They mustn't all be just good guys or bad guys; in fact, no one is perfect, eliminating your stereotypical good guy, and nobody thinks of himself as evil, eliminating your stereotypical bad guy. No one thinks of himself as a villain.
That doesn't mean you can't have villains, though. Adolf Hitler didn't think of himself as an evil man; he was trying to make the world safe for the master race, as he saw it, and that was, from his point of view, a very good thing, so that it didn't matter if a lot of people got killed in making it happen. He didn't think of himself as evil, yet I don't think anyone would deny he was a very satisfactory villain.
In bad fantasy stories, though, the villains are often evil for the sake of evil, proudly, arrogantly evil, proclaiming from the rooftops that they are the very epitome of evil, doing evil, rotten things just because they're evil.
I don't buy it. I'm sorry, but that just doesn't work for me, and I don't think it would work for anybody else, either. I can't see a real person, even a wizard or demigod, saying to his henchthings, ''Hey, what can we do today that's really rotten?'' Doing nasty, rotten things for power (''What can we do today to make people do what we want?''), or vengeance (''What can we do today to make life miserable for all those people who mistreated me?), or spite (''What can we do today to make everyone as miserable as I am?''), or even for sexual jollies (''What can we do today that's kinky?''), I can accept, but not just for the sake of evil.
And being good for the sake of goodness doesn't work very well, either. Fighting the villains because they're evil doesn't work. For one thing, how do you know they're evil? Fighting the villains because they've harmed people, or threatened to harm people, or might harm people, or just for the sake of fame and glory, I can accept. Even simply out of the personal satisfaction in doing something well, I can accept. But not just because we're good and they're evil.
This excludes religious or patriotic crusades, of course, which are often based on ''We're good, they're evil,'' but where in fact neither side has a monopoly on either. In crusades, the characters can think they're acting purely because they're good and the other guys are evil, but only in a very weak story would they be right.
Watt-Evans' Third Law of Fantasy: The basic human motivations are universal.
People should still act like people, whether they're ancient wizards bent on world domination, or six inches tall and living in somebody's woodwork. They can fight for love, sex, money, power, fear, security, pride, and all the other important things, but not just for good or evil.
And this includes all the people. In far too many fantasy stories only the main characters are people. Palace guards, in particular, come off badly; nobody seems to think twice about slitting the throats of a few guardsmen. I don't care what the job pays, you'd never get me to be a palace guard in some of these universes. If I wanted to commit suicide I could find more entertaining ways.
Besides, they're so utterly ineffectual. Really, has any clever thief or sneaky barbarian ever been stopped by palace guards? Why do all these palace-owners bother with them? If I were hiring guards, I would want them to have at least some instinct for self-preservation, and to know how to do something other than stand there looking bored until someone sneaks up from behind and cuts their throats, or jumps down from an overhanging ledge, or gets them to look the wrong way with the distinctive sound of a pebble being thrown.
Soldiers have it almost as bad. They have this tendency to fight to the last man. In real life, most battles end as soon as one side is clearly winning, because the other side will turn and run-- or at best manage an orderly retreat. Dying, even in a glorious cause, is not popular with ordinary soldiers. Even palace guards can have wives and children and worry about putting food on the table, and the fewer who throw themselves into the hero's field of fire the better, as far as I'm concerned.
Watt-Evans' Fourth Law of Fantasy: Everything other than the basic human motivations will vary, depending on the cultural setting.
None of what I've said so far means that all the people in fantasy stories should act like your next door neighbor. The basic human emotions should stay the same, but not how they're shaped. After all, these characters grew up in a fantasy world, different from your own. Whatever a person grew up with, that's what will seem natural to him or her. If someone grew up conjuring demons every Thursday morning, then he will not be amazed or thrown off-stride by seeing demons conjured; it will seem perfectly normal to him. At least, on Thursdays.
People vary drastically according to their native culture; anyone who has travelled extensively knows that. The people in fantasy novels, therefore, should not think and act like ordinary twentieth-century Americans somehow thrust into another world (unless, of course, they are twentieth-century Americans thrust into another world). A boy who grew up as a pseudo-medieval peasant, spending all his life on a half-acre of ground, is not going to think the same way that a modern American suburbanite thinks; he's likely to be constantly aware of the weather and the seasons, alert to birds and wildlife (they can damage desperately-needed crops), but with no clear idea what a mountain or an ocean might be, for example, no idea what might lie beyond the horizon, even as to whether the laws of nature are the same elsewhere as at home. And, since this is fantasy, they might not be. If he was brought up in a religion with a hundred gods, he's very unlikely to embrace monotheism--or atheism.
And if his world is full of magic, then he will accept magic as an everyday part of his life.
Watt-Evans' Fifth Law of Fantasy: Magic, like everything else, has rules.
A writer needs to let the reader know just what the situation is. Is magic everywhere, fairies under every bush, dryads in every tree and nixies in every brook? Can anybody work spells just by putting rhymes together? Or is magic rare and valuable? Can only a handful of wizards cast spells? The rules need to be consistent. If it's established that only kings can work healing spells, for example, and the peasant hero heals his dying friend's wound, you darn well better explain that he's actually a long-lost heir to a throne somewhere, or the reader will feel cheated.
You had also better work out just how this magic fits into the world you've invented. If the gods appear regularly at their worship services, for example, your hero really can't be an atheist unless he's an idiot or blind. If alchemists can turn entire mountains to gold with no effort, the money can't be on a gold standard--at least, not unless the alchemists control the economy and maintain the currency artificially. If wizards can turn people into frogs, warfare is not going to be a matter of swords and armor, but of wizards hurling spells--unless there's some very good reason the wizards don't get involved.
Watt-Evans' Sixth Law of Fantasy: If a story can be written without a fantasy element, then don't bother with the fantasy element.
Avoid the Bat Durston syndrome. The now-defunct SF magazine Galaxy, back in the fifties, used to run an ad saying ''You won't see it here!'' and giving a paragraph each of a Western and a space opera, with only the names of the hardware changed--horses' hooves to rockets, six-guns to blasters, and so on. The same thing is possible with fantasy, and is very much to be avoided. Some fantasy stories are simply war stories, with wizards throwing fireballs in place of cannons, or love stories, with one corner of a triangle an elf-maiden or a werewolf instead of the redhead from the Accounting Department, or adventure stories, where the blizzard is sent by a sorcerer rather than a freak low pressure system. Most common of all is the war or adventure story that uses a fantasy setting because the writer can't be bothered to properly research an appropriate historical milieu. If you're going to the trouble of writing a fantasy story, then the entire plot should evolve from the fantasy elements. Explore the ramifications of a complex spell, or figure out what it would be like to be under a particular curse, or consider what might happen if gods really walked the earth, or devise a way that a flat world could really exist and still have air, gravity, and oceans.
Or, of course, there's the sort of fantasy that adds an impossible element to our everyday world; I don't mean to slight that, though it seems relatively scarce nowadays. I mean the sort of thing where the redhead from Accounting turns out to be a werewolf. Even here, though, the story has to evolve from the fantastic elements if it's going to be any good. Simply telling an ordinary love story where one person's a werewolf is pointless unless her lycanthropy affects the relationship somehow.
In short, to write fantasy, you invent your fantasy world--which can be almost like our own, or totally alien--put real people in it of the sort who would really live in such a place, present them with a problem that develops from one of the elements impossible in our world, keep it all consistent, and you have a fantasy.
Then all you have to do is tell a story.
Added on February 15, 2013
Last Updated on February 15, 2013
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