In celebration of the amazing entries that keep coming in for our Other Worlds Fantasy Writing contest, we spoke to the founder of fantasy writing community Mythic Scribes about the essential tips for writing fantasy. He does not disappoint!
Fantasy writing is about imagination. It's about making the impossible seem real, and creating new, magical worlds. But like any other discipline, the art of writing fantasy fiction takes practice and patience to master.
As the founder of a fantasy writing community, I'm privileged to work with both experienced and new authors. From this vantage point, I've identified frequent mistakes that new fantasy writers are likely to make. In an effort to curb these errors, here's a list of five essential fantasy writing tips:
1. Use Archetypes
Fantasy literature draws its power from archetypes. As defined by Carl Jung, archetypes are reoccurring themes that result from "countless experiences of our ancestors. They are, as it were, the psychic residue of numberless experiences of the same type."
Similar archetypes reappear across cultures and religions, and are rooted in the collective unconscious of all human beings. Common archetypes include the Hero, the Shadow, the Trickster and the wise old Mentor, among others. When an archetype is used effectively in your writing, it has the effect of triggering emotions from deep within your reader.
While most fiction makes use of archetypes in some form, fantasy has the additional edge of drawing upon mythological creatures and imagery. This allows for the skilled fantasy author to delve even deeper into the human unconscious, and to evoke more powerful reactions from the reader.
2. Subvert the Archetypes
For these reasons, archetypal characters and themes are common fixtures in fantasy literature. But the danger for fantasy writers is to keep presenting these elements the same way, over and over again. The result is stale, predictable story telling.
The challenge for authors is to re-imagine these archetypes in ways that are fresh and unique. If you take a classic archetype, and put an original spin on it, it retains much of its power while becoming unpredictable and exciting.
3. Trust the Reader
Because fantasy writers invest so much time in building creative, unique worlds, there's a tendency for us to over-describe our creations. It can be tempting to spend paragraphs (or even pages) describing details of geography, food, races, flora, customs and the like. Resist this urge.
Instead, just provide basic descriptions of your world's unique elements, and trust your reader's imagination to fill in the rest. The imagination is capable of taking the elements that you feed it, and creating something more breathtaking than you can describe. Just stay out of its way.
4. Don't Lift the Veil
In ancient times it was customary for temples to have veils. Their purpose was to separate the sanctuary, the structure's most sacred area, from the remainder of the temple. What stood behind these veils was a mystery to all but few, but it was imagined that great and mysterious powers dwelt there.
The word "apocalypse" literally means "unveiling." It refers to the veil being cast aside, and the sacred mystery being exposed. We tend to associate this term with the world's end, for it is believed that at the end of time all will be revealed.
Most new fantasy writers have a tendency to pull an apocalypse on their readers. After spending months working out an elaborate mythology, it seems like a waste not to share it. A common way to do this is by including a lengthy prologue that details the happenings of the last several eons. This is literary suicide.
Instead, preserve the mystery. Only provide brief, incomplete glimpses of what lies behind the veil. You know the mythology, and will want to share more of it with your readers in time. But don't do this from the start. Rather, only share what's relevant to the immediate story, and keep your readers guessing as to the supernatural forces behind events. They'll want to know what's going on, so they'll keep reading to find out.
5. Keep It Real
While fantasy writing is about imagination, it's important to include some semblance of reality. If things are too fantastical, it can become difficult for your readers to develop a personal connection with your characters and story. The more that things are grounded in shared human experience, the easier the connection becomes.
It's also important to keep your fantasy elements consistent with the reality of your world. The way to accomplish this is by attention to detail. If fantastical events make sense within the rules that you've established, the reader will be more willing to suspend disbelief. But if you establish ground rules for your world, and then violate them, the illusion will be shattered.
These five keys are only a starting point. A great deal more goes into writing great fantasy fiction.
Do you have any essential tips that you'd like to share? If so, we can discuss them in the comments.
Dr. Antonio del Drago is the founder of Mythic Scribes, an online community of fantasy writers and fans. When he isn't writing speculative fiction, Antonio works as a professor and non-fiction author.