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How To Write a Fantasy Novel

Updated on February 18, 2015

But First, Tell Me This:

What's your favorite fantasy series?

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Different Fantasy Subgenres

Before you begin writing your book, think about what type of fantasy it is.

Fantasy is a very broad genre that encompasses many subgenres. Here is a list of them, courtesy of the website SciFi and Beyond.

Fantasy Subgenres

Source

Most Popular and Commercial Subgenres

Now that you have an idea of all that is possible when you are writing fantasy novels, I will narrow the list down to the subgenres that are most popular and commercially feasible, and explain just what they entail.

Note: I've combined some of the subgenres as they tend to work together. Plus, you can incorporate elements of other subgenres into your main one.

Coming of Age/YA: YA as a whole is very popular, while fantasy in particular is trendy. Increasingly, adults read teen books, while young readers can be depended on to continue reading, no matter what you heard about decreasing attention spans and the internet.

Heroic/Quest: The typical hero's journey is incredibly popular. It works well as a way to structure your plot, and is a storyline that tends to be seen in most popular fantasy series.

Historical/Medieval: For some reason, people just love fake history. There are countless popular novels that draw on real times then inject magic and make everything fuzzy. Examples include A Song of Ice and Fire for obvious reasons, and Harry Potter's quill-using friends.

High or Epic: There is a real demographic of readers that look for a different world, different inhabitants, and as a whole, a different experience. This subgenre combines well with the heroic/quest genre, but doesn't have to.

Genre Conventions of Coming of Age and YA

When you're writing in a specific genre, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with its conventions. You can choose whether or not to respect them, but know that if you use too many it may seem cliché; using too few may make readers feel betrayed.

Without further ado, here are the genre conventions of Coming of Age:

  • The protagonist should undergo a transition between the beginning and end of the novel.
  • This transition is internal. Thus the book is as much focused on the internal as on the external.
  • The plot is also driven by internal factors as well as external factors.

Genre conventions of YA:

  • The book should deal with issues common for teenagers. These include;
  • Bullying.
  • Social pressure.
  • Family issues.
  • Love, relationships, and friendship.
  • A fantasy YA should be between 50k and 90k.


Example of YA/Coming of Age Fantasy Book

The most popular example of a YA/Coming of Age book is the Harry Potter series.

Harry Potter transitions from an awkward kid to a courageous teenager who feels ready to battle Voldemort. The plot is thus both internally driven--showing how he has to get emotionally prepared for the final battle--and externally driven, with a lot happening in the magic world created by J.K Rowling.

He also deals with family issues (he's an orphan whose aunt and uncle dislike him), social pressure (fitting in at Hogwarts when he's the boy who lived), and relationships (with Cho Chang and Ginny.)

Heroic/Quest

This type of fantasy novel can be used together with other genres. It relates to the type of adventure the hero has, and sure enough, Harry Potter goes on a quest to kill the villain--so do many protagonists of popular fantasy novels.

In a heroic novel, the protagonist faces an obstacle which prevents him from reaching a goal. A mentor guides him, and the mentor inevitably always dies. Only then can the protagonist realize his full potential and achieve his goal.

If you knew this about heroic quests you would have predicted Dumbledore's death!

See the image below for the way to structure your heroic story.

The Hero's Journey

Another Example of a Heroic/Quest Novel

Dumbledore isn't the only white-bearded mentor to have died and caused the heartbreak of millions of readers.

Sounds familiar?

Another mentor who bit the dust prematurely was Gandalf. And all so Frodo could fulfill his quest. When your father-figure is hovering over you, you can't be heroic. According to this subgenre.

Medieval Lancelot
Medieval Lancelot

Genre Conventions of the Medieval/Historical Novel

We all love history--especially if it's not quite historical.

Writing about events that could very well have happened a thousand years ago, then infusing them with magic, can feel pretty confusing if you're trying to learn about actual Medieval Times. But to be fair, back then people also wrote about the Magical Medieval Times. (See: Lancelot.)

Conventions Include:

  • Actual historical events that are distorted with fantasy.
  • Knights, horses, heavy armor, and other elements that we associate with Medieval Times.
  • Feudalism, social injustice, and the general society existing in Europe around 1000.
  • European Folklore.

Examples of the Medieval or Historical Story

One of today's most popular fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, is medieval, meaning that it is inspired by medieval times while happening at an alternate, imagined time. It makes ample use of conventions such as feudalism, knights and warfare, and folklore.

Another example of a historical novel is The Chronicles of Narnia, which happens both during World War II and, in the fantasy world, during a more feudal, medieval-like time.

High Fantasy Dragon
High Fantasy Dragon

High Fantasy Conventions

High Fantasy is a genre in which our real world either does not exist, or is very far away and is not important to the story. Conventions include:

  • A serious tone and epic scope.
  • Different creatures such as dwarves, elves, and dragons, sorcerers and witches.
  • Prophecies and important objects.
  • Quests and coming-of-age narratives.

These are just a few of the possibilities for a high fantasy novel. Basically, in this type of book, anything is possible: it's the moment to go crazy with fantasy!

Examples of High Fantasy

Sometimes the primary world does not exist. In this case the secondary world is representative of the first. Examples of this include Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials.

Other times, there is a portal that connects one world to the other. Examples are C.S Lewis' Narnia Chronicles.

General Advice

Now that you've decided on your genre and have a list of conventions in front of you, it's time to write. But if you're still feeling stuck, here are some additional tips and tricks.

  • Make a map. Even if you're not writing high fantasy, creating a map of your world will truly help you. It will figure out what happens where in each chapter, and give you inspiration for descriptions.
  • Make a table of characters, in which you list their goals, fears, strengths, and flaws. In my upcoming hub I will tell you how to do this.
  • Choose a villain. A good fantasy novel has a good villain. In fact, any good novel has a good villain, even if he's not villainous in the obvious ways. Basically, you need to oppose your protagonist to someone.
  • Make an outline. Check out the links to the right to find out how.

Now Tell Me This:

What fantasy subgenre are you planning to try writing?

See results

Comments

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    • BessieBooks profile image
      Author

      BessieBooks 3 years ago

      Thanks for your feedback! Yes, writing a novel is quite an undertaking, especially a fantasy one. Good luck!

    • jjackson786 profile image

      Jennifer 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks for the information! I'm currently halfway into writing a YA fantasy novel and sometimes I just feel so lost, like I need to visit "The Chronicles of Narnia" or something. Putting all the information into one place is extremely helpful!

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