Creative Writing Tips: Some Advice on How to go about Writing Fantasy
Please note that I recognize just how broad and varied the fantasy genre is and understand that elements of the tips I list in this article do not always apply to many examples of the genre. However, I find these tips to be perfectly valid in general discussion and work as a useful guideline for beginning fantasy writers.
1. Be a Voracious Reader
One of the most basic rules for creative fiction writers is to also regularly read a wide variety of fiction. For those who are interested in writing fantasy, it is only logical that they should read widely in the genre. It is important to understand the history of the fantasy genre as well as different themes, styles, and traditions so that you will be informed enough to forge your own whether you lean more toward straight and traditional or postmodern and metaliterary.
Reading J.R.R. Tolkien is a must for the would be fantasy writer as much of his work still sets the standard for traditional high fantasy and C.S. Lewis is also crucial in this respect for his clear demonstration of the allegorical potential of fantasy as well as how to best write fantasy intended for younger readers. Anne Rice really kicked off major themes in urban fantasy and her Vampire Chronicles are an invaluable resource for understanding where the modern theme of the sympathetic monster came from.
In addition to reading widely in the modern fantasy canon, it is also important to look even further back to fairytale collections such as those of the Grimm brothers (Germany) and Hans Christian Andersen (Denmark). Such collections often represent long traditions of oral folklore throughout Europe that continue to enchant us and pervade popular culture to this day. Looking even further back, it also helps to be well-read in the long tradition of mythology in a variety of different cultures, societies, and their corresponding eras. I am particularly partial to Norse mythology. The advanced fantasy writer will never lack the capacity to drop references to such material at every whim and will.
2. Know Your Fantasy World Inside and Out
This process is somewhat different for high fantasy and urban fantasy respectively. The writer of high fantasy has to create the entire world in which his or her story takes place. Before you start writing the story itself, it is important to draw out every detail of the fantasy world you can possibly muster up. Your fictional world needs its own geography, history, mythology, population (beings), etc. You have to hammer out all of this in order to avoid any inconsistency the deeper you get into the plot and narrative proper.
The writer of urban fantasy does not need as thoroughly to create his or her own fictional world because this branch of fantasy typically takes place in the world as we know it with the inclusion of a secret parallel fantasy world or some other fantastical element(s). The writer in this case has more energy to focus on making the fantastical elements of his or her story believable in the sense that they could theoretically exist in the world as we know it.
In both cases it is crucial to lay down the parameters of the fantastical elements in question. Magic has to have specific and realistic checks and boundaries to protect the writer from the deus ex machina temptation or from making the plot overly contrived. Fantasy has the frequent tendency to revolve around a central antagonist. It is important to avoid endowing the figure(s) behind your conflict with pure unconditional evil. Antagonists in fantasy are much more believable when their reason for being an antagonist in the first place is due to a relatable human flaw (again, this playing to the notion of fantasy as a major vehicle for allegory). The potential for redemption can be an excellent trait for any antagonist.
3. Know Your Own World Inside and Out
As I have already made vague reference to, some of the best fantasy narratives have an allegorical relationship, in varying levels of directness, to the real world and basic elements of the human experience. Some things fantasy authors often draw upon are war, religion, politics, society, nature, love, hatred... well, pretty much everything that matters to us. Just as important as being well-read in the canon of fantasy, folklore, mythology (and, by extension, history), it is also important to have a broad range of topical understanding and as much general knowledge about the world as possible.
Also, it is nearly impossible for writers to avoid including basic elements of themselves in their writing. Be aware of yourself. You might even consider meditation to deepen your understanding of yourself and keeping a dream diary could be a great source of fresh material (it worked for Stephenie Meyer, didn’t it? ;)