Fiction is a gateway not just for the reader, but also for the writer, themselves...
The art of writing fiction is a means through which one can escape the monotony of reality, and feel as though you are part of something much greater.
While writing fiction and fantasy might seem like a lawless, no-holds-bar opportunity to express every fantastical idea a writer might have… it still requires a surprising amount of planning and consideration in order to produce work that is not only enchanting, but believable and immersive.
You might be thinking: “It’s FANTASY – what on earth does ‘believability’ have to do with it, Kenz? Of course people know it isn’t real!”
Well… sorry to say that it isn’t that simple, partner.
Fantasy is, perhaps, one of the most complex genres to write(aside from Sci-FI– and I am not even touching on THAT topic with a 10-foot-pole ).
The reason fiction/fantasy writing can be so laborious, is due to the fact that it requires endless hours of careful crafting and effort to not only create exciting set pieces that will reward and wow your reader, but you must also establish a world and characters that are grounded and believable. Just because the fantasy world you want to create doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t feel like it could be real to your reader.
What are a few ways that can help you achieve a believable, immersive and engaging fantasy universe? Glad you asked! In this post, I’m going to talk about the 3 Fantasy Writing Tips For Beginners to help get you started…
1. Pre-Planning & Research
As a budding writer, you’re creativity is practically exploding. At night you can’t sleep because an idea strikes you, and you want nothing more than to grab the nearest writing implement and get all scribbled down- and that’s exactly the right thing to do.
However, after the concept has been jotted down, in order to make your manuscript more successful (and to make writing your manuscript easier) you might not want to dive into writing your first draft just yet.
With that in mind, perhaps the most important step in improving your fiction writing is taking the time to research and get to know your story. This might seem like an obvious step at first… but when you really start trying to establish the existence of:
- (Possibly) millions of people and animals that LIVE on those continents and in those environments
… can actually require a huge amount of thought and research. If you need some inspirations, history is a phenomenal and endless resource of information that can help you shape all of these details. After all, real-life events have served as invaluable inspiration for fiction and fantasy writers over the decades!
Along with working on the elements of your world, it is equally important that you take your time as you get to know your characters. Conflicts and regimes through history are hosted by remarkable people; so consider doing a little browsing for interesting historical times that might help inspire your own world building while fantasy and fiction writing.
When you choose to invest this critical time into developing the details of your world – even the stuff that doesn’t seem important and might not even make it into your story – you’ll be in a much more confident and inspired place when the time comes to tying your particular plot into a universe that your readers will more easily believe.
2. Avoid Writing Unintentionally Stereotypical Characters
While a believable universe is an invaluable facet of your story-telling, if your characters unintentionally fall into irritating or unrealistic stereotypes, they can yank your reader right out of your world quicker than you can say “Mary-Sue”. You should always bare in mind that, even though your story has a main plot, it is your characters that move the story forward. Because of this, their development is incredibly important in order to writing successful fiction.
A good way to write realistic characters is to watch and listen to real people. Again, this might sound obvious, but studying the way people speak with one another, or researching how certain trauma can impact the human psyche, are great ways to keep your characters realistic – which, in turn, makes it far easier for your reader to invest in their struggles. If you want a couple of quick tips on archetypes to avoid in your character writing, here are a few that I (and many) tend to be the most irritating:
The Cool Guy(AKA The Edge Lord)
- The “Cool Guy” is usually characterized by being AMAZING at everything. From fighting, to astounding intelligence, incredible looks, a mysterious personality and tragic past – he is usually the guy too cool to care to be even remotely self-aware.
He’s got an annoyingly stoic attitude, and usually lacks any kind of personality trait that a normal person can relate to. Yet, in spite of this, women irrationally want him, and other guys want to be him.
The “Mary-Sue” (OMG, She’s Just So Different Than Other Girls)
- “Mary-Sue” is a term you might have heard a LOT, and that is because it can be as prevalent a scourge on character writing as “The Cool Guy” stereotype. The Mary Sue is almost exactly like the “cool guy”: she’s absolutely gorgeous, incredibly smart and talented, and is JUST SO DIFFERENT and insecure!
The Mary Sue’s worst qualities are usually either clumsiness (tee-hee she’s just so charming and quirky), or she just doesn’t realize how SPECIAL she is! Just like the cool guy, she lacks any real depth beyond that, and often is just a placeholder for her romantic interest to fawn over – even when she’s the main character.
So, do you know what the biggest flaws in both of these stereotypes are…?
It’s that they’re lacking any real flaws at all.
These archetypes can irritate your reader because there’s just… nothing there. Being flawed and having problems is relatable and realistic. Writing characters that are just really amazing at everything gets… boring. Your characters – no matter how minor they are – should have character. They should have good traits, actual flaws, phobias – all of the things that real people have. Honestly, one of my FAVORITE things about character writing is taking my main characters, and giving them a REALLY annoying (but relevant) flaw.
For example: I have a character who is pretty physically capable, but she was also completely isolated all of her life from others. What I chose to do, was take this great (physical) strength and balance it with an (emotional/personality) flaw. The flaw being that she is obstructively over-confident, and she is socially incompetent (not in a “cute” and “she’s so unique” way- but in a semi-toxic way that you would ACTUALLY encounter in a real person- and would drive you nuts).
A trait that someone would need to learn and grow out of to improve their life. I used these flaws not as a means of attracting people to her, but to cause realistic conflict. I wanted her to deal with being questioned- she and her companions being forced to disagree over important decisions- and all for her to be the one in the wrong sometimes- even though she is my main protagonist!
You might be thinking “Kenz, I thought the point wasn’t to annoy the reader– hence why you would avoid ‘Cool Guy’ and ‘Mary Sue’!”
Well, frankly, I don’t mind eliciting a negative emotional reaction from the reader– as long as I’m doing it intentionally.
I wanted the reader to say to themselves: “Come on, [insert my character’s name], you need to learn and grow! You’re making things harder- stop being selfish!” because then part of their investment in the story was having the satisfaction of seeing the character, indeed, progress on a personal level as the story moved forward. Because, just like in real life:
No one is perfect. People can change… but it takes time.
Now, I will add a bit of a DISCLAIMER to this section, because these character archetypes can have a meaning. Sometimes a writer might implement these stereotypes on purpose; they can add a character like this into a story for irony’s sake, or comedic relief- but the point is, they’re doing it intentionally. They are fully aware of who they’re creating and why. It’s on of those “learn the rules so that you can break them” sort of things.
3. Unjustifiable Suspense
Fantasy is liberating, and writing fiction means that the sky’s the limit as far as what is possible. However, your world will have it’s own sky, and if you’ve properly taken the time to develop Step One, then your world will have boundaries and limits.
Another great way of irritating a reader is to force situations on your characters – or force THEM to do something completely out-of-character – in order to move your plot forward, even if they don’t make sense.
If you want a good example of this kind of poor plot work, there is a certain final season of a certain fantasy show that most of the fan base is furious with because of these force-fed decisions during the writing process.
Quite frankly, your job as a writer is to move the plot forward in a logical and realistic (for your universe) way that doesn’t leave people going: “Wait, why didn’t they just do X”, or “Hey! How did X character get there?”, “[Insert previously well-established Character’s Name] would NEVER do that!“, and so on and so forth.
It stinks, but sometimes there might be a really cool thing you want to have happen in your story… but it just couldn’t because it doesn’t make sense in the scheme of your plot.
This leaves you two options:
- You can either risk having to completely restructure your story to make the “thing” possible…
- Or store it in your creative lock box for later.
My point? Don’t just stuff things in for the sake a set-piece moment- you’ll end up with loose ends and explanations you won’t want to deal with later.
Bonus Tip: If you’re gonna kill your characters- then KILL THEM.
If you want to make sure your readers feel absolutely zero urgency or intensity from your story, then kill off characters a few times and bring them back later for a “cool” re-entrance. Sure, the shock and emotional reaction from your audience initially may seem enticing- but when the threat of death no longer has any weight, so will the stakes of your story.
Now, I’m not saying to never fake the death a character- but do it MAYBE once- and ONLY if it makes a genuine difference to the story and has a purpose!
Now, listen, I get it; you LOVE your characters… they are your children – and ending their life is extremely painful! Sometimes you want the emotional reaction from your audience of that beloved character’s life ending – but you just can’t handle losing them. So don’t.
Nothing says you have to kill a character to tell a mature and evocative story. If you want your characters to make it to the end, then go for it! Otherwise…
…if you’re going to give your character a dramatic death scene… then they usually need to stay dead.
We’ve Come To The End… For Now!
Hopefully this brief overview has not only helped you to avoid some of the above snafooz in your future writing; but inspired you to get writing, and create the incredible world that you are capable of!
While these are technical tips, you are still a creative powerhouse, and you’ll find your own voice in time. The most important thing is to write what makes your heart happy, because the more you write, the greater a storyteller you will become.
Stay creative, friends, and never forget: you are creators of worlds! That is a very special gift, and you have a lot to offer this world!