5 Tips for Writing Fantasy

1. Write down every idea

You can’t start to write a fantasy book until you have an idea for a story. Don’t worry, because ideas come to us all. The problem is that we usually forget them. So you need to write them down immediately. You might have an interesting dream. Write it down as soon as you wake up! Don’t censor your ideas. Even if an idea doesn’t seem particularly strong, note it down anyway. Later in life you might think of a way to make it work. I got the idea for The Spook's Apprentice in 1983. It was only in the year 2000 that I finally saw its worth and started to write it!

In a fantasy world anything can happen. It may be very different to our world, but it has to make sense.

2. Work out the rules

In a fantasy world anything can happen. It may be very different to our world, but it has to make sense. So as you think about the world you are about to create, work out what its rules are and keep to them. That way it will seem convincing to your readers. For example, the Spook in my books does not use magic. So what defences can he use against creatures of the dark? I worked out the rules of my world very slowly as I added each new book. Then I put them into The Spook’s Bestiary, which is a sort of dictionary or encyclopaedia of the fantasy world that I created. Once you have made a rule, can you break it? Yes, but you need a good justification, a valid reason that makes sense.

3. Create a glossary

If you are thinking of writing a long book, create a glossary of terms which could be printed at the back to clarify things or give additional information to the reader. As you write, add things to the glossary that you think might need explaining further. As you create the glossary, new ideas will come to you that can be added to the narrative. This works well for me: the narrative generates terms for the glossary; the glossary feeds back new ideas into the narrative. When writing Arena 13 I wrote things into the glossary that weren’t even in the story. Then I worked out how they fitted into the story and added them later.

4. Get your characters talking

Whatever the genre you are writing, characters are important. They need to seem real. I use dialogue for this purpose. So get the characters in your story talking to each other. Let them explain themselves. What do your characters say? How are they feeling? Try to get inside the head of your creation. What do you see, hear, smell, taste and feel? I find that using a first person narrative works best for me. Try it. Let one character tell the story from his or her point of view. You become the character. You’ll be surprised what he or she might say! In the first lesson he gave, the Spook told his apprentice, Tom Ward: ‘Never trust a woman!’ I had no idea that he was going to say that; it just popped into my head. I then had to come up with a good reason for that declaration. Had he been involved with a woman who’d made him feel that way? It led me to invent lamia witches. It also inspired me to write the third book in the series because the Spook had a secret! 

As you read you are learning to write by absorbing all sorts of important things.

5. Read!

Read a lot and read widely! As you read you are learning to write by absorbing all sorts of important things. You are learning about characterisation, narrative structure, how to build tension and describe environments. You are also probably encountering new words and adding to your vocabulary. Reading books from the fantasy genre will widen your knowledge of that type of story-telling. But try other genres too and extend your experience of different fictional worlds.

Good luck with your writing!

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Joseph Delaney

Joseph Delaney is the author of the hugely popular Spook's and The Last Apprentice series. The Dark Army, the second book in his fabulous new Starblade Chronicles series is out now!