I was chatting with fantasy author Carol Berg earlier today. I asked her about issues that new fantasy writers have.
The thing I see new fantasy writers do a lot is spend so much thought on world building that they ignore adding any depth or logic to their characters. When I am critiquing for writers workshops, I see lots of stock characters, who demonstrate little emotional variety or depth. (They are always angry, always brave, or always evil.) These characters’ actions seem unrelated to personal goals or motivations, and thus demonstrate no internal logic.
This comment reminds me that writing craft is writing craft regardless of genre.
The fantasy genre usually includes some magical or supernatural elements set in imaginary worlds. Usually, the characters in that world are beings from mythology, or they possess the ability to perform magic, or have some supernatural talents.
Fantasy, though, is not just about the world, or about the magic. The fantasy novel is about the overall story, the characters, and the plot. And like other stories and other genres, writers have to consider the story as a whole and ask themselves questions like:
• What is the story about?
• Whose story is it?
• Who is the protagonist?
• Who is the villain?
• Who is the viewpoint character?
• Where does the story begin?
• What is the inciting incident that propels the story forward?
• How does the inciting incident relate to the end?
• Where does the story end?
• What happens in the middle?
• Who is this book for?
• Are there expected tropes with this story type?
• Does the world make sense?
When writing fantasy, it may be best to plan out your plot, and create your magical world before you start writing. You will need to know all the details in advance. The magic should also have some limits to allow for conflict and suspense. Yes, these rules of magic are important and should be communicated to the reader. But, don’t focus so much on the rules that you exclude other important story elements like story arc, and internal and external conflict.
It is easy for new fantasy writers to get caught up in world creation. Fantasy writers create histories, geographies, customs, creatures, and rules of magic. But, they also must make something happen on the page. Characters have to grow. Bad things should happen to create conflict. The story has to be about something.
In other words, it’s not all about the world. It’s about the characters and what happens to them, just like any other novel in any other genre.