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The Fantasy Fiction Formula


Now, most fantasy writers have been constructing their fantasy world since childhood. It grows with them; they add to it as they develop as writers until it's so real to them that writing about it feels effortless - even when they seem to have created a huge, sophisticated universe.

But if you're new to the genre, where do you start?

Many professional fantasy writers will joke about 'the formula' for good fantasy because it does exist and good fantasy authors still use it - not because they're lazy but because the fans want it - in fact insist on it!

It has been condensed thus: 'Hero, artifact, quest'. That's it. All you need to start a fantasy novel! Think Froddo, the ring and the journey to Mordor and you'll see what I mean.

I prefer something a little more organic and creative.

Get a very large sheet of paper. A3 at least - that's about 3 feet by 2 in the US. Draw an outline for your kingdom - or kingdoms. Experiment with the shape of coastlines, archipelagos and spits. Maybe put some islands around it.

Use a blue crayon or chalk to shade in the sea and draw a compass somewhere on the paper to orientate the map. Maybe a scale too: one inch equals 100 miles say.

Divide your kingdom into countries or regions - draw in the border lines.

Using different color pencils, add mountain ranges, lakes, rivers, whatever you like. Have lots of fun with this bit!

Cities normally grow up on rivers and ports - so start placing important cities and towns, farming communities, military posts etc. Start thinking about trade routes, badlands and resistance enclaves where nobody goes...

Don't forget that most fantasy is set in an entirely medieval world where technology is limited to bows and arrows, spears and fire, with a liberal sprinkling of magical swords, jewels or articles of clothing like magic capes or belts. Don't take this element too lightly.

I have known many writers who try to insert guns and flying machines into their world and are promptly asked to remove them by pedantic publishers!

Now for some writing.

Invent three major castes of inhabitants. For example: human, elven and dwarves say, or make up your own. One of the caste may be dragons if you want to be faithful to the 'formula'.

Describe the class system for each. Who's the king or the head magician, how the government of Elders work, what the peasants do, whether there are bands of mercenaries roaming the countryside, that kind of thing.

Now think of three characters for each caste - have them related for maximum impact. For instance three characters might be Princess Tumar who needs to regain the crown after her father was killed by the evil Majadon, aided by her younger brother.

Write a paragraph for every character, describing their physical appearance.

Give each of the characters an agenda that is at odds with at least two of the other characters.

Write a few pages describing the scenario you have invented.

By now you should be feeling an attachment to one or more character. Choose one to be the hero and give him or her an important quest that they must undertake to gain maturity, power or enlightenment (perhaps all three!)

Next, choose a magic artifact that the character must obtain during this quest. Don't choose a book!

Then create a huge threatening situation (a war, natural disaster or magical event) in which the characters are all at risk - of losing their power, authority, self respect, lives etc. and then...

Open up a new file and write: Chapter One.

Okay, over to you!

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell
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