The Fantasy Fiction Formula
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
But if you're new to the genre, where do you start?
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
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.
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
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!
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
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.
have known many writers who try to insert guns and flying machines into
their world and are promptly asked to remove them by pedantic
Now for some writing.
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'.
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.
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.
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
Next, choose a magic artifact that the character must obtain during this quest. Don't choose a book!
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!