How to Write a Fantasy Novel in 12 Steps

Escape the chains of the real world, and jump straight into fantasy story-telling. Fantasy novels push the limits of your imagination – Taking on new worlds, creatures and magic. In this guide, we’ll show you how to write a fantasy novel in 12 steps.

As a writer, the fantasy genre can be very exciting. It presents writers with the opportunity to create their own rules, explore new worlds, and discover magic of all sorts – The only limit is your own imagination! However, the job of a fantasy writer is not always an easy one. In fact, fantasy novels can be more difficult to write than non-fantasy or factual based books. The simple reason is that fantasy stories require more planning and research to make them ‘believable’ to readers. We put the word, believable in quotes because most readers know that magical elements like dragons don’t exist in the real world. But your task as a fantasy writer is to make them believe in magic and things beyond logic.

You might also find this guide on how to write a story for children useful.

What is the Fantasy Genre?

The fantasy genre contains an element of magic or make-believe. Think of witches, wizards, magical wardrobes, dragons and faraway kingdoms. Fantasy novels contain elements of fiction, as opposed to factual elements. The most popular fantasy series of all time is Harry Potter. Other examples include Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Mortal Instruments. The fantasy genre can be split into many sub-genres including:

  • Epic Fantasy: This genre is set in a fictional world. Here the characters and even the plot would include high elements of magic or fantasy. 
  • Urban Fantasy: The novel is set in an urban setting and normally in the present day.
  • YA Fantasy: These are fantasy novels targeting readers between the ages of 12 to 18.
  • Fantasy Romance: This is a romantic story between characters which combines elements of magic or fantasy.
  • Historial Fantasy: The novel here is set in past historical periods, such as the pre-19th century. 
  • Dark Fantasy: This is a type of fantasy that combines horror and frightening themes, along with magical elements.
  • Sci-Fi Fantasy: This is a combination of science-fiction or reasonable logic, along with fantasy or make-believe elements.
  • Low Fantasy: These stories are set in the real world, but with a small magical twist.

10 Tips For Writing A Fantasy Novel

Before you jump straight into planning your fantasy novel, here are 10 tips for writing a fantasy novel:

1. Read the work of others

Before you delve into the world of fantasy writing, take time to read popular fantasy books and stories. Don’t just read them, understand them. Think about all the story elements that make them great and the elements that are not-so-great. Better yet, write down your own book review for each fantasy novel you read. Make notes of things you find interesting. You could even use sticky notes to bookmark pages that you would like to revisit later on. During your book review, pay attention to how the author introduces characters, describes the world and how the major conflict is dealt with. 

Our advice is to read as many fantasy novels as you can before writing your own. Not only does this help you with coming up with a great story idea, but it can also help you become a great writer too.

2. Know your readers

Who are you writing for? It is extremely important to know who your audience is. Knowing your target audience guides your writing style, idea generation, language choice and even choice of characters and setting. Think about the age of your target audience – Are they children,  young adults or grown-ups? A younger audience may relate to a simpler story idea and main characters who are also young. While a grown-up audience would expect plot twists, big build-ups to the conflict and an older main character to relate to.

Another aspect of knowing your readers is thinking about the sub-genre of fantasy you want to write about. Which sub-genre would be most popular with your target audience? At this point, you will need to think about the interests of your potential readers. If you readers love scary stuff, then dark fantasy is a good sub-genre to take on. While a romantic fantasy tale would go well with teens or grown-ups interested in love and romance. 

3. Stick to your idea

Imaginations can run wild, especially when thinking about fantasy worlds. Make sure you stick to your original story idea throughout the novel. It is easy to get side-tracked by secondary characters or minor conflicts you develop. But your focus should always be on the main character and their role in the story. While secondary characters can have their own problems, their main role should always relate back to your original plot idea. 

4. Create a descriptive world

Know your fantasy world inside and out. Whether your entire world is make-believe or you just added elements of magic on Earth – A detailed description of the world is required. If your story is set on present-day Earth, then think about how magic has changed the world (see our guide on how to write a magic system). And if the story is in a fictional world, then describe this world in detail from its climate to its currency, language and even way of life. You might not need to include all this information directly in the story, but it will definitely help you create a believable world during the planning phase.

An extra tip is to use the five senses technique to describe this world (see, hear, feel, taste and smell). This will help you go beyond the physical appearance of the world into a deeper, more meaningful world description. Check out this list of 112+ world-building questions to help you create a realistic fantasy world.

5. Beware of too much description

It’s perfectly fine to create detailed descriptions of the setting and characters in the planning phase. However, when it comes to the actual fantasy novel, try to avoid cramming too much description into one page or a section of the story. This could be off-putting to readers and even boring to read. Instead, try to provide subtle hints of the world the characters live in and leave the rest up to the imagination of your readers. 

6. Write down the rules

Fantasy worlds normally run by their own rules. Whether this is a faraway kingdom with rules created by a vile king or a new set of rules for particular people on Earth. Common rules may relate to the use of magic, money or currency and even how people live their lives. Rules can also be the source of conflict in many fantasy stories. As a writer, it is important to write down the rules of your fantasy world and stick to these throughout the story.

7. Do your research

Just because you’re making stuff up, doesn’t mean no research is required. If you want to create a believable fantasy tale, you’ll need to do your research on how things work in your fantasy world. Common mistakes fantasy writers make are mixing up titles and classes in characters. For example, a necromancer mage is very different from a mage who specialises in illusions. You might not think this is important, but fans of the fantasy genre will know the difference. And so creating a fantasy novel with incorrect details can be extremely detrimental to its success. 

Another example is explaining the logic behind magical powers and abilities. Of course, you can’t know for sure how magical powers work. But you should at least create a near-realistic back story to these. For example in an underwater kingdom, how do the humans that live here survive? Doing your research, you might think the humans are actually merpeople with fins and gills that help them breathe underwater. Alternatively, a magical source or outer-world technology helps them survive there.

8. Add real-world elements

No fantasy novel is 100% fantasy. There are always elements of realism or facts that people in the real world can relate to. The level of realism can vary greatly in fantasy stories. In epic fantasy stories, real-world elements are subtle. While in low fantasy stories real-world elements are at the centre of the plot and are more obvious. The common types of real-world elements in fantasy novels include character personality traits, technology use, and even real-world problems. Just imagine a wizard with social anxiety issues or a plumber who discovers a magical toolbox.

9. Create relatable characters

No one’s perfect and neither should your characters be. When developing characters the most important thing to consider is their flaws. What mistakes have they made? What do they fear? And what are their weak points? Knowing the answers to these questions is what makes your characters believable and relatable. At this point, it is a good idea to think about real-world problems that your readers might face. For example, depression, social anxiety, eating disorders, and poverty are all examples of problems in the real world.  These problems could be the main source of conflict in your fantasy novel, along with a magical twist. 

10. Do the unexpected

The fantasy genre is great for including unexpected plot twists. Think outside the box and try doing the opposite of what your readers might expect. Don’t be scared of introducing new characters mid-way through your story or even at the end. Think about the magical elements, how far can you push these? What is the full capability of your main character? By throwing in unexpected plot twists and elements, you can keep your novel interesting and even make room for more novels in your fantasy series. 

How to Write a Fantasy Novel Step-By-Step

Learn how to write a great fantasy novel in just 12 easy steps:

1. Think of a unique idea

Behind every great fantasy novel is a spectacular idea. The idea doesn’t need to be anything 100% new or original. You could simply take a basic idea from your favourite book or movie, and add your own elements to it making it unique. But be careful not to copy or plagiarise another author’s work!

Here are some examples of fantasy story ideas you could use or adapt:

  • A boy discovers he is related to the dark lord of the underworld.
  • An antique collector comes across a magical mirror from another world.
  • A dark elf falls in love with a fairy against all the odds.

You can also view our post on 70+ fantasy writing prompts for more ideas.

As you can see most story ideas, include a character and a problem or goal that they want to achieve. Try using the simple jigsaw method for idea generation which involves, the who, want and why not.

story jigsaw example

Each piece of the puzzle is explained below:

  • Who: Who is your character?
  • Want: What does your character want?
  • Why not: Why can’t your character get what they want?

2. Outline your idea

Once you have your idea written down the next step is to outline this book idea. The purpose of this step is to expand your idea into a couple of paragraphs. These paragraphs should be divided into the beginning, middle and ending of your story. You can also include notes on your novel’s major conflict, along with any plot twists you plan on including.

There are many techniques you can use for outlining stories, such as:

Ideally, by the end of this step, you should have a chapter-by-chapter outline or plan for your novel or chapter book.

3. Develop Your characters

Characters are an important element in all stories. For this reason, you should focus on your characters separately. Developing your character involves two key steps. First, you should list out the main characters in your story, along with their role in the story. Next, you should create a detailed character profile for each one.

A detailed character profile includes information about name, age, occupation, values, goals, fears, wants and so on. The purpose of a character profile is to make sure your character is consistent with their beliefs throughout the story. Of course, the hero of your character will change and develop as the story progresses, but their core beliefs should remain the same. See our guide on the hero’s journey for more information.

fantasy character illustration
Fantasy character illustration – Can you write a character profile for this character?

You might be interested in this fantasy name generator for some character ideas.

4. Develop your world

World-building is an important activity for fantasy writers, especially those writing about a fictional world. When developing a world, you should think about the following elements:

  • Population
  • Climate (see fantasy weather generator)
  • Currency
  • Native Language
  • Leadership
  • Rules / Laws
  • Creatures
  • Important buildings
  • Tourist Attractions
  • And so on…

These elements will help bring your fictional world to life, and make it more believable when you write about it in your novel. It is a good idea to keep a detailed world description sheet or document that you can refer to when writing your novel – This can help you stay consistent throughout the story.

fantasy world illustration
Fantasy world illustration – How would you describe this world?

Take a look at this fantasy world name generator for some inspirational world name ideas.

5. Write the starting paragraph

Think about how you will start your fantasy novel. More specifically focus on the opening line or starting paragraph. Do you start with a question or an interesting fact about the fantasy world? Will you start with a conflict or action scene? If you plan on starting with a conflict, make sure this is a minor conflict, so the readers can look forward to a bigger conflict later on in the story. A good starting paragraph is a difference between hooking your readers and putting them off, so make sure it’s a good one.

6. Write the first chapter

The first chapter of a fantasy novel normally introduces the main character, provides a description of the setting and provides a hint towards the possible main conflict. With this in mind make sure your first chapter is clear and concise. Do not ramble on too much about the exact details of the setting, or the main character’s every single flaw, weakness and goal. Be careful about the information you give your readers. You want to give them a hint to keep them hooked and keep the best secrets until the near end of the novel.

7. Develop the Climax

The climax is the point when the main conflict occurs. This is likely past the middle point of your novel and perhaps towards the end. You might be wondering why did we jump from the first chapter all the way to the climax? Simply because the first few chapters can be cumbersome or tiring for writers. To keep things interesting and to give yourself a goal, we suggest developing the conflict scene or chapter towards the beginning of your novel writing journey. Don’t worry you don’t need to have a set-in-stone chapter written, just an outline of the climax or main conflict in your story will do.

8. Write the remaining chapters

It’s time to fill in some blanks. You got your first chapter written, and you got a detailed outline of your climax chapter. Now go back and work on the remaining chapters. If you’re struggling with your chapters, then try outlining or planning each one before you actually write it. An outline is a great way to keep you on track, and can even act as a motivation tool to complete each chapter.

9. Write the ending

You made it! Your fantasy novel is almost complete, you just need a great ending to satisfy your readers. Most fantasy novels come in trilogies or in a series. If you plan on writing more parts to your novel in the future, then the best ending is a cliffhanger or an open ending. A cliffhanger ending leaves a certain conflict still in the mist, as the main conflict is resolved. Resolution is important in all novels. If nothing is resolved, then the whole novel could be a waste of time for you and your readers.

A resolution could come in many forms, such as a solution or part-solution to the main conflict or the main character learning something important at the end.  Think about how your fantasy novel will end. Will it be a happy, sad or cliffhanger ending?

10. Self-Edit your novel

Your novel is complete! Celebrate and rejoice, you just completed the hardest thing for any author. Now go back and read through each chapter of your fantasy novel. Be a critic in your own mind. Question your own word choices, dialogue and descriptions. How could you make this paragroup sound more interesting? How could you explain this concept better? Could you add more plot twists?

Don’t be afraid of sharing your draft work with friends, family, teachers or colleagues for their feedback. You could even create a questionnaire to help get valuable feedback from others on your draft novel. An extra tip, we recommend when self-editing is to take a break from your novel. Come back to it in a month with a fresh pair of eyes, so you can be a fair critic of yourself.

11. Title your fantasy novel

The title of your fantasy novel may be the single most important thing you do. After all, before a reader even reads your book, the title, along with the book cover is the first thing that will entice them. Make sure your book title is short, descriptive and relates to your core story idea. Avoid using fancy words, just because they sound cool. Instead, keep it true to the meaning of your novel. Just take a look at this example: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – It summarises the whole book in just 7 words!

You can use our fantasy book title generator for some ideas on how to title your novel.

12. Publish your novel

Now you have a beautifully complete fantasy novel. It’s time to publish it. At this point, you have many options. You can publish your book online using a tool like Imagine Forest – Which is great for kids and young writers. From there you can share it with friends and family and build your fanbase online. Alternatively, you can self-publish your novel professionally on Amazon or take the traditional route by working with professional book publishers.

That’s it! 12 steps later and your fantasy novel is complete!

Common Questions About Fantasy Novels Writing

How do you start a fantasy novel?

There are a number of ways to start your fantasy novel, including the following:

  1. A detailed description of the world.
  2. An interesting fact about culture.
  3. A question to the audience.
  4. Minor conflict or action scene.
  5. Secondary character dialogue.
  6. A dream sequence.
  7. A past memory.
  8. The death of a character

Try to come up with a unique and powerful way to start your novel. Remember the goal is to hook your readers so they keep on reading until the very end.

What are the steps to writing a fantasy novel?

There are 12 steps for writing a fantasy novel:

  1. Think of an idea
  2. Outline your idea
  3. Develop your characters
  4. Develop your world
  5. Write the starting paragraph
  6. Write the first chapter
  7. Develop the climax
  8. Write the remaining chapters
  9. Write the ending
  10. Self-edit your novel
  11. Title your novel
  12. Publish your novel

What makes a great fantasy novel?

The key to writing a great fantasy novel is creating believable and relatable characters. You can include all the magical elements you want, but your characters must be realistic. Realistic characters have flaws, weaknesses and dreams. Their problems are just like your problems in the real world. To help you create relatable characters think about your own fears, dreams and wants, and incorporate them into your main characters.

What should you not do in a fantasy novel?

Here is a list of 10 mistakes that most fantasy writers make:

  1. Writing down too much detail about the world.
  2. Creating perfect characters with little or no flaws.
  3. Including too many action scenes, with no purpose.
  4. Creating stereotypical, flat characters.
  5. Introducing too many characters at once.
  6. Not doing your research.
  7. Neglecting the opening line.
  8. Including terrible dialogue.
  9. Using technical terms without meaning
  10. Creating an ending with no resolution.

How do you write the first chapter of a fantasy novel?

Before you write the first chapter in your fantasy novel, plan the chapter. Note down what you plan on including, the overall purpose of the chapter, and the key scenes within the chapter. This outline will help guide you when it comes to writing the first chapter of your novel. Typically in fantasy novels, the first chapter includes an introduction to the main character, a setting description, and a small build-up to the main conflict.

How to Write a Fantasy Novel

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