Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 23:10
Where do I even start? Fantasy has always been one of my favorite genres. Growing up, I devoured any book or series that had the slightest hint of knights or magic in it, ranging from the “Bartimaeus” trilogy to “Harry Potter.” I demolished the “The Lord of the Rings” in a month, cruised through “The Legend of Drizzt” and am now deeply invested in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series.
There are several elements of a good fantasy. First of all, fantasy is often divided into two realms. There is high fantasy, which usually features Arthurian knights, wizards, damsels in and/or creating distress and so on – and low fantasy, which tends to be grittier with less of an emphasis on magic.
High fantasy, at its core, is a romanticized look at medieval themes and tropes. It is inclined to pass over the horrors of war and instead glorify them; it also tends to avoid overt discussion of the birds and the bees. Low fantasy, on the other hand, practically revels at shocking readers with its lovingly rendered descriptions of gore and fornication. Depending on what you want your fantasy to be about thematically, it’s important to choose which style you think would work best.
Another thought to consider when writing fantasy is realism and familiarity, or what the fantasy world is based on. People tend to like fantasy worlds that are familiar to theirs in some way. One could argue that “Harry Potter” enjoyed the success it did in part because of its ability to relate to its target audience. Readers are self-centered creatures and enjoy reading about subjects that remind them of their own lives. Basically, ask yourself what culture(s) you want to base your fantasy world on, how modern or medieval you want it to feel. Doing research on different cultures can spawn great ideas for fantastic civilizations.
Like with any other genre, fantasy is still driven primarily by its characters. Somewhat dauntingly, fantasy (especially epic fantasy) tends to have a cast of hundreds, if not thousands. In addition to the typical main crew of good guys, there is also typically the royalty, the innumerable lords and ladies, the merchants, the innkeepers, the serfs and all the other people that the good guys run into on their epic journey to consider. Keep a careful record of all the side characters you introduce to make sure you don’t mix them up. Moreover, side characters can have a tendency to steal the show, so ask yourself constantly what that side character’s role is, and make sure they do it properly.
Typical fantasy conflicts revolve around a magic object or objects: Horcruxes, The One Ring, the MacGuffin, etc. You have a lot of free reign here – your magic object can literally be anything. It doesn’t matter, so long as it forces your characters to go adventure and do heroic things instead of staying home and growing turnips or something.