Writing Tips – The High Fantasy Novel

Hi all,

I come baring a small writing update, but mostly just a post related to the genre of my new work in progress. After delving into Space Opera, I’ve decided to go back to an old friend for my next project: high fantasy.

I actually started out writing fantasy, and you all probably know my undying love for it when I read. It’s like a warm coat I’ve had for many years – there when I need it, always comforting, and always there because I’m the kind of person who is constantly cold.

I don’t want to get into details, because I’m still in the early works of this new first draft, but that’s why I have a few related writing tips revolving around writing high fantasy that I’ve picked up over the years. And though I feel obligated to put the disclaimer that I am not a professional novelist, these have helped me out a lot in my own journey.

1. Think big, but write appropriately for your story.

When I go to create a whole new world, I don’t limit myself to what this world encompasses – to an extent. Usually it starts with a kernel of something that I find insanely cool, and then I expand from there. Maybe it’s a magic system, or a certain creature, or a specific character. Over the course of drafting I really try to think of all the possibilities of this world – what kinds of creatures might live there, how many nations and what kinds of governments they have, different magical races and cultural conflicts. I try and fill up as much as I can in my head, and write notes for things I want to include in the story.

But If you have ten kingdoms and four continents of world to work with, you should keep in mind that this could get confusing for the reader with so much that they have to remember. I’m not saying to cut yourself short when world-building, but keep the world only as big as the story demands. If the whole series you’re planning takes place on only one continent, then why would it be relevant to include that there are two others that don’t ever interact with your characters? At the very least, if you really want to include it, mention it briefly, and then move on. Because your readers are going to expect whatever information and world building to include to be important to the story and plot, otherwise, what was the point in reading it?

In some cases, having ten kingdoms is perfectly appropriate. Maybe you want to write a sprawling series that that covers a war that lasts years long and travels over many lands. That actually sounds awesome. Just keep in mind what kind of story you want to write, and how far your MC will travel, and how much of the world around them they will be involved with.

2. Balance and rationality.

Everything should have a set of checks and balances – from the world its self, to the magic systems, to the individual characters themselves. Magic always comes with a price. And characters, just like people, have flaws as well as strengths. These weaknesses keep the story interesting, believe it or not. It’s no fun to read a story about an all-powerful hero who slays his foes without breaking a sweat. And magic systems with no limitations can actually lead to a lot of plot holes.

These checks and balances should make rational sense. It should have a cause and effect kind of flow to it. For example, in the Lord of the Rings. The ring has the power to destroy the world, but it has a weakness – it can be destroyed in the fires from which it was forged. What makes the Lord of the rings so compelling is the constant tension of will they be able to get to Mordor in time? Well, that and elves. Elves are just so cool.

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3. History and consequence.

On Earth, History radically shapes how we live today. So when thinking of the world you wish to create, think about what events happened before your story even took place that change how the MC and other peoples of the world live. Maybe there was a war. Maybe there was a disease. Perhaps two nations have had a feud for the past three hundred years. Things like this are great ways to figure out what sorts of conflicts can arise within the time frame of your story, as well as breathe life into the world you’ve created.

4. Names.

We’ve all read books with character names that no one knows how to pronounce. It’s annoying. So please, for the sake of your readers, make sure that your names are pronounceable. You don’t have to make them mundane or common – in fact, you should stay away from really culturally common names – but make sure they don’t require the reader to do a google search.

5. Use tropes wisely.

A big part of being a writer is knowing the common tropes of your chosen genre and learning how, when, and when not, to use them. A trope in literature is described as a common theme or element. You’ve probably come across a few in your reading life, and there are probably cases where you have rolled your eyes at them, or been impressed by the author’s ability to twist them in a refreshing way.

Let’s take the Chosen One trope, which is probably the most common one in fantasy, ever. The most recognizable book with this trope is Harry Potter – Harry is the Boy Who Lived, and the only one who can defeat Lord Voldemort. J.K. Rowling makes it unique through the fact that Harry was made the Chosen One through the person the Chosen One is destined to defeat. Voldemort could have chosen to go to Neville, but instead he went to the Potters’ house, ensuring his own fate.

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Generally speaking, it’s best to stay away from really popular and common tropes (like the Chosen One) because they’ve been done so many times that it’s really hard to make it refreshing these days. But if you do choose to use a trope, then think of ways to make it unique. Give it a catch that no one’s thought of, or set it up only to tear it down at some point in the book as a plot twist.

6. A sense of wonder.

What makes fantasy such a well-loved genre is its sense of wonder. Things are larger-than-life, they are magical and make the reader feel wonderfully small. And this can be a tough thing to master if it doesn’t come naturally to you, because it’s difficult to explain. But essentially, I try to find what makes elements of my world special – whether that be something as large as a whole nation, or something as small as a pair of shoes. I describe the thing in detail, I draw out the beauty in the thing. Just don’t go overboard. A good rule of thumb is to use descriptors only on things that are important to the plot or characters.


That’s all I have for you. Go now, and write your epic high fantasy. I’ve been doing quite a bit of research recently to beef up my writing skills for this new project, and by far I’d say that this podcast, Writing Excuses, has been the most helpful to me – so if you still want some more tips and advice (from actual authors) check it out.

And as always, have a lovely day and I’ll see you again soon. 🙂

-Abigail

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