Fantasy novels are stories set in a different universe–whether that universe is similar to our own with a few choice changes, or if it’s completely made up, fantasy novels are super fun to read and to write.
If you want to tell a story about a kid who discovers they can levitate, or a medieval story with dragons and mermaids, a fantasy novel is for you.
Let’s talk about it:
Fantasy target audiences
Your fantasy book will dramatically change based on the target audience, particularly in the demographic of age. The two biggest things your target audience will influence while writing are: adult content and story conflict.
Age Appropriate Content
The content in A Wrinkle In Time is vastly different than the content in Game of Thrones. Imagine if George RR Martin had written A Song of Ice and Fire for middle graders. That would’ve been a drastically different book.
You’re going to make the language and content appropriate for your target audience. So, establish that before you begin writing.
I mention conflict because I see this problem with my own clients. The conflict in their books sometimes don’t line up with what their desired audience would be interested or invested in.
If you’re writing a book for adults, the conflict will need to be something adults find compelling. You can take a basic, low-branch plot and fill it with as much sex and cursing as you want, but that won’t make the conflict interesting to adults. It will just make your story less accessible to readers who might be interested in the conflict your book presents.
This doesn’t mean dumbing down your content, but it means crafting characters and a plot that will appeal to your target demographic.
How to outline a fantasy novel
Fantasy novels are possibly one of the most complex to write, genre-wise. In high fantasy, your world is completely fabricated. You create the political system, the religion, the culture. You build the entire world. That means it’s incredibly complicated to keep track of, so outlining in fantasy is pretty important to write a cohesive, sensical story.
Here’s an outline template to get you started.
What kind of fantasy are you writing?
There are several subgenres of fantasy, and each one operates under its own rules. A few examples are high fantasy, low fantasy, dark fantasy, magical realism, superhero fantasy, and fables. The ones that will dictate how much worldbuilding you have to do are high vs low fantasies.
These are set in make-believe worlds. High fantasy requires you to create the rules and systems of the universe your story takes place in. This is typically the hardest subgenre of fantasy to write. Examples of high fantasy stories are Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Name of the Wind. High fantasy usually needs the most pre-planning and revision to be sure the story follows the set rules of that universe.
Low fantasy stories are typically set in the real world, but with Spice. Examples of low fantasy are The Borrowers (contemporary, realistic universe, but tiny people exist), Tuck Everlasting (realistic, but immortal water), Twilight (realistic, but vampires and werewolves exist and people are attracted to Bella Swan), Stuart Little (realistic, but kid is mouse). Writing low fantasy is comparable to writing contemporary, it’s slightly easier to plan than a high fantasy novel.
How to write a fantasy novel in 6 steps
Writing a fantasy novel follows the basic steps of writing any novel, but with special attention usually put toward worldbuilding. Here is the basic process you’ll likely go through to write your fantasy novel.
1. Organize your stuff.
Before you jump into your worldbuilding, character sheets, etc., establish the kind of system you’ll use to keep track of it. Whether that’s Scrivener, NovelPad, Microsoft Word documents, or even a physical binder, prepare your system and keep track of all of your ideas and developments.
Many writers keep a character sheet for each main character, a creature sheet for every invented animal/species, geographic maps, etc.
There are three main elements in creating a high fantasy world: The magic system, political system, and religion. Of course there are many other elements that go into it, but these three are the cornerstones. And they’ll usually dictate the other elements of your world and culture.
Ideally, all three of these elements work together and influence each other as a cohesive system. As you develop each, consider how they influence each other. I’ve seen instances where elements are mutually beneficial, parasitic, or mutually destructive. Your world, your elements, just keep the reader in mind.
Your magic system includes all magical elements, objects, abilities, and laws in your story. The amount of magic depends on your type of fantasy. An urban fantasy, for example, might just be a contemporary story where everything is exactly as it is in the real world. Feel free to add a little Spice.
A high fantasy is when you create the entire world from scratch. But even within high fantasy, you might not have a proper “magic,” but magical elements exist.
The most important part of developing your magic system is establishing the rules, then sticking to them. You can do anything you want with your magic, as long as it’s consistent. For example, in the Twilight Saga–you’re either a vampire or werewolf, or you’re not. You don’t study until you become a vampire or werewolf.
Another type of magic system is learned magic, usually in an academic setting with specifically worded spells and potions with recipes. An example of learned magic is The Worst Witch. Even though some people are born with natural magical abilities. To actually wield the magic, you have to learn the rules.
If you’re making up a world, you’ll also need to make up the political system. Is it an anarchy, is it a monarchy, is it an oligarchy, or is it something you’ve completely invented?
Here are some questions you can answer to get started developing your political system:
- How are leaders elected?
- How long do leaders stay in power? What do their powers entail?
- What is the outreach system like? How are homeless people treated? How are orphans treated?
- What are your economics like? Do you have a currency? Are there economic classes? What distinguishes the upper class from the lower class?
- Does sexism, racism, or other “isms” exist in your world? How are they perceived?
- Is there a class difference between children and adults, men and women, et cetera?
- Who is the most respected group of people in your world? Who is the least respected? Why?
Just like your political system, if you’re building a world from nothing, you have to come up with the religion. If there isn’t a religion, that should also be an intentional choice with reasoning, and it should affect the world you build.
Here are some questions you can ask to flesh out your world’s religion:
- Who are the religious figureheads?
- Is it polythesistic or monotheistic? Why?
- What is the origin, the creation story, the lore, et cetera?
- Do you have deities? If so, who are they, what is their lore, how do they interact with/rank with each other? Are there different deities for different purposes?
- If your story covers a large geographical area, you’d likely have different religions–how did the different religions develop in different areas? How do the cultures of that group influence the religion?
- How does the political system interact with the religion? Are they completely separate, or are they based on each other?
- How do the magic system and religion interact with each other? Is the magic powered by the religious belief? Do they combat each other, like real life Christianity and witchcraft?
- Are there places of worship? What do those look like? What are the religious customs in the place versus out of the place?
- Is your religion “real”? For example, in The Poppy War, warriors can summon gods, which makes their religion fact in that universe. In other worlds, like the Game of Thrones universe, there’s The Faith of The Seven, which is understood to be a group of religious fanatics, not based in fact in that universe.
- Are there any religious customs, like certain things to be done or not done in daily life, sacrifices, ceremonies, et cetera?
The political system, religion, and magic system will heavily influence the culture, but it will be developed based on other factors of the world as well, such as:
- Weather (if you look at the clothing, houses, etc., of a society who lives in a snowy environment versus a desert environment, those are obviously going to have major differences)
- Geography (if you look at the gods a society who lives in the mountains would create versus a society who lives seaside, you should see the influences there)
- Species that exist in your world (if it’s an urban fantasy and the only magical element is that cows are replaced with dinosaurs, how would that affect the culture?)
- Resources (abundance versus scarcity among different regions will influence the culture. Think of the different districts in The Hunger Games.)
Your characters are going to be heavily influenced by your worldbuilding, so it’s helpful to develop them and their arcs alongside your worldbuilding.
Developing characters for a fantasy novel is a little different than for a contemporary novel, because you have to take into account cultural differences (that you have created), morality, magical capabilities (or the lack thereof–if they’re a non-magical being in a world of magical beings, how would that affect them?), and just how living in that universe would affect them.
Outlining a fantasy novel can be super helpful, because there are tons of things to keep in mind. However, the fantasy genre can also help because if you develop your world, the rules of it, you’ll only then need to create an interesting character. It’s much easier to just drop that character in the world and “see what they do.” Whereas with a contemporary novel, for example, there are typically fewer exciting things for the character to react to and interact with, making pantsing seem a little more contrived.
5. Write and revise
Now that you have your world building in place, your characters outlined, and your story outlined (maybe), you’re ready to write! Like I said, writing a fantasy novel has the same basic process of writing any novel, but you have a few more elements to keep track of, so remember to keep your notes on the world and systems on hand as you write.
6. Beta readers and feedback
Beta readers are volunteers who read your book, answer questions, and give you their opinions and interpretations of the book. They’re super helpful during revisions. So just like any other book, you’ll want feedback for your fantasy novel for additional revisions. With a fantasy novel, you might ask more questions than with a contemporary, like questions related to the worldbuilding and magic systems.
And when you’ve got your manuscript as clean as you can get it, you probably want to hire a professional editor. Editors for fantasy novels might cost more than the average novel, because fantasy novels typically have a higher word count.
Additionally, there are many more things to keep track of, as there are more opportunities for plot holes when you’ve invented the universe yourself. So just be sure to budget enough money during the drafting process to hire your editor when you’ve finished.
Fantasy novels are a fantastic way to express your creativity in every aspect of your novel. If you’ve got a big imagination, you’re ready to write an awesome story! Stay organized, build your world in a way that makes sense and allows the different elements to work off each other, outline the book, write the book, revise the book–delicious! You’ve written a fantasy novel!