How to Concoct the Ideal Fantasy Novel
Okay, so as some of you who’ve been following My Freedom Flame for a while now know I write fantasy in both the epic and urban sub-genres. So, I find it appropriate to throw in my own two cents to lend you some fantasy novel writing tips I’ve picked up over the past three years.
Yes, three years! It’s been a while.
I know fantasy can also be one of the more complex creations, from both secondary sources and my own first-hand experiences when writing Northern Knights, which took a good three years.
My goal for you is that it shouldn’t take you three years to craft your first book, which is why I’m writing this article.
I want you to write your novel in half the amount of time, if not less than that. My goal for you is that in three years, you’ll have at least three novels out at all the online retailers or just Amazon if you’re in KDP Select.
Despite its complexity, writing fantasy can be a fun way of writing about real-life issues on both the micro and macro level. Despite the fact our characters should always remain micro, some of these issues can be macro, which is what you’ll see in Northern Knights and the rest of the books in the Lord of Columbia Series.
Okay, who’s ready for some awesome tips?
I thought so.
Okay, so many fantasy authors feel the need to explain every last detail of world building, especially if it’s a new world unlike our own.
But, in today’s day and age, most readers aren’t going to have time to read how every little thing is constructed. Not just that, by doing so you’re throat-clearing, which takes everything away from the story.
Instead, build the world as part of the story.
How do you do this?
Build it through dialogue as the story progresses. For instance, in Chapter One of Northern Knights, Cain and Lira use dialogue as part of the story to introduce the reader to some of what they’ll need to know about the story.
I introduce Swords of Stoicheions, element-bending, a glimpse at the world map, and hint at a few other supernatural elements.
The reader later learns the types of elements that can be controlled, what a Sword of Stoicheion can do and the meaning behind it, plus as the story progresses, new world characteristics seep out.
In other words, by explaining things with action, the reader will remain engaged rather than resorting to a notepad to write down everything they’ll being told in Chapter One, as many amateurs do.
The Reader’s Visual Theater
Let the reader’s visual theater go to work.
In other words, just hint at what people or creatures look like.
When I introduce a new creature, I’ll give them one or two traits, ditto for characters.
I see Cain physically as a version of myself; curly hair, shorter in stature (okay, I’m a hair under 5’6), an athletic build, and hazel eyes. However, I just hint at Cain’s appearance throughout and the reader may or may not pick up on it.
Cain’s features are mentioned in passing at various intervals. Therefore, the reader can picture Cain as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed kid with a pro athlete build. Though the one constant is they’ll likely picture him as short, since it’s the one distinguishing trait about him…plus his Napoleon Complex!
Ditto for Lira, who’s mentioned with black hair and blue eyes. Other than that, nothing else is known about Lira’s looks. The reader can picture her tall or short, of any skin tone, and various body types. Again, the only constants are her hair and eyes.
Same goes for Savannah Rivers, whose distinguishing features are a Native American (Native Columbian in the text) girl with a petite build. Anything else is up to the reader.
Do the same for your reader. It’s why I love C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. He’ll explain what the reader needs to know about the character and nothing else, letting them imagine such characters in their own mind. Ditto for his battles. He rarely speaks much of them and let’s the reader imagine how the battles are fought. This is evident in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, the Horse and His Boy, and the Last Battle.
Some fantasy authors of the past have described everything in great detail; Robert Jordan of the Wheel of Time being one of them. Some might use Jordan’s style as a means to challenge my own, as who am I compared to Jordan?
However, think of the years Jordan penned the Wheel of Time.
We had TV with five channels (plus sign-offs), radio, primitive video gaming, and nothing more. Oh, and phones were only available to make calls. There was no internet, iPhones, iPads, DirecTV, Comcast, or anything else you see in the entertainment industry today.
In other words, Jordan had significantly less competition. These days, we have more competition, but books have made strides, too. E-readers, laptops, and phones can all give readers access to millions of books, but by writing the book as if a reader is there in front of a movie screen, you’re going to gain an edge in today’s fantasy writing.
Keep the Plot Simple
Yes, Northern Knights and the entire Lord of Columbia Series contains a complex plot at the macro level.
I get it, but as I’ve stated before, we need to focus on our characters’ stories at the micro level.
Yes, we can get into the advanced complexity of the plot. In fact, I urge it, but just like all of us, start the book with simple steps that lead to greater ones.
If we utilize throat-clearing and throw everything at our readers, they’ll likely to put our book down and grab another. And in a world of millions upon millions of books, this scenario is far too real.
So, again, back to Northern Knights. Cain and Lira have a short conversation which introduces the reader to simple plot elements, all in Cain’s point of view. In other words, when Cain finds out something new, so does the reader.
In many classics, the book would’ve gone like this: Cain arrived in Ironton ready to have a relaxing night before heading to Atlantis Shores, but little did he know the all-powerful demagogue Southpoint Empire was about to pull the plug on that deal.
Instead, I hint the reader at the first line, stating Cain Riscattare would’ve laughed in a man’s face had he known his life was about to derail.
This foreshadows the reader which is okay.
But, stick to foreshadowing.
In chapter one, Cain and Lira find out about a military draft targeting college-aged students over a propaganda loudspeaker.
Cain picks Lira’s brain a bit, which shows the reader he’s growing concerned. The reader and Cain can also feel Lira’s concern in Chapter Two when Micah and Blaze are introduced.
The reader knows hell is about to break loose without me telling them so.
It’s not until later in the book where Cain and Lira meet with their mentor, General Randelo Jefferson, who then tells them the story behind the Southpoint Empire. But again, this is in bits and pieces.
In between, I use the shotball subplot to give the reader’s mind a break.
What I’m saying here is to systemically seep out info and give yourself a subplot, which I’ll explain next.
Have a Subplot
It’s always important to have a small subplot. For instance, shotball is the subplot in Northern Knights, much like how Quidditch is in Harry Potter. A subplot gives your reader a nice break before diving back into the main plot.
This is great for novels and series that do have complex macro-based plots and storylines. Again, Northern Knights does, so it’s important to a) keep the complexity simple and b) give the reader’s mind a break with some fun subplot elements.
In Northern Knights, I feature four shotball games, plus I hint at a love triangle (I know, the latter’s redundant).
Your subplot can be anything. There are no limits with subplots and if you can loosely intertwine it with the main plot, it gives your readers even more to look forward to.
And finally, a word on magical systems. Again, keep these simple and only tell the reader what they need to know.
Many of my early readers for Northern Knights were indifferent to the fact I didn’t point out much of the magical systems in Northern Knights since the plot drove them through.
As I continue with the Lord of Columbia Series, however, we’ll be getting more and more into the actual magical systems, which is actually an allegory of my take on the New World Order conspiracy theory.
You should be doing the same.
For instance, I introduce simple element-bending and mention the Sword of Stoicheion.
Later, I have three skirmish scenes where Cain and his friends use their powers.
Further on, I reveal that the Sword of Stoicheion can only work right if given to a soul who has ability to master the five elements (wind, water, earth, fire, and spirit). I also touch up late in the book on the Sword of Philosophic, given to those with the ability to control blood, metal, wood, and spirit.
But once again, information is being seeped out here, so the reader can pick up as they go on rather than having to revert back to the throat-clearing many novice and amateur authors tend to tell (and not show) the reader at the beginning of the novel.
Call to Action
Alright, readers, it’s your turn. If you’re a fantasy author and if you’re engaging in throat clearing and building the world without the plot rather than building the world with the plot, make the correct changes now.
If you’re an aspiring novelist, you now have some active firepower to use and avoid five mistakes I made when I first sat down and drafted Northern Knights.
These techniques will better relate to readers in today’s world of endless competition an author faces, giving you an edge and making your work stand out.