Here to help us break down writing fantasy is a master of the art-- author Leah Cypess. After selling her first story (Temple of Stone) while in high school, she gave in to her mother’s importuning to be practical and majored in biology at Brooklyn College. She then went to Columbia Law School and practiced law for almost two years at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, a large law firm in New York City. She kept writing and submitting in her spare time, and finally, a mere 15 years after her first short story acceptance, she sold her first novel to Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins). If you haven't read her novels MISTWOOD or NIGHTSPELL, you are seriously missing out. She currently lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband Aaron, a researcher and doctor at the Joslin Diabetes Center, and their three children. You can visit Leah’s website or find her blogging at The Enchanted Inkpot, or on Facebook and Twitter.
Tip #2: Using tropes... I happen to love tropes, but they have to be used carefully. On the one hand, you don't (necessarily) want to have a stereotypical elf lifted straight from Tolkien, because people who have been reading fantasy for a long time might find it boring. On the other hand, if you call a creature an "elf" but it acts like a vampire, all you've done is confuse the reader for no reason. I like to stick to the basic trope but give it a twist...
Tip #3: Combining the real world with your fantasy world. Even though some people look down on it, I think there's some value to the Tolkienesque medieval-England-ish fantasy world: people are familiar with it, so you don't have to explain every single thing from scrap, which gives your more time to get on with telling your story. (Of course, this only works if your story fits that world; sometimes, it's better to create a new one.) I like to ground my world in as much historical reality as possible, since nothing is quite as realistic as real life, and to only diverge when it's necessary for my fantasy story.
Tip #4: Explain the world without info-dumps.” From the Enchanted Inkpot blog, author Hilari Bell:
“The best solution is to allow the information to come out in small bits, during the normal course of your plot. Include only the information the reader really needs to understand the action.”
Thanks, Leah! Excellent advice. Here are a few additional considerations—
- Anchor the unfamiliar with the familiar via metaphors or descriptions.
- Even if the characters are unconventional, they still have to feel human.
- Show, don’t tell” has never been more important. Let your reader discover the world you’ve built.