This isn’t so much a list of do’s and don’ts or advice. It’s more of a list of elements that I’ve found to be common in most fantasy tales. Feel free to make suggestions about what words you’d pick for this list!
A – Adventure. What good fantasy tale doesn’t involve an adventure? It doesn’t have to a thrill-a-minute tale, or involve more traveling than Frodo’s hike from the Shire to Mordor, but “going on an adventure” is a foundational element in many fantasy stories.
B – Bad Guys. Whether the villain is the personification of evil itself, or a conflicted, misunderstood character, it’s not much of a story without an antagonist.
C – Creatures. Everyone expects some sort of fantastical beasts in a fantasy story. Whether traditional or made-up just for that one tale, a creature not found in real life should make an appearance.
D – Destiny. Not a requirement for fantasy, of course, but it’s a common theme in many tales. It can be as complex as a prophecy, or as simple as the hero choosing the righteous path to determine his own destiny.
E – Epic. Again, not a requirement for a story of the fantasy genre. But more so than most any other genre, fantasy easily can lend itself to epic tales that span decades or centuries and scores of characters.
F – Fights. Everybody likes a good fight scene. Sword fights, orc battles, slaying a dragon…there’s usually a battle or two in any fantasy story.
G – Good Guys. Somebody’s got to oppose the Bad Guys, right?
H – History. Most fantasy tales involve complex world-building, and that word includes a history that may or may not impact the current story. Also, real world history is often a great source of inspiration for fantasy writers.
I – Imagination. Without it, there would be no stories – fantasy or otherwise.
J – Journey. Frodo takes the Ring to Mordor. It’s a long trip, but he also goes on a personal journey as the story progresses. Good fantasy involves either kind of journey, or both.
K – Kings and Queens. Or emperors, or evil over-lords. Somebody’s got to be in charge, to either fight for or fight against.
L – Life and Death. Isn’t this the subject of every good tale?
M – Magic. Pretty much a staple of the fantasy genre. The great thing about magic, though, is that it’s different in every tale. Anything is possible – and believable – with magic, as long as it fits within the rules of the fantasy world of that story.
N – Non-humans. Similar to Creatures, but other non-humans are often sentient races like elves, rather than a monster like a dragon. Not a requirement for fantasy, but usually expected.
O – On-going. There is such a thing as a stand-alone fantasy tale, but fans of epic fantasy enjoy the on-going series, or at least a nice thick trilogy.
P – Plot. A plot is required for most any fiction, really. But fantasy is usually far more plot-driven than, say, character-driven literary fiction.
Q – Quest. Like a journey, many fantasy stories involve a quest for a treasure, a cause, or a person.
R – Reluctant hero. There’s something appealing about the reluctant hero, the character who is forced to adapt to a strange situation or is trying to hide from their true calling.
S – Setting. This is a part of world-building, but the setting is primarily the physical location, rather than creatures and cultures and everything else about the world. Fantasy provides for settings of most any kind, from castles to mountains to haunted forests and beyond.
T – Treasure. The treasure in a fantasy story doesn’t have to be the dragon’s gold or the king’s long-lost magic sword. But conflict often can be driven by desire for something of value – a treasure – to the characters and their world.
U – Unexpected. While fantasy readers may be expecting and wanting magic, destiny, and epic battles, they also want something different and new, too.
V – Vision. This can apply to a lot of different things in fantasy. Vision can refer to a character with magical sight or prophetic talents. Vision can be the rich visual details that the author paints to describe the world and the characters. Vision can be the broad scope of the over-all plot that runs through an epic.
W – World-building. This is necessary for the fantasy genre – even if the tale is urban fantasy set in the real world. The rules of magic, the types of non-human beings, places and names – all of that is part of the world, and needs to be fully realized by the author, even if not every detail makes it into the book. The fantasy world has to feel full and real.
X – Excitement. See adventure and unexpected. Anticipation and tension and a riveting plot keeps a reader interested.
Y – YA. This stands for Young Adult, an age-range and literary genre that is very popular for fantasy stories right now. YA is enjoyed by young and old alike, though, and even if the main character is under the age of 20, most stories are relatable to readers of any age. Harry Potter, anyone?
Z – Zeal. Zeal is having passion and enthusiasm for someone or something. This can describe many characters in fantasy stories, as well as describing the fans. Being zealous is a good thing – life can be pretty dry if you have no excitement for anything.
5 thoughts on “The ABCs of Writing Fantasy”
Nice list! Gets me thinking if my stories have all these elements.
Thanks! Well, certainly not everything on the list is a requirement for a good tale – they’re just some elements that many stories have in common. Happy writing!
I love this! 🙂 It also helped to reassure me that I must be doing something right, because my fantasy novels have a majority of these things! (Phew.)
Well, then your stories are totally legit, in that case! 😉
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