The ABCs of Writing a Fantasy Story

This isn’t 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 other words you’d pick for this list! 

A – Adventure. What good fantasy tale doesn’t involve an adventure? It doesn’t have to be 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. Most fantasy stories have some sort of fantastical animals. Whether it’s a classic fire-breathing dragon or a creature you invented from scratch, readers expect beasts of magic or mystery. 

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; there are plenty of good fantasy short stories out there. But more so than most other genres, 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. Real world history can often be 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, rival chieftains, 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. The stand-alone fantasy tale is perfectly valid, 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. Plot is the series of events that make up the story. 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 to find a treasure, or support 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 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 that is highly valued – a treasure – by the characters. 

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 and theme 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 should feel full and real. 

X – Excitement. See adventure and unexpected. Anticipation and tension and a riveting plot keep a reader interested. 

Y – YA. This stands for Young Adult, an age-range and literary genre that is very popular for fantasy stories. Not every fantasy story needs to be appropriate for YA readers, certainly, but it’s a sub-genre with a lot of appeal. YA is enjoyed by young and old alike, and even if the main character is under the age of 20, most stories are relatable to readers of any age. 

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. And it should describe the author, too! Being zealous is a good thing – life can be pretty dry if you have no excitement for anything. 

What else would you add to this list? 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s