Thursday, March 22, 2012

7 Secrets to Writing Fantasy

Posted by: Jenny Schwartz
"The teller of tales strings his words like bright beads on a string." Edward Fitzgerald
(I think, I'm having trouble tracking down this old quotation I read once and remembered, vaguely)

  1. Fantasy aficionados value craft. From dragon statues to steampunk songs and far, far more, fantasy fans create and enjoy the power of the imagination. They appreciate mastery of craft—and for writers that means we have to respect our own craft: learning the basics then honing our individual styles.
  2. Imagination powers a fantasy story—powers all stories. But the power to drive a story from beginning to triumphant end comes from the heart, not the mind. If you don’t feel the passion of your story idea, it’ll be limp before the saggy middle of your novel. 
  3. Fantasy tales don’t operate in isolation. Like poetry, fantasy is richer for influence and allusion. It’s a delightful game between authors and readers to see how a story links into its literary world. Fairytale retellings, Tolkienesque quests, world mythologies. 
  4. There’s no avoiding the question of good and evil in fantasy. As with fairytales, a lot of the power comes from jumping into the heart of the fight between good and evil—and questioning which is which. The hero tends to face a moral choice. 
  5. Love it, hate it, find it clich├ęd, a fantasy is a quest story. It’s unavoidable. Your characters are going on a quest. Perhaps it’s one of self-discovery, perhaps they’re saving the world. Any way you cut it, a fantasy is a journey to somewhere. 
  6. I’d argue that fantasy is a journey, an adventure, to something more. This is the concept of numinosity: an encounter with otherness that is both danger and awe. We are challenged to step out of our day to day lives.
  7. The hidden, enduring appeal of a fantasy story is it invites the reader to share a secret. Through the wardrobe to Narnia, through the looking glass, children know the way. Fantasy whispers that the world is strange and that these particular secrets are being shared just with you—and who can resist feeling special?

The Seven Secrets in summary:

  1. Craft 
  2. Passion
  3. Cultural engagement 
  4. Moral universe 
  5. Quest 
  6. Numinosity 
  7. Ssh, it’s a secret

Do you have a "writing fantasy" secret to share?


  1. What a wonderful description of the art! Thanks, Jenny!

  2. Really interesting post, Jenny. Lots of good info.

  3. Thanks, guys :) Now, if I could just keep all these things in mind at one time...


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