Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

This post is the twenty-eighth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

I am a fantasy author. Over the years, I have written numerous posts about writing a fantasy novel. Today, I wanted to highlight a few things that a fantasy author might want to consider before they begin writing their story. At the end of this post, I will list links to two of my fantasy post recaps.

World building

Fantasy novels can be set anywhere. While there is nothing wrong with setting your story here on Earth, you can always create your own world. In this case, you would be in control of everything – the names of cities, geography, culture, religion, systems of magic, history, creatures and more.

If you are going to create your own world. It is best you do so BEFORE you begin writing. You need to be familiar with your world so that the details remain consistent and logical throughout your novel.

Now don’t take designing your own world lightly. It is a lot of work – more work than your reader will ever see. But this work will pay off. You will create a world that your characters live in and have your readers believing it.

Dragons & other creatures

Many fantasy novels contain mythical creatures. I love dragons, so they have appeared in every one of my novels. Since these are imaginary beasts, you have the creativity to do whatever you want. They can be small, large, friendly, menacing, have magical powers or even the ability to speak. You can portray them as a snake-like creature like a Chinese dragon or a lizard-like beast with huge bat-like wings. They can be evil and hinder your protagonist’s moves or they can be a friend. Feel free to go against the norm. After all, you are only limited by your own imagination.

In addition to dragons, you can populate your world with any sort of creature you want. And why stick to unicorns, fairies, elves, griffins or vampires when you can create your own unique creation. One way to create a new creature would be to combine attributes from other mythical creatures. Or you can just decide what the creature needs to do in the story and let your imagination run wild.

But a word of warning – don’t go around creating creatures or throwing mythical creatures into your story just to do that. As with everything, the creatures need to serve a purpose whether it is to delay your protagonist or help your antagonist.

Creating believable magic

Image provided by freedigitalphotos.net

Magic can show up in any genre – not just fantasy. And while magic can certainly enhance a story, you need to make sure it is believable. You need to clearly define what can and cannot be done with magic. There must be limits on magic otherwise the person using magic would always win and there would be no conflict in your story.

You as the writer get to decide what the limits will be. If the magic is an innate talent, the amount of magic one can perform can be based on the physical or mental strength of the user. It could be restricted by the person’s knowledge or imagination. Or perhaps energy is taken from the spell-caster to power the spell itself so performing magic drains the user. Or maybe the person draws on magical fields, and once those fields are depleted no magic can be performed in that area. Along the same lines, maybe there are magical lines running through the ground and magic is strongest when you are standing on or near one of the magical focal points.

If the magic is acquired through studying incantations and spells, then magic might be limited to what spells that person has learned or the wizard’s access to those rare and exotic books. Perhaps each magic user has a certain allotment of spells that they are allowed to use and when they have used them up, no more magic. Or perhaps the use of magic creates a “sound” that other sorcerers can hear, so your character has to be selective of when and where they perform their magic.

The possibilities of how you limit magic in your novel are endless. But you do need to establish your rules of magic BEFORE you begin writing so that your story builds off the character interaction and not the easy use of magic to solve the problems.

Be as detailed as you want and work with the idea that your reader may never know all these “rules” but know that by establishing your magical system you are creating a more believable magic and a more believable plot.

If you want to read more about writing a fantasy novel, check out my Fantasy Novel Recap (covers fight scenes, magical battles, poisons as well as naming places) or Fantasy Novel Recap, part 2 (covers food, travel, weapons, myths, Gods, and fantasy without cliché).

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

Keeping your story believable

man aiming gun uid 1102594You are watching an action movie, and during the fight scene, the two sides shoot and shoot and shoot some more. And while you are engrossed in the action, somewhere in the back of your mind you are wondering “Shouldn’t they run out of bullets or at least need to reload?”

Just like watching that action scene momentarily jars you out of the story, many things in your novel can have the same effect on your reader. And there is nothing worse than reading and enjoying a book when you come across something that pulls you out of the story. It can be anything. It can be that your hero traveled 200 miles in one day on horseback or that a camp side stew was made in the time it took to set up camp. (Just for the record, a horse can travel about 30 miles in a day, and a rabbit stew takes a minimum of two hours to cook and that doesn’t include prep time.)

Sorry, I am a fantasy writer so my examples are based on situations that will come up in my storytelling but this holds true for all writers. For example, you don’t want to have your character fly across the country in just four hours when it takes at least seven on a commercial airliner or travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a two hours when it takes six.

Creating a spreadsheet or map to keep track of distances between locations in your novel can help you determine how far of a trip it is and to be consistent. Your reader will notice if it took them a week to get to the capital but only two days to return home.

Another area in the fantasy realm that you need to make believable is magic. You need to clearly define (at least for yourself) what can and cannot be done with magic. There must be limits on magic otherwise the person using magic would always win and there would be no conflict in your story. There are countless ways to limit magic: power is drawn from magical lines through the ground, and if you aren’t near one then you have no magic; magic is based on knowing spells so you are limited by your knowledge; magic makes a sound other sorcerers can hear and thus can find you, and the list goes on and on. Decide which rules you want to use and then make sure you stick to them in your story.

Being consistent with your details whether they are about magic or something as simple as what your character is wearing (a blue shirt one moment and red one the next) are very important in allowing your reader to be immersed in your make-believe world. And when it comes to areas that you aren’t knowledgeable about (perhaps traveling a long distance on a horse), then make sure you do the research so you can accurately portray the scene in your novel and not jar your reader out of the story with something as ridiculous as a gun that never runs out of bullets.